“The future’s so bright I got to wear shades”, will be one tune the Avalanche organization will be singing when they look down into their farm club in Hershey. One of the hottest teams in the past few weeks, the Bears have started to show why Colorado’s future is so good. Truth be told, Hershey only contains around half of the organizations younger promising talent, with most of it being located in other areas such as colleges and junior clubs. Even with such a minor showing of the organization’s prospects, Hershey still contains player depth most teams could only dream of ever having as far as prospects go. At present time, most of the Bears are Avalanche prospects (or under minor league contract with the team). Few are actual “Hershey only” players. They consist of some of the youngest players in the league (Lazarev), not to mention one of the oldest (Lamoureux). With such a unique mix of young and old, Hershey has needed time to learn and adjust to life in the AHL.
The adjustment period is coming to a close, and the team must start to show what they can do. The time is NOW. The prospects Colorado so dearly covet are starting to bust out and show why this organization’s pool of talent is one of the best if not the best. With the recent acquisitions of Parker, Belak, and Denis from the “Big Club”, They now have leaders to take charge not only in the AHL but also in their quest to show what they can do.
They have one of the unknown DANGEROUS offenses in the AHL. Once rated below average, their snipers, like Matte and Willsie, have started to find the net regularly. The team plays a hard nosed two-way style that “betters” not only the team but also the development of the organization’s younger inexperienced prospects. To add to the offensive side of things, the two-way style allows their defense to finally stabilize and remain solid and supportive of not only the rush but also the defensive workings of the game. With these parts running like clockwork, they follow-up with one of the best two goaltenders in all of the minor leagues, Denis and Aebischer.
The following report will enter not only into the exploits of certain promising prospects but also the Bears’ players depth and future success with the team and their NHL affiliate, Colorado. The beginning of this report looks at the Top 5 “up and coming” prospects from Hershey and their potential for success. To “flesh out” the numerous areas on the team, the following sections will look at the important areas of the players and team, and base a report on each one.
1) Marc Denis****
2) Scott Parker**1/2
3) Christian Matte**1/2
4) Wade Belak**
5) Brad Larsen**
Notables: Brian Willsie, Serge Aubin, and Dan Smith
Lots of Depth. One of the main reasons they’re rated so high. Very few BIG TIME SCORERS (Matte?). Need players to start scoring because they have enough skill on the team to be dangerous. Starting to see “regular” lines used in turn allowing players to “mesh” with each other and begin to score. Still not as dangerous as they should be, but getting there.
Hershey scoring depth for forwards (based on 80 AHL games):
Ville Nieminen (25g 50p)Serge Aubin* (25g 70p) Christian Matte (40g 70p)
Evgeny Lazarev (20g 50p)Mitch Lamoureux (20g 60p)Brian Willsie (30g 50p)
Brad Larsen (15g 30p)Rob Shearer* (20g 50p)Scott Parker (10g 20p)
Nick Bootland (5g 15p)Yuri Babenko (15g 30p)Dan Hinote (10g 20p)
Notables: Bruce Richardson (10g 30p)
One BIG TIME OFFENSIVE D-man, but he is not a prospect in the organization’s eyes. Berry is too young and inexperienced to play as one. A good mix of “veteran” players that make up a strong defensive backing that is good enough to help Hershey challenge for the cup. A solid showing overall but not overly special in any attribute except for the playing styles of the defenseman…aggressive.
Hershey scoring depth for defensemen (based on 80 AHL games):
Mike Gaul* (15g 60p)Chris Armstrong (10g 40p)
Shannon Finn (5g 30p)Rick Berry (5g 15p)
Brian White* (5g 15p)Dan Smith (–g 10p)
Wade Belak (–g 10p)
Notables: Jeff Buchanan* (5g 15p)
The most feared tag team in the minors. Belak is #2 only because they have Parker on the team, because he would be #1 elsewhere. They keep teams honest when playing not to mention create space on the ice for the Hershey players. Besides these two, Hershey has a decent showing of toughness but no one other than Berry to be a real physical presence, and even he doesn’t have the ability to be an enforcer.
Hershey Heavy Hitters: Scott Parker, Wade Belak, and Rick Berry
Two #1 goalies on one team, isn’t it nice? Above average play if not spectacular in recent games. Both have started to win, now if only one could make it in the NHL so that the other could be the lone #1 starter. One of the best groupings of young skilled goaltenders for any of the NHL’s minor league clubs.
Hershey goaltending depth:
All projections are based on the minimum (g’s & p’s) a player is expected to score at the AHL level.
