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Photo Credit: © James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

Blake Wheeler: Last Man Standing

It’s been nearly a decade since the Atlanta Thrashers last played a game and there is only one active player still playing with the team. Blake Wheeler has been with the franchise through it all and he’s set to become the last remaining player from the Atlanta team which relocated in 2011.

Of course, this lies on the assumption that Brian Little will not be suiting up for the Jets any longer. While this isn’t fully known, the official recommendation has been for Little to take the entire 2021 season off. If he does make a return after that, it will be after nearly two full years without game action. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it doesn’t seem too likely at this point.

With Little unable to suit up this next season, it leaves Wheeler as the final tie to the Thrashers days. As a reminder, let’s take a look at that roster from the final Atlanta Thrashers season.

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That’s quite the roster with a number of odd names on the list. When taking a quick scan, it’s interesting that only Wheeler remains. This roster featured a budding 19-year-old star in the form of Evander Kane who had an impressive 43 point season at such a young age. This roster also had Bogosian, the highly touted draft pick who was only 20 years old at the time. Patrice Cormier was also 20 years old while Russian forward Alexander Burmistrov had 20 points while only being 19. With all of this young talent, the Jets could easily have two or three more players from this team still playing for them.

As we all know, Kane and Bogosian left the team via trade while Burmistrov slowly fell out of the league and back to the KHL. This left the slightly older core of Ladd, Little, Wheeler, Thorburn, Enstrom, and Byfuglien to be the long-lasting players. However, through the years these players have also fallen by the wayside. Thorburn via expansion draft while Little and Byfuglien due to injury. It seems that people have left in every way possible leaving Wheeler as the last one standing. It’s fitting that the last person still playing for the team is the team captain and leader of the team. It gives him even more credibility because of his long tenure.

It’s really interesting seeing the roster turnover since the team came to Winnipeg. Most of the Atlanta draft picks didn’t fare well in Winnipeg and one has to wonder if that has something to do with the ownership change. Perhaps Cheveldayoff and the new team didn’t like the same types of players that the Thrashers did. Whatever the reason, trading away some of these young players felt like a bit of a missed opportunity for Winnipeg. It could be viewed that the first few years in Winnipeg were meant to overhaul the roster before even trying to rebuild.

As Wheeler remains the final piece related to the initial team that came to Winnipeg, now is a good time to take a look back at some of those players. Over the next several weeks, we will take a look at the first season in Winnipeg and figure out what happened to the pieces of that roster. Some of those players are still playing while others have long since retired.

Now the last player still active from the Atlanta days, Blake Wheeler isn’t going away anytime soon. With a contract for another four more seasons, Thrasher fans can cling to this final piece of their team at least until July 1, 2024… and who knows, maybe even longer.