With injuries to key players and out of playoff contention, the Avalanche were able to dress seven prospects this season. Forward Chris Stewart was the only prospect who was able to land a spot on the team early and keep it while the other five players were up at various points of the season. With the high number of defenders under contract for next season, it will make it harder on the likes of Raymond Macias, Michael Vernace, Wes O’Neill and Derek Peltier to secure spots on the blue line unless trades are made.
Philippe Dupuis, C, 23
Acquired: Trade from Columbus, January 2008
Dupuis saw a bit of spot duty for the Avalanche this season due to injuries within the forward corps. He was first recalled from Lake Erie on December 11th, making his NHL debut against the Chicago Blackhawks the following day. His stint only lasted three games before he was reassigned on December 16th. Dupuis saw limited minutes in the first two games, only averaging about 7:00. In the last game before he was sent back, he saw his ice time increase to over ten minutes. He was held pointless in the three games.
Dupuis was recalled a second time on January 6th. His role didn’t change much during his second stint with the Avalanche as he averaged approximately nine minutes a night.
Dupuis’ future with the Avalanche looks to be in a reserve defensive-forward role. He did not record a point in eight NHL games he participated in and finished the season with the Lake Erie Monsters as he was sent back down in mid-January.
T.J. Galiardi, C, 21
Acquired: 2nd round, 55th overall in 2007
Galiardi didn’t have the greatest offensive season in the AHL and battled early injury troubles, but in his short stint with the Avalanche he displayed some of his offensive flair that he is known for.
The 21-year-old Galiardi made his NHL debut against the Edmonton Oilers. It wouldn’t take him long to hit the scorecard. In his fourth game, Galiardi notched his first NHL goal against division rival Vancouver Canucks. He would strike yet again against the Canucks three games later when he recorded his first two-goal game.
He averaged around 16 minutes a night over the 11 games he played in. Galiardi saw some time on the power play where his skills could come to the forefront but all his points were recorded at even strength.
Galiardi is a finesse forward who has great vision and strong playmaking skills. He knows where to be in the offensive zone and is creative. He has the required skill and size to fill into a second-line center role in the near future. He’ll need to bulk up over the course of the summer to secure a spot on the Avalanche in the fall.
Chris Stewart, RW, 21
Acquired: 1st round, 18th overall in 2006
The 21-year-old Stewart was the only Avalanche prospect to secure a roster spot for the majority of the season, participating in 53 NHL games.
He made his NHL debut on December 6th against Dallas. Like Galiardi, it didn’t take Stewart long to tally his first NHL goal — Dec. 9 against Los Angeles. He also picked up an assist in the game.
Stewart bounced around the line-up seeing top-six and top-nine minutes. He played wing to fellow youngster T.J. Hensick and also saw time with veteran grinder Ian Laperriere. The benefits of a power forward like Stewart are that he can slot into many roles within the line-up on a given night. He’s able to play an offensive role and when the time comes he’s able to play a grinding role. Stewart also saw time playing on both the left and right wing.
He averaged only about 12 minutes of ice time through the 53 games but was an impressive third in shooting percentage on the Avalanche. He saw time on the power play and also displayed the gritty side of his game by participating in eight fights throughout the year, facing such resident NHL tough guys as Colton Orr, Aaron Asham, and Jared Boll.
Stewart has a bright future ahead of him if he can bring more offensive consistency to his game. He’s a rare breed of size, skill and toughness that most teams are eager to obtain. He has all the tools to be a solid second-line power-forward winger in the NHL. He may not score many pretty goals, but he’ll go into the danger areas and clean up loose pucks in front of the net.
Raymond Macias, D, 22
Acquired: 4th round, 124th overall in 2005
Macias has had a rough road to the NHL. He’s battled numerous injury problems which may have held his progression back a bit but on April 5th the 22-year-old’s hard work started to pay off when he made his NHL debut against Vancouver.
Macias participated in six games for the Avalanche this season and was the only rookie defender to record a point. On April 9 against the Dallas Stars, Macias notched his first NHL assist on the power play. There he was able to play to his strengths of his offensive game. Through the six games he saw a good amount of ice time, averaging 17 minutes.
Macias may not make the Avalanche line-up out of camp next season, but his six-game stint this season shows that he is on their radar. Macias has the offensive skill to be a special teams contributor in the future. He should see some more spot duty next season as an injury call-up.
Wes O’Neill, D, 23
Acquired: Free Agent in 2007
Once a highly touted potential NHL draftee, O’Neill has come back into the NHL spotlight.
On March 27th, O’Neill got the call against the Vancouver Canucks. He would go on to play three more games in his stint before being sent back to Lake Erie in favor of defender Aaron MacKenzie. In those three games, O’Neill saw limited ice time only averaging about ten minutes a night.
O’Neill is one of the biggest defenders in the Avalanche system at 6’4 and 215 lbs. He plays a strong, meat and a potatoes type defensive game. Though he didn’t have a long stretch in the NHL, no NHL opportunity should be overlooked. O’Neill does not project to have a high NHL ceiling but could end up being a bottom pairing or reserve defender in the next few years.
Derek Peltier, D, 24
Acquired: 6th round, 184th overall in 2004
Peltier was a top offensive defenseman for Lake Erie before being called up by the Avalanche on March 17th for their game against Minnesota.
Peltier played in 11 games for the Avalanche and averaged 13 minutes a night. Unfortunately, he was unable to translate his offensive production he had with the Monsters to the Avalanche and finished the season with zero points. He saw barely any special-teams time while in the NHL.
Peltier will be looking to make the jump to the NHL now as he is already 24 years old, since he spent a big chunk of his development time in the NCAA. He has a good set of well-rounded foundational skills but is unlikely to be a consistent top-six defender in the NHL.
Michael Vernace, D, 22
Acquired: Trade from San Jose, June 2006
Vernace made big strides this season as a pro. Known as a puck-moving defender through his career thus far, Vernace was used in a defensive role in his 12-game stretch with the Avalanche. He saw virtually no power-play time and saw an average of two minutes a night on the penalty kill, which is a great deal more than any other Avalanche rookie.
Vernace made his NHL debut on March 17 against Minnesota. He averaged only about 12 minutes in his first game but that quickly improved over the next three. By his fourth NHL game, Vernace was averaging an impressive 23 minutes. The last six games of the season Vernace was averaging between 20-25 minutes a night.
Even though Vernace wasn’t able to register a point in his 12 games with the Avalanche, the fact he was given the opportunity to run with 20 minutes of ice time a night speaks volumes of how the Avalanche organization values him. Next year will be yet another key season for Vernace to continue to raise his level of play. At 6’2, 200 lbs Vernace has ideal NHL size for a defender. His size, skating ability and two-way game make him an interesting option for the Avalanche going forward.