(BOLD)- denotes a Colorado Draft prospect
(*)- denotes a free agent signee by Colorado
(Reg. Type)- denotes a free agent signed by Hershey or on loan to them
Forwards- A solid showing from a nice mix of minor league veterans, prospects and dark horses. Hershey is filled with players that can play all styles. From the attack of the “rush” to the grinding game of “dump and chase”, they can do it all. At this time there is no real huge scoring threat in Hershey, because the younger players like Willsie and Lazarev have yet to evolve and adjust to the AHL to become scoring threats in their own right. But they will in time. This does not say they have no scorers. Its just they have no one who would blow away teams in the NHL. Most of the forward prospects can play both ways while some concentrate mostly on the defensive play of the game. This allows Hershey to not only supply Colorado, at any time, with strong role players but to also “grizzle” out the younger developing prospects so that they might one day be strong all around players in their own right. With all this, Hershey has four lines of above average depth, with most of the lines being filled with Avs prospects, who can all play a solid game in the AHL.
Serge Aubin- A two-way force who centers one of the top two lines in Hershey and even plays wing at times. Plays more as a playmaker than sniper in Hershey but this has been his normal style since day one. Was recently signed by Colorado (from Hershey) to help when they were depleted in depth up in the “Big Club”. Was returned to Hershey shortly after but fell to injury upon returning. Has been a solid point-per-game player for the Bears while playing during all points in the game. He is not overly aggressive but throws his weight around and has learned how to play the pro game, which he has adjusted well to. Will only put up decent numbers (20g 50p) if playing on a top line for a NHL club (Colorado?) which doesn’t look possible with all of the Avs depth.
NHL Projection15g40p 2nd line playmaker
Yuri Babenko- Another two-way player who is even more dangerous than he looks. Was once centering Willsie and numerous other Bears, while putting up decent numbers, but has been dropped to a lesser more “specialized” role nowadays, similar to what Yelle use to do for Colorado back in 97. Has some offensive flair but tends to keep it in check that causes him to not be much more than a checking center in Hershey. His speed alone makes him deadly enough to play on a top line, not to mention his passing abilities, but its Hershey’s depth that has him seeing less ice time. Even with the role he now plays, he comes to play hard game in game out. Look for him to put up solid numbers next year as a front liner and then decent numbers in Colorado in a few years as a 3rd or 4th line defensive player.
NHL Projection10g30p3rd line grinder
Brad Larsen- The captain of the team who fell to injury early in the season. A strong leader who led Canada, along with fellow teammate Denis, to a WJC gold medal as the team captain. He is a solid player, with no big advantage/weakness in any area (heart?), who WON’T put up big numbers. He plays his style of grinder/checker well enough to put a point up on the board now and then. Plays with all his heart and energy game in and game out. At times he does take a bad penalty but that seems to be in the past since his assignment back to Hershey. Presently is recovering from an abdominal injury but should be at top level when he returns. Should put up solid numbers when he returns to the team and then maybe see a call up to the Avs when needed, where he could put up decent numbers and even be a danger on the penalty kill. Will return as the team’s captain and checking line leader when he recovers from his injury.
NHL Projection15g30p3rd line grinder
Evgeny Lazarev- The youngest player in the AHL. Lazarev didn’t see the ice time that he needed, in the past, to develop into the power forward he’s projected to be. When he’s on the ice, as the team’s fourth line left winger, Lazarev dazzles with his mix of aggression and skill. Can even put the puck in the net if given the chance. Has seen more ice time since Aubin’s injury and other recent call-ups, and has responded by putting his ability/skill to good use by being a danger every time he’s on the ice. Can play during all situations of a game and plays a style and checking game similar to what Forsberg does for Colorado. This kid is great to watch and an interesting player because he can play either wing and any style that is needed. With continual development and more ice time, Lazarev could be more dangerous than Matte himself. That statement has been reinforced with his most recent performances in Hershey. At his present pace, and depending on whether he remains playing where he is playing, Lazarev could be a point-per-game producer within this year or next. Will be a solid point producer in the NHL when he gets there in three or more years.
NHL Projection25g50p2nd line power forward
Christian Matte- The “sniper” of the group who generally sees the most ice time of the Hershey forwards. Double shifted at times because of his knack for putting the puck in the net. Has recently been on-fire with goal scoring outburst in the past eight or so games. He plays on Hershey’s top line and is one of the leaders on the team. A “veteran” to the team, even though he is only 23. Matte plays strong and aggressive both ways since being demoted from Colorado where some had felt he was just not cut out to be up there. Skates up and down well and can set up other teammates well. A star in Hershey but may never be anything more than a role player for Colorado. Is basically looked as a 4th liner with the “Big Club” but has the ability to play on the second line of a high offense team in the NHL.
