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Original Issue

28 Atlanta Thrashers

When Don Waddell, the general manager of the expansion
Thrashers, was a 16-year-old growing up in Detroit, his mother,
Jacqueline, phoned him one morning to tell him she had left her
car on the side of a road because it had broken down. Don drove
to the scene, jump-started the vehicle and surprised his mother
at her office by showing up with both autos. How did he do it?
Don drove his car six blocks and parked it, and then ran back
and drove his mom's car six blocks. He repeated that pattern for
three miles. That's the sort of determination Waddell will need
in building the Thrashers. "It's an unbelievable task to start a
team with a blank sheet of paper," Waddell says. "I've laid
awake many nights wondering, Have I forgotten anything? Heck,
three days before training camp we still didn't have any pucks."

Waddell, 41, has earned a reputation for molding expansion teams
into winners in the International Hockey League (Orlando and San
Diego). He has laid the foundation in Atlanta by selecting
19-year-old Czech wunderkind Patrik Stefan with the top pick in
the 1999 entry draft, grabbing 32-year-old ice general Kelly
Buchberger in the expansion draft and making 12 trades,
including the acquisition of talented goalie Damian Rhodes, who
was 22-13-7 with a 2.44 goals-against average with the Senators
last season. "As with any new team, there's the fear of the
unknown," Rhodes says. "How many shots will I face? How many
goals will we score? How competitive can we be?"

Rhodes had better be stingy, because in the expansion draft
Atlanta chose 13 forwards who combined for just 44 goals last
season, and 10 defensemen, none of whom scored more than 15
points. Waddell hopes he boosted Atlanta's firepower by signing
veteran free agent forwards Ray Ferraro (a 10-time 20-goal
scorer) and Nelson Emerson (13 goals in 65 games last season),
but the Thrashers are so desperate for offense that the untested
Stefan will center the second line.

Atlanta will be cast in the image of their tough rookie coach
Curt Fraser, who in 12 NHL seasons racked up 1,306 penalty
minutes and participated in dozens of bloody brawls, yet proudly
boasts all of his original teeth. Having gone under the knife 16
times during his career, Fraser also knows about overcoming
adversity, which is good because no NHL expansion team has
finished its debut season at .500 or better. Expect that piece
of history to remain unchanged.


COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO No. 1 pick Stefan may be a franchise player.

Here's some encouraging news for the first-year Thrashers: Only
one of the NHL's last four expansion franchises (the Ottawa
Senators in 1992-93) finished with the league's worst record in
its inaugural season.


OFFENSE 28 Emerson, No. 1 draft pick Stefan top scorers
up front
DEFENSE 27 Lots of guys with too many miles on the
GOALTENDING 27 Rhodes and Maracle will face a ton of rubber
SPECIAL TEAMS 28 Usually the biggest weakness for an expansion
COACHING 27 Good staff led by rookie NHL coach Fraser