With a string of successful drafts following the NHL lockout, the Colorado Avalanche have made great strides in restocking their prospect pool. While there are still weaknesses in goal and on the wings that will need to be addressed, the organization appears to be on the right track.
The biggest need for the Avalanche organization is at the left wing position. They have only four prospects of note, with one seemingly unsignable, and none of the others projecting to be anything more than fringe players in the NHL.
Diminutive Denis Parshin, a Russian drafted in the third round in 2004, has shown excellent skill and speed while playing with CSKA Moscow of the KHL, however, he has made no commitments to playing in North America.
Boston College’s Paul Carey was a dynamic offensive player at the USHL level, but has struggled in his time in the NCAA. If the 21-year-old sophomore is unable to find his offensive game in the near future, it is unlikely that his NHL dreams will become reality. Carey can also play center.
Possessing a strong all-around game, Lake Erie Monsters’ Tom Fritsche may be the only left winger in the system to have a shot at the NHL. Last season was cut short by a concussion in February and this season will be critical as Fritsche attempts get his career back on track.
Johan Alcen is the final left winger in the Avalanche system, currently playing for Rogle Angelholm of the Swedish Elite League. The 21-year-old is off to a much better start, but does not appear to be ready to make the move to North America at this time.
At the center position, the Avalanche have a number of very skilled players who excel in different facets of the game. Three of their top five center prospects have begun their NHL careers and it looks as though two more could be on the way within a year or two.
Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly and T.J. Galiardi all made the starting roster. Duchene, having been the third overall pick in the 2009 draft, was expected to see time in the NHL right away. Certainly Duchene has made the most of his short time in the NHL up to this point, centering the Avalanche’s second line and not looking out of place despite his youth.
Galiardi began his NHL career last season with the Avalanche after being called up from Lake Erie with 11 games remaining. While coach Joe Sacco is using him somewhat sparingly this season, Galiardi does have the talent to thrive in the NHL and appears to be on a more moderate learning curve than Duchene.
The most surprising member of the Avalanche prospect pool has to be O’Reilly. Drafted 33rd overall in 2009, he too has thrived in the NHL, making the most of his speed and two-way ability to be a very effective forechecker and penalty killer.
Among the other prospects at the center position, Ryan Stoa, Cedric McNicoll and Justin Mercier, all in their first professional seasons with the Monsters, have the potential to play at the NHL level. At this point, Stoa and Mercier are ahead of McNicoll. Also at the AHL level is Codey Burki, however, he may have maxed out his potential at this point.
Similar to the situation at the left wing position, the Avalanche have a serious need for skilled players on the right wing.
Of the four prospects who play on the right wing, Chris Stewart has earned a position at the NHL level. The 2006 first-round pick made the Avalanche out of training camp, but with the talent already on the roster, he has had to fight for playing time, and when he has played it has been primarily on the third or fourth lines.
Rounding out the remaining right wing prospects are Brad Malone, currently playing in the NCAA, and Brandon Yip, who was signed by the Avalanche this year and is in his rookie season in the AHL. Malone can also play center and is off to a more productive start this year, his junior year, with two points in three games.
If recent drafts are any indication, the organization has taken a firm stance on building a defensive group who excels in its own zone and in puck movement. Most of the better defensive prospects are not yet playing pro.
2005 seventh-round pick Kyle Cumiskey looks to have made a permanent move to the NHL and if he can stay healthy and produce offensively, his playing time will increase. Recent draft picks Kevin Shattenkirk, Colby Cohen, Cameron Gaunce, Stefan Elliot and Tyson Barrie are the five prospects who have the highest expectations to succeed. Shattenkirk and Cohen have both returned to Boston University to defend their NCAA title but should make the jump to pro within a year. Gaunce was signed to an entry-level contact by the Avalanche over the summer but was returned to his OHL team to work on the finer points of his game. He may see time in the AHL before the year is done. Elliot and Barrie were also returned to their junior teams in the WHL for this season and will likely play out their eligibility, but both possess the talent to be solid NHL defenders.
With the Monsters, Derek Peltier, Raymond Macias, Ryan Wilson, Darcy Campbell and Wes O’Neill, all appear to be on the outside looking in and will not likely see regular NHL time barring injury. While these players have proven to be decent AHL players, they have not consistently shown the ability to play in the NHL.
Over the last three years, the Avalanche have made it a priority to shore up a position that has been a question mark since the retirement of Patrick Roy in 2003. They have five in the system now, but none of their goaltending prospects are within a year of being NHL ready.
The goalie prospect with the most intrigue surrounding him is Quebec Remparts goalie Peter Delmas. There are high expectations for him, especially now that he is being coached by Roy. For now, Delmas must make the most of his time under Roy as he plays out the remainder of his junior career. Also in the CHL is 2009 draft pick Brandon Maxwell who is in his first year with the Kitchener Rangers after playing with the USNTDP. Maxwell was a low-risk pick for the Avalanche and the team will have no reason to rush his development.
In the NCAA, goalies Kieran Millan and Kent Patterson have both returned to their college teams for this season. Much like Maxwell, the Avalanche will be very patient with these two goalies and allow them time to develop before making any decisions about their professional careers.