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Southeast: Rookie Enstrom has been a standout for Thrashers

by Robert Picarello

23-year-old Tobias Enstrom is ranked first in scoring, assists and time-on-ice among all NHL rookie defensemen.
The Atlanta Thrashers are back in the playoff race in the Eastern Conference thanks to a 13-7-1 run in their last 21 games.

While Ilya Kovalchuk has been given most of the credit for the turnaround after Atlanta's dismal 0-6-0 start, one player who has quietly made an impact has been defenseman Tobias Enstrom.

The 23-year-old rookie has not only looked comfortable playing the most minutes of any Thrashers so far this season, he has also produced like a tried-and-true veteran.

Enstrom ranks first in scoring, assists and time-on-ice among all NHL rookie defensemen. He is third in blocked shots with 37, second in scoring among all Eastern Conference rookies and is third on the Thrashers with 16 points off three goals and 13 assists in 27 games. Enstrom has scored 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in his last 19 games, including nine points (one goal, eight assists) in his last 10 contests. The Thrashers are 10-3-1 this season when Enstrom records at least one point.

"He's been really good for us all year, as you know, because he's played the most minutes for us on defense," Atlanta GM, interim coach Don Waddell said. "Coming into training camp, right from Day 1, you could see he was ready to play at this level and he just continues to improve. He's going to make the odd mistake, but he's so patient with the puck -- he's got so much confidence out there -- that nine-out-of-10 times he's going to make the right play."

Last month, Enstrom seemed to make all the right decisions for the Thrashers and was named NHL Rookie of the Month for November. Enstrom led all rookie defensemen in scoring with 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 12 games, edging Chicago's Jonathan Toews (5-5--10 in 13 games) and Patrick Kane (2-9--11 in 13 games), and Coyotes' forward center Peter Mueller (6-3--9 in 13 games) for the award.

Enstrom scored points in eight of the 12 November games he played in, highlighted by a career-high three assists in a 5-1 victory at Washington Nov. 21. He also logged an average of 25 minutes per contest, topped by his playing over 27 minutes in a 4-3 overtime win at home over the Lightning on Nov. 19.

"Every game he surprises me more and more," Waddell said. "He just looks better and better. He's skating so well and he's so smooth with the puck. He continues to get better. Last month he got Rookie of the Month, (which was) well deserved. He's a guy who's only going to get better as he continues to plays more."

But Enstrom wasn't the only Thrasher to have a good November. Kovalchuk also did his part, netting a League-high 14 goals and eight assists and earning himself the NHL’s First Star of the Month for November. Kovalchuk recorded at least one goal in nine of the team’s 12 games and became the first player in Thrashers history to record a hat trick in back-to-back games on Nov. 1 and Nov. 3.


Who’s hot -- Before being yanked in the first period on Wednesday night after allowing two goals on five shots to Ottawa, Florida goaltender Tomas Vokoun was piping hot. He was 5-2-0 in his previous seven starts, registering a 1.82 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage. … Washington's Alex Ovechkin has potted six goals in his last five games. His 11 goals in November matched his best goal-scoring months of his young career. Ovechkin also had 11 in January and March during the 2005-06 season. … Carolina winger Ray Whitney has points in six of his last seven games, posting three goals and three assists over that span for the Hurricanes. … Heading into Thursday night's action, Tampa's Vincent Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis had combined to score 15 points in their last six games.

Southeast quotes -- "It was fun to come in and get a win. It's important for us because we've sort of been struggling. It was important for us to have a good defensive game which was key to the whole night."

-- Carolina's Matt Cullen said after the Hurricanes beat his former team, the New York Rangers, 4-0 Monday night in his return to Madison Square Garden.

"It was a lucky goal. I was trying to shoot the puck to create a rebound for (Viktor) Kozlov, but it was a lucky rebound and went into the net."

-- Washington's Alex Ovechkin said in regards to his game-winner against the Panthers last Saturday in Florida.

A look ahead -- On Dec. 7, the Washington Capitals are in New Jersey, the Panthers host to the Islanders and the Thrashers host the Rangers. On Saturday, Dec. 8, the Hurricanes travel to Montreal, the Thrashers are in Washington and the Lightning host the Islanders. On Sunday, Dec. 9, the Hurricanes travel to Detroit. On Monday, Dec. 10, the Capitals are home to play the Devils and the Lightning are in Toronto.

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