Colorado Avalanche prospects fighting in Lake Erie for a shot at NHL

By Chau Vo

Calvin Pickard - Lake Erie Monsters

Photo: Goaltender Calvin Pickard has been the primary starter for Lake Erie in 2013-14, earning a 7-7-2 record thus far (courtesy of Zuma Press/Icon SMI)

Every Avalanche prospect playing professionally are currently in Cleveland playing for the Lake Erie Monsters with the exception of goaltenders Kieran Millan and Kent Patterson who are in Denver playing for the Denver Cutthroats of the Central Hockey League.

The Monsters are currently fourth in the North Division of the Western Conference with a 12-11-0-2 record going into their game on December 15. They are struggling to stay above .500 as they are dealing with a plethora of injuries throughout their lineup. In addition to players injured, defenseman Tyson Barrie and forward Brad Malone have been called up as the Colorado Avalanche are dealing with injuries of their own.

The Cutthroats are tied for fourth in the 10-team league but looking to climb the standings now that they have goaltender Kieran Millan back. Before Millan was called up to Lake Erie, the Cutthroats were second only behind the Rapid City Rush.

AHL

Calvin Pickard, G, 21

While the Lake Erie Monsters are managing to stay afloat atop the weaker North Division in the AHL’s Western Conference, Calvin Pickard is continuing to cement his status as the future of Colorado Avalanche goaltending. Pickard is still facing pressure from teammate Sami Aittokallio but so far has seen more game minutes throughout the months of October and November than his counterpart. In his first 16 appearances, Pickard has earned a save percentage of .904 and a goals against average of 2.78.

Pickard had a good showing at the Avalanche training camp this fall and was the last goalie sent back down to Lake Erie. Upon returning, he was off to a rocky start for the Monsters, but in late October through mid-November, caught fire. In a seven game stretch, Pickard was stellar in net with a 4-2-1 record, save percentage of .940, and a goals against average of 1.69.

Pickard is unlikely to see any NHL action this year unless an injury occurs to either Semyon Varlamov or J.S. Giguere. While he may not be ready for the NHL just yet, he would be a very capable candidate for backup duty in the major league if injury forces a call up.

Sami Aittokallio, G, 21

Sam Aittokallio is once again showing how his raw talent can take him very far in professional hockey, but until he learns to discipline himself and adjust his game to the North American style of play, he will not be able to reach his full potential of being a number one goalie in the NHL. While his stats are comparable to Pickard’s, the Monsters coaching staff has shown more confidence in Pickard early on in the season. In 11 appearances, Aittokallio has a save percentage of .896 and goals against average of 2.90.

There was talk of Aittokallio possibly being called up to the NHL this season when Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov faced legal issues stemming from a domestic violence charge. Aittokallio saw NHL action last year when he started a game against the Los Angeles Kings and played 49 minutes before being pulled in a losing effort.

Garrett Meurs, RW, 20

Garrett Meurs is off to a good start to his first year in professional hockey and has been adjusting nicely to the faster pace of play and higher overall skill level of the AHL. Meurs was a prolific scorer when he was playing for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL but his numbers for the Monsters leave a little to be desired. However, his lack of offense can be attributed to less playing time than what he is accustomed to as well as fulfilling a different role than what he did for the Whalers.

Meurs did not get his first goal of the season until November 16 in a match against the Hamilton Bulldogs, and in 21 games, he has three goals and three assists for six points. What cannot be found on the score sheet is Meurs’ relentless forechecking and physical play. Meurs also has one fight so far this season against Brett Lyon of the Abbotsford Heat.

Before he can be trusted with a bigger role, Meurs will need to rein in his undisciplined play and penchant for taking untimely penalties.

Andrew Agozzino, LW, 22

Frequently described as an under-the-radar player, Andrew Agozzino led the Lake Erie Monsters in scoring last year despite being a first year player.  So far this year, he is third in team scoring behind veterans Bryan Lerg and Mark Olver. In addition to his scoring abilities, he can also defend himself on the ice evidenced by his one fight this season and three last season.

Agozzino is one of the Avalanche’s rare wing prospects, and he could possibly see NHL action this season as he is on a two-way contract. Last season, Agozzino was only signed to an AHL contract. In 25 games, Agozzino has 18 points including five goals.

While plus-minus statistics should be taken with a grain of salt due to multiple factors affecting the stat including overall team performance, it should be noted that Agozzino is at a minus-13 this year, a big difference from his team leading plus-16 rating in the season prior. His play in his own end has never been questioned, even in juniors, so do not expect him to continue being a minus player by the end of the season.