NHL Projection20g40p2nd line scorer
Ville Nieminen- Agitator, Instigator, Irritator…Joker. Joker? Nieminen may be all of the first three, but the best part is the card up his sleeve, the “Joker”. His playing style is similar to that of what Jones did for Colorado, but it’s his physical actions that tell the story. Nieminen has a joker-like smile that he smiles off whenever he skates up the ice or sets up for a one-timer or rebound. He irritates opponents with his relentlessness and hard-hitting style. He may not be overly skilled but he does play like a winner almost all of the time. He sees his ice time mostly on the top lines as a winger and on the powerplay. Does take bad penalties at times but mostly due to his agitating and uncontrollable style. Exciting player who constantly tries to improve and better himself to make the jump to the big club. Will be a solid scorer for Hershey on their top lines with a possibility of a 3rd or 4th line role up in Colorado in the near future. A “spark plug” not only for the team but also for the fans.
NHL Projection15g30p3rd line grinder/agitator
Brian Willsie- this lesser known player came out of the junior ranks as a natural scorer who played mostly one way. But it’s his recent play that has made him one to watch. Willsie is known as a natural scorer, similar to that of Matte, and could one day put up even better numbers than Matte. He has matured some since juniors and has even learned his defensive responsibilities. For that, he is now seen mostly as the right wing on Hershey’s checking line. Checking line? Willsie adds that added danger because not only can he score but he’s an above-average skater to boot. Not overly aggressive, but he makes up for that with his other hockey skills. He puts up decent numbers while stationed on the checking line and when he moves up to a top line he can turn it on. Willsie has been on a tear as of late when he saw more ice time on a scoring lines while Matte and Aubin where up with the “Big Club”. Will one day move up to one of those lines regularly where he will put up great numbers and may one day be up in Colorado as Sakic’s right wing, but that may be still a ways away.
NHL Projection20g40p2nd line scorer
Defensemen- not highly populated by Avs higher rated prospects, but none the less solid if not above average. The blue line contains a good showing from a few prospects and dark horses, such as Buchanan and White, but there really is no offensive defenseman prospect (Gaul?) in the crowd of defenders. The best is probably Berry who has yet to learn how to play a solid two-way game. Most of the D’s are physically punishing with a few being able to set up the rush. Even with so little, they accomplish so much. The defense is really not too young because of its numerous “veterans”. When Colorado calls, Hershey will have whatever they want. That is whatever they want as far as a physical stay-at-home defenseman goes.
Wade Belak- normally looked to be the enforcer on the team, Belak has settled in as a solid defender nowadays. With Parker’s arrival, Belak is looked more now than ever to settle down on the defensive end of things and add to the game in other ways. Not a great player but not a bad one either. He was drafted for his toughness but because of Colorado’s overabundance of “Heavy Hitters”; Belak is standing out less and looking more as a decent player than upcoming physical star. Is a feared force that opens up the ice and causes forwards to flinch when they see him coming. Belak saw most of his ice time in Colorado this year, be it very little, until recently being demoted. He is now one of the chosen “leaders” on defense and has shown he is about ready to lead in other ways. Will spend most of his ice time in Hershey as long as Colorado is overstocked with defensemen, but could be back up anytime. When he does stick, he will be looked to as a 7th defenseman who fills in at times and sometimes plays forward.
NHL Projection –g10penforcer/7th defenseman
Rick Berry- Highly talented but has yet to put it together. He has lapses…a lot of the time. Berry can add a great element to the organization if he starts playing his style. Tends to jump into the play at the wrong time that led to turnovers. Even coughs up the puck at the worst of times. Didn’t look comfortable in the early goings but it is believed he has started to settle down. Highly aggressive and takes bad penalties from such a playing style. At present time Berry has played in only a few games (until recently) and when he does play, it’s only for a few minutes a game. Is looked to now more as a replacement than as a regular for Hershey. When he gets his “Berry” playing style back, he could be a great two-way physical D in the AHL. Will he land in the NHL? If he does it will be similar to what Belak will go through as a 7th defenseman.
NHL Potential5g10ptwo-way defenseman
Dan Smith- Smith’s role at present time is to be the “veteran leader” on defense next to Gaul. He is a solid defenseman who won the Calder cup with Hershey two years ago. Smith is one of Hershey’s top defensemen now that he has been sent down from his extended stay up in Colorado. Because of his return, he’s now looked to add a new element with his defensive stay-at-home style… “On ice presence”. Smith has now played a few years for Hershey, where he has worked to be one of Colorado’s most solid “Defensemen of the Future”. Because of his limited offensive ability, Smith will probably see most of his career in the minors with a few call-ups. As long as he’s an Avalanche player, he will remain as a “teacher” for the youth and a “soldier” for the “Big Club”.
