Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
With the third pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, the Atlanta Thrashers selected 6'2" 200 lb. defenseman Zach Bogosian who was coming off of an impressive second season playing for the Peterborough Petes of the OHL. Bogosian easily trumped his previous production and went on to lead the team in scoring during the 2007-08 season with 11 goals and 61 points. His 50 assists were 15th in the league and second amongst defensemen (Ryan Wilson, Sarnia Sting, 64.)
The Massena, NY native opted to pursue the Canadian Hockey League instead of going the college route after he had graduated from Cushing Academy in Massachusetts. While at Cushing he was a teammate of Ryan Bourque, son of Boston Bruins Hall of Famer, Ray Bourque, who was also a voluntary assistant for the team. “It was a great situation for me,” Bogosian said at the draft. “I got to see not only what he did on the ice three to four days a week, but watching him off the ice and seeing how he dealt with people was a good learning experience for me.”
What wasn't a great situation for Bogosian was heading to Atlanta to play for the Thrashers after his second Peterborough season.
The city of Atlanta had two shots at an NHL franchise with neither faring well and both eventually being sold and relocating. The original Atlanta Flames, who came into the NHL with the NY Islanders, played in the league from 1972 to 1980. The NHL at the time had sixteen teams with eight of them making the playoffs. The Flames made the playoffs in six of their eight seasons but never made it past the first round compiling a 2-15 record in the playoffs. After the 1979-80 the team was sold for a then record $16M and relocated to Calgary.
Decades later the expansion Thrashers would fare even worse during their 11-year run in Atlanta. They made the playoffs only once in their existence, getting swept by the NY Rangers in the 2006-07 playoffs. They would be sold in a deal worth $170M (including a $60M relocation fee) and moved to Winnipeg in 2011, a city that lost their franchise to Arizona in 1996.
The situation in Atlanta just wasn't very good for the 18 yr. old Bogosian as he was thrown into the fire out of Junior. The Thrashers needed to shore up the defense which was a mess due to poor asset management on the blueline. Two days prior to the 2007 NHL Trade Deadline GM Don Waddel sent then 21 yr. old defenseman Brayden Coburn to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for veteran rear-guard, Alexei Zhitnik in a move to bolster the roster for a playoff run. They fell short.
Zhitnik disappointed during the 2007-08 season and was bought out while Coburn had a solid year in Philly with 36 points (9+27) in 78 games. What ensued during the final two months of the season was capitulation and a full-on commitment to a total rebuild with the trade of Marian Hossa and Pasqual Dupuis to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
According to Laura Astorian in a piece for SB Nation, Atlanta, things just deteriorated throughout his rookie season. "The Thrashers needed Bogosian to step up right off the bat," she wrote, "and promptly inserted him into the league in a run-and-gun, uptempo coaching system that played to his offensive talents."
Astorian notes that he was paired with veteran Mathieu Schnieder and the two clicked. Until Bogosian suffered a broken leg and was out for over two months. He would come back and head coach John Anderson paired him with their top d-man, Tobias Enstrom. "The pair played well together, and as a reward Anderson inexplicably broke up the pairing, putting Bogosian with Ron Hainsey," wrote Astorian. "The new pairing had minimal chemistry, and both players' stats dipped after the move."
Such was the downward spiral of the franchise and Bogosian. Anderson was fired and replaced by former Buffalo Sabre Craig Ramsey who coached the team until they moved in 2011. Astorian summed it up by writing, " The past sins of the Thrashers and coaches will add time to Bogo's development; he hasn't been well-managed."
Sabres fans are familiar with the "sins" of player mismanagement and their also well aware that chemistry with a veteran d-partner can be of the utmost importance in the development of a defenseman. The Sabres had problems in both of those departments during the Darcy Regier regime. Mikhail Grigorenko was a classic example of mismanagement while defenseman Tyler Myers had his development stunted from the loss of his d-partner as a rookie.
Myers was picked nine spots behind Bogosian in the 2008 Draft, and in a tribute to the way the Sabres developed their players, went back to junior for another year. When he came back for his rookie season in 2009-10 he was paired with Henrik Tallinder. Myers had a Calder Trophy winning season scoring 48 points (11+27) as a 19 yr. old and he had the look of a future Norris candidate. Unfortunately for him, Tallinder moved on (due to a conflict on the term of a new contract,) he was thrust into a situation where too much was asked of him and his play and production declined considerably. Myers was a part of the trade to Winnipeg for Bogosian, Evander Kane and Jason Kasdorf and found new life in a new environment scoring 15 points (3+12) in 23 games for the Jets.
"Bogo" logged 26:34 minutes ATOI for the Sabres last season, over a minute more than Myers. He finished with seven assists in 21 games and was a minus-7. Some Sabres fans were quick to judge Bogosian on his so-called average performance for the Sabres last season and are quick to bring up his $5.142M cap-hit for the next five seasons as reason for concern.
At the very least we're looking at a second-pairing physical defenseman with Robyn Regehr-like traits who is a smooth skater, strong puck mover and one can put some points on the board. At best he looks to be a No. 2/3 who can really be a veteran anchor for a strong group of young defensemen the Sabres will be integrating into the lineup over the course of the next three or four years.
At 25 yrs. old, Bogosian's just entering his prime and with over 400 games under his belt he brings a wealth of experience to the d-corps.
Where he ends up two or three years from now is yet to be determined, but for this season, he should be on the top-pairing with Rasmus Ristolainen this season.
Building the 2015-16 Buffalo Sabres roster:
LW, Evander Kane C, Ryan O'Reilly RW, Tyler Ennis
D, Rasmus Ristolainen