Little under pressure to produce

There is a bit of pressure on Bryan Little.

Last season, Little’s first full year in the NHL, the Thrashers center scored 31 goals, second only to Ilya Kovalchuk on the team. Every night was an adventure.

A new season has begun with the start of training camp this week and with it comes new expectations.

Some of the pressure comes from within.

“I just make it a point to have a better season than I had the year before. That’s what I’m going to try to do,” Little said.

Some of the pressure comes from his coach.

“For us to succeed, he has to at least match or exceed the level he was at last year,” Thrashers coach John Anderson said.

And then there is the matter of Little currently manning right wing on the Thrashers’ top line of Kovalchuk and newly acquired Nik Antropov.

“It was a good year for me personally but not for the team,” said Little, who also finished with 20 assists. “I want to improve. I set my goals pretty high.”

And those goals are?

“I don’t really discuss it in pure numbers but I want to have a better year,” he said. “That’s what I’m going to try to do.”

Scoring is hardly something new to Little, the Thrashers’ first-round draft pick in 2006 (No. 12 overall). He averaged 38 goals in his four seasons with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League (2003-2007). He split time between the Thrashers and their AHL affiliate Chicago, coached by Anderson, in 2007-08. He had six goals with the Thrashers and nine with the Wolves.

Despite the pressure to produce and to help turn around a team two years removed from the playoffs, Little is eager to get started. He described the offseason as “a long five months.” With the additions to the roster, Little said there is a different feeling in the Thrashers locker room already.

“There is a lot more confidence coming into camp and a lot more confidence going into the season then there was last year,” Little said. “You can feel the energy when you come in here every day. Everyone just wants to get started.”

Count Little as yet another Thrasherwho believes the 12-6 finish to last season is a fair reason for optimism. The month prior to the season-ending run, the Thrashers went to the West Coast, where they finished 2-2 in games against Anaheim, Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Jose. Little said it was during that trip when the Thrashers finally came together and fully grasped the system of first-year coach Anderson.

However, that was last year.

“Antropov is going to help because of his size and skill,” Little said. “We had a lot of skill last year but we didn’t have a lot of size. Now, we’ve got both. ...

“I was pretty excited when we got [Antropov and Pavel Kubina] and started thinking about the season.”

As for his coach, he may put some pressure on Little but he is not concerned.

“We are real proud of the year he had last year,” Anderson said. “The condition that he has come in, his attitude, have been wonderful. He has put any of my worries to rest.”