An injury-plagued season for the Colorado Avalanche turned into a cornucopia of opportunity for several young rookies. Paul Stastny, Joe Sakic, Marek Svatos and Ryan Smyth by themselves combined for 101 lost man-games during the regular season and the team was equally unlucky during the playoffs.
But thanks to injury struggles, the team had a great look at several up-and-coming rookies, most notably, a forward with top-six potential in T.J. Hensick. Colorado called up the 22-year-old center on four occasions during the regular season and he showed great offensive instincts while leading the team in rookie scoring with six goals and five assists in 31 games. He had a bit of a slow start in the pros but his offense exploded during the first week of February. In just a three-game span he recorded five goals, which led the team in goals scored for that month. He also became the first Avalanche/Nordiques rookie to post consecutive multi-goal games since Miroslav Frycer in 1981-82.
Michigan native Hensick made his playoff debut in game three of the Western Conference semi-finals against the Detroit Red Wings, the team he cheered for as a child. He made an immediate impact when his shot from along the boards was redirected into the net by fellow rookie Cody McLeod. With Joe Sakic not getting any younger and Jaroslav Hlinka deciding to take his game to the Swedish Elite League, the opportunity is there for Hensick to scoop up a full-time job with the big club in the 2008-09 season.
Twenty-three-year-old left winger McLeod is another rookie that made his presence known at the pro level this season. The undrafted forward seems like a perfect fit for an energy role or fourth line duty. He finished second in rookie scoring with Colorado with four goals and five assists in 49 games and his 120 penalty minutes made him the first rookie in Avalanche history to surpass the 100-minute mark. McLeod earned the respect of the team’s coaching staff and was rewarded with a roster spot for all 10 of the team’s playoff games this year. Despite averaging only 12 minutes of ice time per game, his 22 postseason hits were good enough for second best on the squad.
Colorado pulled David Jones out of the minors three times before he finally stuck with the club and he played the last 18 games of the regular season as well as all 10 of the team’s postseason contests. The 23-year-old right winger only recorded two goals and five assists in 37 regular season and postseason games and while he seems to lack finish right now, he did show glimpses of a future as a good power forward in the league. Averaging just over 10 minutes of ice time per game, his best performance of the season came by way of two assists in a 6-4 victory over the St. Louis Blues in early February.
A groin injury prevented Kyle Cumiskey from auditioning his skills for most the season, but in the 38 games he managed to squeeze in with the Avalanche he struggled to produce offensively, despite receiving some power-play time along the way. The 21-year-old defender did not dress for any of the team’s playoff games and recorded only five assists during the regular season. His game lacks polish at the moment, but he does pose an interesting offensive upside. His best game of the year came in a 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks in early December where he compiled nearly 15 minutes of ice time and collected an assist with a +2 rating.
Rounding out this year’s crop of Colorado rookies was defenseman Johnny Boychuk. The Edmonton, Alberta native appeared in only four games for the Avalanche, recording one assist and averaging less than nine minutes of ice time per game. The 24-year-old appears to be running out of time, however, he did finish second among Lake Erie Monsters (AHL) defensemen in scoring, recording eight goals and 18 assists in 60 games.