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Drafted: The top five picks in franchise history

by Eric Postma / Winnipeg Jets
When the NHL Entry Draft was instituted in 1963 by then-NHL President Clarence Campbell, it was created to give each team an equal opportunity to acquire a star player.

The Winnipeg/Atlanta franchise had its first opportunity in 1999 when it held the first overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft, held on June 26 in Boston. Since that day, 107 players have been drafted by the team, 36 of whom would go on to play at least one game in the National Hockey League.

Here is's list of the top five draft picks based on their impact on the franchise's 11-year history:

#5 - Ondrej Pavelec
The current starting goaltender, Ondrej Pavelec was selected in the second round, 41st overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

After being drafted, Pavelec spent two years with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the QMJHL, helping them to a semi-final finish in his final junior season in 2006-07. He was a first-team All-Star in each of his two seasons with Cape Breton, and won the Jacques Plante Memorial Trophy for having the best goals-against average both years. He became only the fourth player to repeat as winner of the award and the first in 20 years.

Pavelec spent time honing his skills with the AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves, winning the Calder Cup with the Wolves in 2007-08. He made the jump to the starting goaltender role for the Thrashers during the 2009-10 season.

Although he has played only two full seasons in the National Hockey League, Pavelec has already shown his goaltending prowess and is now proving to be one of the top draft picks in franchise history.

#4 - Tobias Enstrom
Possibly the best value pick in franchise history, Tobias Enstrom was chosen in the eighth round, 239th overall, in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

The Nordingra, Sweden native developed his skills with MODO Hockey in Ornskoldsvik, being awarded Rookie of the Year honours for the 2002-03 season.  In his final season with MODO, Enstrom won the 2006-07 Swedish Elite League championship, finishing first in assists during the playoffs.

Enstrom made his NHL debut in the 2007-08 season. In four seasons with the team, Enstrom has collected 26 goals and 145 assists, which already puts him first in points by a defenceman and seventh on the all-time franchise points list.

In 2011, Enstrom was selected to his first NHL All-Star Game along with teammate Dustin Byfuglien. This was the first time the franchise had a defenceman in the All-Star Game since Petr Buzek in 2000.

#3 - Kari Lehtonen
Lehtonen is the current franchise leader in almost every goaltending category, leading the team in games played (204), wins (94), shutouts (14) and save percentage (.912).

He was drafted second overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft after an incredible 2001-02 season in the Finnish SM-Liiga. Lehtonen started the season as the backup goalie for Jokerit, but grabbed the starting role midway through the season. In that half season, Lehtonen won the Urpo Ylönen trophy, awarded to the best goalie of the season, and the Jari Kurri trophy, given to the league's playoff MVP.

Lehtonen claimed the Thrashers' starting role in the 2005-06 season, however, he was sidelined with injury for 35 games. He was a vital part of the most successful season in franchise history, posting 34 wins in 2006-07, leading the team to its only playoff appearance to date.

On February 9, 2010 he was traded to the Dallas Stars for Ivan Vishnevskiy and a fourth-round pick in the 2010 Entry Draft.

#2 - Dany Heatley
Born in Freiburg, West Germany, but raised in Calgary, Alberta, Dany Heatley was the first and only player so far in franchise history to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. Heatley won the award following a stellar rookie campaign in which he scored 67 points (26 goals, 41 assists), leading the team for the 2001-02 season.

One of the most dynamic and exciting goal scorers in franchise history, Heatley spent three seasons with the Thrashers, notching 181 points (80 goals, 101 assists) in 190 games. His most memorable year as a Thrasher was his sophomore season in 2002-03. Improving upon his Calder-worthy rookie season, Heatley collected 41 goals in 77 games and shone at the NHL All-Star Game. He earned All-Star Game MVP honours for his performance in which he scored four goals and added one assist.

Following the lockout season, Heatley was traded on August 25, 2005 to the Ottawa Senators for Marian Hossa and veteran defenceman Greg de Vries.

#1 - Ilya Kovalchuk
At this point, Ilya Kovalchuk has proven to be the franchise's most prolific offensive power. The first-overall pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Kovalchuk leads the franchise in nearly every all-time offensive category: games played (594), goals (328), assists (287), points (615), game-winning goals (40), shots (2178), multi-point games (155), and numerous others.

Kovalchuk was nominated for the Calder Memorial Trophy in 2002, losing out to linemate Heatley. Kovalchuk eclipsed 40 goals four times while in a Thrashers jersey and co-led the NHL in 2004, sharing the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy as the league's top goal-scorer.

During his eighth season in Atlanta, Kovalchuk was traded on February 4, 2010 to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for defenceman Johnny Oduya, rookie forward Niclas Bergfors, prospect Patrice Cormier and a first-round pick in the 2010 Entry Draft.
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