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Atlanta Thrashers red hot since acquisition of Keith Tkachuk @NHLdotcom

(CP) - Trade deadline deals are often overrated for their actual impact on a team's performance.

Don't try selling that theory to the red-hot Atlanta Thrashers, who have gone 6-1-0 since the blockbuster acquisition of centre Keith Tkachuk. "If we had a crystal ball, I don't think we could have predicted any better," Thrashers GM Don Waddell said Wednesday.

Waddell pulled the trigger Feb. 25 after watching his team go 2-7-2 that month. He may have paid a heavy price for Tkachuk, but he felt he had to act.

"We needed to make some changes," said Waddell, who also traded for defenceman Alexei Zhitnik on Feb. 24. "We had such a tremendous first half of the year, we just couldn't get it going in the second half. ...

"At that time before the trade deadline, we were just a couple of points of being out of the playoffs and certainly going in the direction that was taking us out of the playoffs."

So he paid the price the St. Louis Blues were demanding, a first-round draft choice in 2007, a third-round draft choice in 2007, a second-round draft choice in 2008 and forward Glen Metropolit.

"Let's see if we reach our goals now and if we don't, then I can be second-guessed," said Waddell. "We felt this was the right price for us, we didn't feel we were overpaying, it's a price we could afford and that made sense for us."

The 37-24-10 Thrashers are slotted third in the Eastern Conference by virtue of their first-place standing in the Southeast Division, seven points clear of ninth-place Toronto in the conference. There's a lot of pressure on the Thrashers to earn to their first playoff birth since coming into the league in 1999-2000.

"This is a critical year for this franchise," said Waddell. "Last year coming up short by two points for a playoff spot, this year I couldn't sit back and let the same happen. So we felt we needed to make some moves.

"For years this franchise has stockpiled draft picks and prospects and we felt the opportunities presented to us were worth going for and that's why we did what we did."

Tkachuk has adjusted smoothly, collecting four goals and one assist with the Thrashers and feeling immediately at ease in his new surroundings.

"One of the biggest things was having Scott Mellanby here, who I've played with over the years," Tkachuk told The Canadian Press on Wednesday. "He made it pretty comfortable coming in. The guys were unbelievable to me. Honestly, my first game here I felt like I had been here for two or three years.

"It's a fun group, and it's been an easy adjustment walking in."

Tkachuk filled the No. 1 void missing in Atlanta, a No. 1 centre. He's fit in nicely alongside star winger Ilya Kovalchuk.

"It's gone really well," said Tkachuk. "He's a talented hockey player, there's no question about it. It's been fun playing with a guy like that. He's so exciting every time he steps on the ice."

Waddell credits Tkachuk for quickly finding a way to mesh with Kovalchuk.

"Ilya Kovalchuk is a great player. He's not the easiest guy to play with because you got to get him the puck, he likes to shoot the puck," said Waddell. "Well Keith has found a way to play with him and have success with him."

Tkachuk, 34, says he's having a blast. After a couple of losing seasons in St. Louis, spring time will mean something again for him.

"It feels great, it really does," he said. "It was a no-brainer to get traded here, to waive my no-trade clause and come here and play. It's an exciting time of the year and I haven't had that in a couple of years.

"And as everyone knows around the league, once you get in, anything can happen."

As No. 8 Edmonton proved last year in the West, Tkachuk is right about the parity. All 16 teams have a shot.

"Especially the way we're playing right now," said Tkachuk. "You want to have that momentum going into the playoffs but also we need to win now because we're in the fight of our lives to win that division title (against Tampa Bay) and just being in the playoffs. It's so close right now.

"You want to go in the playoffs playing your best hockey," added Tkachuk. "I think we're doing that right now, and I know we've got another level to go at."

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