Trevor Cheek, LW, 20

Trevor Cheek has found himself in and out of the lineup in his first year as a pro. So far in the season he has only appeared in 16 games and found the back of the net once back in early November. He also has one AHL fight against Scott Zurevinski of the Hamilton Bulldogs. 

Paul Carey, LW, 25

Due to injuries throughout the Monsters lineup, Paul Carey has found himself playing anywhere from second line winger to third line center this season. This is his second full professional season, and last year he scored a respectable 41 points in 72 games including 19 goals. The former Boston College Eagle has been unable to find the same scoring success that he did last year with only four goals and nine assists in 25 games this year. He will look to have a breakout month and already has three points in five December games.

Michael Sgarbossa, C, 21

Due to a lower body injury sustained in late October, Michael Sgarbossa has only appeared in eight games this season. In those eight games he put up five points. The Monsters hope to have him return sometime in December.

Joey Hishon, C, 22

Joey Hishon is looking to get his career back on track after his season ended abruptly last year due to a head injury sustained in just his ninth game in two years.

Hishon missed training camp this year for the third year in a row due to a groin injury, and shortly after being sent down to the Monsters, he sustained a head/neck injury after crashing into the boards causing him to miss another two weeks.

In the 14 games he has appeared in so far this season, he is showing why he was a first round selection with 12 points including four goals. Hishon has all the talent and skills to play in the NHL but will need to show he can play a full season in the AHL without missing significant time due to injury.

Colin Smith, C, 20

With a two-goal performance against the Hamilton Bulldogs on December 6, Colin Smith might just be finding his stride in the AHL after a difficult start to his first year for the Lake Erie Monsters. He did not score his first goal until early November against the Utica Comets. In 25 games he has four goals and five assists for nine points.

Smith was a prolific goal scorer for the Kamloops Blazers, highlighted by a 106-point season in 2012-13. He is finding it difficult to score in the AHL due to his lack of size. His speed is up to par with his peers but getting to the tough areas of the ice has not been easy for the young Edmonton native. With experience and time to add muscle to his 5’10 frame, he can become that dynamic center the Avalanche hoped for when they drafted Smith in 2012.

Brad Malone, C, 24

Avalanche head coach, Patrick Roy, is high on Brad Malone and for good reason. The 24-year-old forward plays a strong physical game that creates open space for his teammates. Malone was one of the last cuts coming out of training camp and took on a top-six role for the Monsters when the AHL season started. In 15 games he scored four goals and assisted on four others for eight points.

Malone was recalled to Denver on November 18 due to an injury to forward Alex Tanguay. Playing limited minutes on the Avalanche fourth line, Malone only has one assist so far in five games since the call up. He has often found himself a healthy scratch, but until Tanguay returns, Malone is expected to remain on the NHL roster.

Mitchell Heard, C, 21

Mitchell Heard has used his size, speed, and determination in the past to become a reliable second line center with a scoring touch. However, in his adjustment to the AHL, he has found it harder to score and has taken on a new role as a player who stands up for his teammates. In the 2012-13 season, he had nine fights and this season he already has four. At 6’1 and 190 pounds, he is not the biggest fighter but that does not stop him from dropping the gloves with fighters like David Musil (EDM) of the Oklahoma City Barons.

In addition to leading the Monsters with 76 penalty minutes, Heard has been able to contribute four points in 22 games this season.

Duncan Siemens, D, 20

Duncan Siemens is one of the Avalanche’s up and coming defensive prospects. Drafted 11th overall in 2011, there is a lot of pressure on him to become one of the future defensive mainstays for the team.
Currently sidelined with an injury, Siemens has only appeared in 13 games this season and has no points with a minus-four rating. Asked to take on a top-four shutdown role in his first season in the AHL, the lack of points should not come as a surprise. Siemens was not drafted to provide offense but instead be a physical presence on the ice. The Monsters coaching staff initially paired Siemens with his former Saskatoon Blades defensive partner, Stefan Elliott, but the pair was broken up due to injuries.

Tyson Barrie, D, 22

To say Tyson Barrie has had a turbulent 2013-14 season would be an understatement. Barrie made the opening night roster and played against the Anaheim Ducks in a 6-1 victory but a few short games later found himself scratched from the lineup due to being outplayed by other defensemen. He would remain a healthy scratch for several games before being demoted to the Monsters to get additional playing time. Barrie only appeared in six games in Cleveland as injuries to Avalanche defenseman Ryan Wilson and Jan Hejda would require Barrie back in Denver, where he is currently playing alongside Nick Holden

While known more for his offensive game than his defensive game, Barrie has been struggling to put up points both in the AHL and NHL. In the six games for the Monsters, he only had three assists. In 17 games for the Avalanche this season, he only has three assists as well despite seeing time on the first unit power play. Barrie will have to impress head coach Patrick Roy if he wants more even strength playing time.