NHL Potential–g10p7th defenseman
Enforcer(s)- “towers of power” are what they are as they hover over their fallen victims. Belak and Parker are two of the toughest players in the league, and two of the most feared. These two give Hershey the best grouping of enforcers and even if they had only Parker, Hershey would still rank #1, if not close to it. Neither will be big scorers but they will be able to use those hands of theirs for other items of dirty work. The future for the organization is bright or in this case gloomy…for the opposition.
Scott Parker- technically the “lone” enforcer in Hershey, even though Belak shares the duties, Parker is a monster. From his long goatee to his huge hands, he will send shivers down your spine. He even could add another element to his game given time. That element…scoring. He may not be that skilled but he can grind and bang a goal into the net and with him just standing there, his shear size alone causes havoc in front of the net. Originally started the year in Hershey, Parker was called up to fill in near mid-season and boy did he ever. Even with little ice time, he managed to pummel most opposing players with his thunderous blows. Now that he is back down, he will work on his overall play and maybe show what he can do. In a few years you will think of Parker every time someone mentions “the top NHL Heavyweights”.
Goaltenders- two of the top Avs prospects play here, prompting Colorado to not worry about their future as far as goaltending goes. An original unknown, at the beginning of the season, because of their earlier struggles, both have turned up their games and are now taking the league by storm. Both play similar styles yet both react differently. Aebischer seems to be the quicker of the two yet tends to block the shot more on his feet than in a butterfly fashion, like Denis. Both are great goalies who could be #1s on almost any team in the AHL. Because of this, another Avalanche goaltending prospect, Petr Franek, has seen his stock drop in the organization and now finds himself playing in the IHL.
David Aebischer- a surprise of late, Aebischer is beginning to show why he blew away the competition in last year’s WJC. Aebischer has been great since Denis was called up and even helped lead Hershey to wins over some stiff competition like Philly and the other league giants. Great reflexes and superb style allow for him to steal the show whenever he is on the ice. Aebischer originally struggled at the beginning of this year’s season but it looks now like he’s ready to steal Denis’ job as starting goaltender. Because of this, fans could see both goalies “tagging off” every other game instead of Denis getting the call on most nights. As Aebischer continues to help Hershey’s team GAA drop to minuscule numbers, his stock rises to where numerous teams are taking note. With all of Colorado’s depth, it could take years before he sticks with the “Big Club”. More likely Aebischer or one of the other promising goaltenders will be dealt to make room for the others. Look for him to atleast be a solid backup with the chance to put up star numbers in the NHL.
NHL Potential #2 stand-up goalie
Marc Denis- franchise goalie? Probably not but don’t tell Denis that. At every level he has played he has been a leader and goaltending star. His early years saw him become a “god” in junior level play. He played on two of Canada’s gold medal winning teams and even won one basically on his play alone. Was even ranked as the top NHL prospect two years ago. Now that he’s reached the AHL level, Denis has struggled in the earlier going. But that seems to be over in his recent play where he has seen some time in Colorado, and has begun to steal the show again in Hershey. Denis generally plays a style similar to that of Roy’s but sometimes overcommits or gives up a bad rebound in turn allowing the opposition to score. Denis does have great reflexes and positioning that will make him one to watch at every level he competes at. With continued development and renewed confidence Denis may well be on his way to be a star at the NHL level. But that all depends on him and the team in front of him. More likely than not, Denis will finish the year in the AHL and then become one of Colorado’s two goalies next year.
NHL Potential#1 butterfly goalie
That basically concludes our look into Colorado’s prospects on the “Hershey side of things”. This is only the tip of the iceberg as far as prospect depth goes for such a deep team. This report basically gave you a small look into who Colorado had waiting in the wings and how the team (Hershey) faired as far as strength, weaknesses and depth goes. In the future, this “Forecast” will look at other areas as far as Colorado’s future goes. The next installment, entitled ” Futureshock”, will focus on the non-Hershey players who Colorado has drafted in the recent years. The report will help flesh out some of the lesser-known European players and Minor league players that Colorado owns. In closing, Colorado has a ton of depth not only in the AHL but also in the numerous other leagues. Hopefully in due time, as their prospects reach the NHL, Colorado will be reciting the common quote, ” in the end, there can be only one.” And there shall be only Colorado as long as their deep and talented prospects in Hershey continue to develop in the AHL.