1st round, 10th overall, 2004
Valabik has had another year of adversity in the AHL. As a rookie he had lots of problems with his ankle, and this year he was out for a period due to an illness – an enlarged spleen, which was not caused by mononucleosis. Being out of the lineup hurts a young player because it takes away from development time -- instead of advancing, they have to catch up.
Valabik is Slovakian, but you’d never know it from his North American approach to the game, or his command of English. The small accent is the only thing that gives it away. The 6’7 blueliner brings a physical presence with 165 penalty minutes, the most on the team. He has very little offensive upside, with just seven assists in 48 games this year, no improvement over last year. But his +17 is second only to Joel Kwiatkowski’s +23.
Does Valabik have the skating and puck skills for the NHL? He’s looked fine in preseason play, but that’s not indicative of actual NHL games. He’s commited to improving, but these are difficult parts of the game to improve on.
Big defensemen take a long time to develop, and there’s no reason to give up on Valabik yet. But it’s also unrealistic to expect him to make the Thrashers roster out of camp next fall if he has not sampled the NHL by then.
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