Four Colorado Avalanche Junior prospects honored with Subway Super Series selection

By Chau Vo
Photo: Kyle Wood (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Photo: Kyle Wood has the size and offensive skill to be a true two-way defenseman someday for the Avalanche (courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

 

The annual Subway Super Series is an early season six-game exhibition between a select team of junior aged Russian players against three all-star teams formed from the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL. This year, the Colorado Avalanche were represented by four of their prospects including Chris Bigras, a favorite to represent Team Canada in the upcoming U20 World Junior Championship, as well as Conner Bleackley, Kyle Wood, and Spencer Martin.

Bigras and Bleackley appeared in both games for their respective teams and each had a point in the series. Bigras earned his assist with a shot from the point that created a scoring chance and Bleackley’s goal came in the second game of back-to-back 3-2 losses.

Wood had a plus-one rating for the OHL team in their 5-1 victory over Russia. Martin, however, was the goalie in the OHL’s loss four days earlier. Martin let in four goals on 26 shots and had a .846 save percentage in the OHL’s 4-0 loss.

The Russian select team would end up winning the series with 11 points to the CHL’s seven. It was a big victory for Russia as the series is typically dominated by the CHL.

OHL

Chris Bigras, D, Owen Sound Attack
Acquired: 2nd round (32nd overall), 2013

The Avalanche’s top defensive prospect is kicking off his final OHL season with a bang. With 22 points in his first 22 games, he is showing his offensive numbers from last year were not reflective of his talent level. He has already surpassed his goals total from the previous season and is proving to be highly effective on both ends of the ice.

His increased offense does not come at the expense of his defensive game. Widely considered as one of the top defensive defenseman in the OHL last year, Chris Bigras has improved both his stick-work and footwork this year. His on-ice intelligence allows him to routinely be one step ahead of the competition as well as make the smart and safe play. It is not out of the ordinary to see Bigras out on the ice for more than 25 minutes per game as he is often matched up against the opposing team’s best players.

With how Bigras has been performing, it will be hard for Team Canada to not include him on their roster for the upcoming 2015 U20 World Junior Championship.

Spencer Martin, G, Mississauga Steelheads
Acquired: 3rd round (63rd overall), 2013

Spencer Martin started off his OHL season with four wins in his first five games but has recently slowed to an 8-8-1 record. His save percentage is still hovering around .922 which is great but the Steelheads’ lack of a defensive game or competent blueline is not helping his goals against average which currently sits at 3.04. In his first two starts of the season, the defense in front of him allowed 87 shots to go through but Martin still escaped both games with the victory.

The Steelheads sit third in their division and seventh in the conference and, just like the previous two years, will rely heavily on Martin to help them get to the OHL playoffs. Steelheads fans, as well as Martin, will surely want to put together a deep run as this will be Martin’s last year in Mississauga.

Martin signed a three-year entry level contract with the Avalanche at the beginning of October. His signing indicates his climbing up the Avalanche’s goaltending depth chart and will compete for an NHL job as early as next season.

Kyle Wood, D, North Bay Battalion
Acquired: 3rd round (84th overall), 2014

Kyle Wood’s draft stock rose tremendously late last season when he came back from an injury that left him sidelined for the first half of the season, to lead the Battalion on their deep run into the OHL playoffs. The 6’5 and 220 pound Waterloo, Ontario native is both big and mobile, a combination that allows him to not only play a physical defensive game but to also quarterback the power play like he has been doing in North Bay.

Last year, Wood only scored four goals, two in the regular season and two in the playoffs, the entire season. He surpassed that count in just 12 games this year and has six goals on the season. Wood also plays a responsible and disciplined game by not taking too many penalties and only has six penalty minutes in his first 20 games.

Nick Magyar, F, Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: 4th round (93rd overall), 2014

Nick Magyar shared the Rangers’ Rookie of the Year award last year when he ended the season with 46 points in 66 games. For a rebuilding Rangers team, that was also the highest points total for the entire group.

This year, he has gotten off to a rough start and has found himself bouncing around the top-six and the bottom-six positions. The Rangers will need him to improve on his eight  point start if they want to get back into OHL prominence.