Stefan Elliott, D, 22

When Stefan Elliott appeared in 39 games for the Avalanche in the 2011-12 season, many thought he would quickly cement his status as the Avalanche’s premier offensive defenseman. However, Elliott is finding out the hard way just how difficult it is to stay on the NHL roster as he splits his time between the Avalanche and their AHL affiliate the Lake Erie Monsters.

Elliott has yet to appear in a game for the Avalanche this season, but after 23 games for the Monsters, he is by far their best defenseman and not just on the stats sheet. His 12 points lead all team blueliners but Elliott is playing important minutes and against the opposing team’s top lines. While the Monsters blue line is decimated with injuries, Elliott will continue to be the anchor that keeps the team afloat.

Karl Stollery, D, 26

After four years playing for Merrimack College in the Hockey East conference, Stollery quickly made the transition to the AHL where he immediately found success. His seven points in nine games would earn him another contract with the Lake Erie Monsters and in his first full season in the AHL he led all Monsters defenseman in points.

In his second season, he has not found the same success he did last year and has only appeared in 20 games posting six points in that time. Currently sidelined with an injury, he will look to regain his first season form once he returns to the Monsters lineup later this month.

Gabriel Beaupre, D, 21

Last season, Gabriel Beaupre started the season playing for the Denver Cutthroats but after getting promoted to the AHL he never saw time in the CHL again. After attending Avalanche training camp, he would be reassigned to the Monsters. Beaupre is playing on the third pairing and in 19 games has two goals and one assist for three points.

Markus Lauridsen, D, 22

Like Beaupre, Markus Lauridsen saw time with both the Monsters and Cutthroats last season. After training camp this year, Lauridsen was assigned to the Monsters. He is seeing time on the second pairing due to injuries. Once the Monsters get back to a healthy roster, expect Lauridsen to be paired with Beaupre. In 21 games this season, Lauridsen has five points.

CHL

Kieran Millan, G, 24

Much like the Avalanche, the Denver Cutthroats got off to a hot start this season. Part of that reason was goalie Kieran Millan. Millan was assigned to the Lake Erie Monsters out of Avalanche training camp but was then reassigned from the Monsters to the Cutthroats shortly thereafter. In his first three starts for the Cutthroats, Millan was a perfect 3-0-0. He was called up to the Monsters for two weeks, but did not see any game action before being sent back down to the Cutthroats on November 13. Millan would not lose a game in regulation until a November 23 matchup against the Brampton Beast.

Millan has only appeared in eight games so far this season for the Cutthroats due to his promotion to the Monsters but is unquestionably the Cutthroats’ number one goalie. In those eight games he has been stellar with a save percentage of .921 and goals against average of 2.73 to show for it. Going forward, Millan should get the majority of the starts for the Cutthroats unless the Monsters call him up again.

Kent Patterson, G, 24

While Kieran Millan was in Cleveland playing for the Lake Erie Monsters, it was up to Kent Patterson to hold down the fort for the Cutthroats. Patterson struggled during that seven game stretch and the Cutthroats went 2-3-2, despite the Cutthroats signing Littleton native Casey Sherwood as Patterson’s backup.

Upon Millan’s return, Patterson would bounce back in performance and win the CHL’s goaltender of the week award for the third week of November. In 15 appearances this season, Patterson has a save percentage of .906 and a goals against average of 2.85.

Other Notes

Two Avalanche prospects could be appearing in the 2014 World Junior Championship this year taking place in Malmo, Sweden. Chris Bigras was selected to Team Canada’s preliminary roster and Will Butcher was selected to Team USA’s preliminary roster.

Bigras will most likely attend the tournament playing a top-four role for Team Canada. In 29 games for the Owen Sound Attack, the defenseman has 11 points. Bigras’ offensive numbers may seem like he is taking a step back but the lack of offensive production from Bigras this year can be attributed to being paired with rookie partner Damir Sharipzyanov.

Butcher’s participation in the tournament will depend on how Team USA’s coaching staff wishes to structure their roster. He will be among many premiere puck moving defenseman for Team USA but his extensive international experience will give him a leg up on the competition. A strong showing at camp would also boost his chances. Butcher got off to a hot start for the University of Denver Pioneers but has since been unable to get on the scoring sheet for the past several games. In 17 games he has four points for the Pioneers.

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