The Atlanta Thrashers signed free agent forwardNik Antropov to a four-year, $16 million contract on Thursday,setting up a reunion with Ilya Kovalchuk.

The 29-year-old Antropov played with Kovalchuk in Russia duringthe NHL lockout. General manager Don Waddell said Kovalchukendorsed the signing with a text message saying "great job."

Kovalchuk's approval is important. The Thrashers' captain andbiggest star is entering his free-agent season, and has said hewants to see the team's offseason moves before he talks aboutsigning a new deal.

Waddell said the Antropov signing should help the team re-signKovalchuk.

"Certainly, it's going to help us through the process,"Waddell said. "Ilya wants to be part of a winning organization andthis is a big step in the right direction."

On Wednesday, Waddell acquired defenseman Pavel Kubina in afour-player deal with Toronto.

"I said we didn't need a lot of pieces, we needed key pieces,and that's what we've added," Waddell said.

Antropov set a career high with 59 points and 28 goals withToronto and the New York Rangers last season. He was traded to theRangers on March 4.

He had 56 points with the Maple Leafs during the 2007-08 season.

Waddell said he will complete the free-agency period beforeopening talks with Kovalchuk. He said both parties want to concludenegotiations before the 2009-10 season.

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"My feeling is once we get at it, hopefully it will move alongrelatively quickly," Waddell said. "There's not a rush to getthere today or tomorrow."

The Thrashers also re-signed forward Chris Thorburn on Thursday.Thorburn had 15 points, including seven goals, in a career-high 82games last season.

Antropov (6-6, 230) and Kubina (6-4, 244) add significant sizeto the Thrashers' roster, after the team committed to such smallerplayers as Bryan Little and Rich Peverley.

"We thought to give them the best chance of having some successwe needed to surround them with some size," Waddell said.