WHL

Conner Bleackley, F, Red Deer Rebels
Acquired: 1st round (23rd overall), 2014

Conner Bleackley had a slow start to this season but as soon as he found his stride, he let the entire WHL know he was coming. The Rebels’ captain earned the Denny’s WHL Player of the Week award with his play on October 24th and 25th. In those two games, against the Prince George Cougars and Moose Jaw Warriors, Bleackley amassed one goal and five assists to go along with a plus-four rating.

His 19 points in 22 games is good enough for fourth in team scoring but Rebels head coach Brent Sutter has praised Bleackley’s versatility. The young forward and most recent Avalanche first round draft pick is able to play both the center and right wing positions. He is not counted on to be the primary scoring threat for the Rebels but is instead relied on for his defensive prowess and leadership.

Mason Geertsen, D, Vancouver Giants
Acquired: 4th round (93rd overall), 2013

Mason Geertsen is the Avalanche prospect who has shown the most improvement since being drafted. Once thought of as only a defensive defenseman who uses his 6’4 and 215 pound frame to punish opponents, he is showing he is capable of contributing offensively as well.

His hard work and determination has earned him the respect of his teammates and coaching staff, as he was selected to be one of the Giants’ alternate captains for the 2014-15 season.

In 23 games, he has one goal and 13 assists for 14 points.

QMJHL

Alexis Pepin, C/LW, Gatineau Olympiques
Acquired: 4th round (114th overall), 2014

Alexis Pepin was once a rising star in the Quebec hockey scene and many had argued that his NHL future was nothing short of certain. He was the second overall pick of his QMJHL draft by the Prince Edward Island Rocket but was soon traded to Gatineau after his conditioning and compete level were questioned. He did not prove his critics wrong and come draft day Pepin fell to the fourth round where the Avalanche took a gamble in hopes of him redeeming himself.

He was sidelined earlier this year with an injury but in his first six games had six points. While it is a good start at repairing his image, he still has a long ways to go. The Olympiques, as well as Avalanche fans, would like nothing more than to see Pepin use his being drafted by an NHL team last summer as motivation to improve himself both on and off the ice.

The 6’4 and 220 pound forward has both the size and skills to be an impact player wherever he plays.

Through 13 games, Pepin has nine points including five goals.

Julien Nantel, LW, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
Acquired: 7th round (204th overall), 2014

The odds of Julien Nantel, a seventh round draft pick, one day dressing in the NHL are certainly not in his favor, but he is showing why you should not bet against him. He has nearly doubled his scoring pace from last year for the Huskies and is establishing himself as a legitimate top-six player in the QMJHL. His coaches have consistently raved about his work ethic and willingness to do whatever is in the best interest of the team.

He has 22 points in 23 games, and if he can keep this up throughout the entire season, many NHL teams will be asking why their scouting department could have overlooked such a special player.

Colorado Avalanche Top Performing Non-Junior Prospects: October

Ben Storm scored his first NCAA goal on October 24th in a 5-1 loss to the reigning national champions Union College. His lone goal was the only score for the ninth-ranked St. Cloud State Huskies as they fell early and quickly to the Dutchmen. The goal was scored with 4.5 seconds left in the game and saved the Huskies from being shut out.

Goaltender Sami Aittokallio may see his time split between Fort Wayne and Cleveland this year. He was sent down to the Komets of the ECHL so he could get additional playing time instead of splitting starting duties with Calvin Pickard in the AHL. In case of injury at the NHL level, Aittokallio will be ready to take Pickard’s spot for the Monsters as Pickard is clearly number three on the Avalanche goaltending depth chart right now.

Colorado Avalanche Prospect of the Month: Octoberdennis_everberg_rogle_1

Dennis Everberg was discovered this summer by the Avalanche’s European scouts and signed to an NHL contract to help add additional forward depth to the team. His performance during training camp earned him a spot on the Avalanche’s fourth line. Due to injuries to goaltenders Semyon Varlamov and Reto Berra, and his ability to be sent down to the minors without passing through waivers, he was sent to the Lake Erie Monsters for a short five-game stint where he had two goals and one assist. Once the Avalanche’s roster situation was stabilized, he was recalled and he was then promoted to the third line.

Everberg notched his first NHL goal and point in a 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks at the Pepsi Center. Since then, he has added three assists and has four points in 13 games. With his recent play, it will be hard to send Everberg back down to the minors

Follow Chau Vo on Twitter at @chowdersoop