The narratives down in Lake Erie and Fort Wayne are a lot different than in Denver. In the NHL, the Colorado Avalanche is struggling to stay out of the basement and currently sits in last place in the Central Division after claiming the title last year. In Cleveland, the Monsters are ninth in the AHL’s Western Conference but only four points away from fifth place with games in hand. In Fort Wayne, the Komets are at the top of the ECHL.
The Komets have benefited greatly from their affiliation with the Monsters and Avalanche. Multiple players have spent time shuttling between the Monsters and the Komets as well as between the Avalanche and the Monsters. Calvin Pickard, Borna Rendulic, Colin Smith, Michael Sgarbossa, Andrew Agozzino, and Dennis Everberg have all seen NHL time this year with a few making their NHL debuts.
Even though Lake Erie has struggled to score this year, there have been some bright spots in their offense. Stefan Elliott, whom the Avalanche almost lost going through waivers, is among the team scoring leaders and Colin Smith is tied for the team lead.
In the NHL, Cal Pickard and Dennis Everberg are the two standouts from the group of call-ups and it will be hard to send either of them down to the AHL after what they have shown so far this season.
Borna Rendulic, RW, 22
The Avalanche signed Rendulic as a free agent this summer to add depth at wing. He is a skilled forward with size but fails to use it to his advantage. Rendulic is still trying to figure out the ins and the outs of North American hockey after coming over from the Liiga where he spent the last two years. His skating is average and could still use improvement compared to his peers especially at the NHL level. His four goals in 23 games for the Monsters may not show it, but he has arguably the best shot on the Monsters outside of Stefan Elliott’s wrist shot. He just needs to get himself to better scoring positions to capitalize on chances.
Rendulic made his NHL debut on December 9th when the Avalanche hosted the Nashville Predators. He finished the game with a -1 rating in just under eight minutes of ice time. He would go on and play two more games for the Avalanche before being sent down to the Monsters. In three games, he has no points and an overall rating of -2.
When Rendulic made his NHL debut, he became the first Croatian player to play in an NHL game. Rendulic played in Croatia until he turned 15 after which he moved to Finland to further his development.
Garrett Meurs, RW, 21
The Avalanche is taking full advantage of its affiliation with the Komets this season and Meurs is one of multiple players to have spent time in the ECHL. While a move from the AHL to the ECHL is a demotion, it can also be a chance to help the development of the player as well as give the player a boost in confidence. Such is the case with Meurs.
Meurs played in three games for the Monsters before being sent down to the Komets. With the Monsters, he had zero points and an even rating but with the Komets he has 13 points in his first 15 games and a +3 rating. Meurs was also named ECHL Player of the Week for the week of November 24th through 30th after scoring four goals and one assist in three games.
It shouldn’t be long until he is back with the Monsters.
Sami Aittokallio, G, 22
The Avalanche organization’s goaltending situation is very unstable at the moment because of Semyon Varlamov’s nagging groin injury. The effects of constant back and forth goalie call-ups are felt throughout the minor league teams as well.
Aittokallio was sent down to the Komets early this season so that he could get more starts but he was right back with the Monsters as soon as Pickard was called up to Denver.
In four starts for the Komets he is 3-1-0, but despite a winning record his play was extremely shaky. In those four games, he posted a save percentage of .823 and goals-against average of 4.90, having surrendered 20 goals. For a goalie who was once thought of as number three on the depth chart, those numbers are inexcusable.
With the Monsters, Aittokallio is 5-2-1 in eight starts and his save percentage is better at .907, but he has given up 23 goals in those games. He is currently out with a lower-body injury.
Roman Will, G, 22
Roman Will was once a star goaltender for the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL but after not being able to find a job in North America he returned to his native Czech Republic for two years before signing with the Avalanche this past summer.
He had one win in the ECHL with the Komets before being called up to the Monsters where he has struggled. In eight games, he is 2-4-0 and has been pulled twice. His save percentage is at .867 and goals-against average is at 3.52. He is signed until the end of the 2015-16 season but will have to improve his play if he wishes to stay with the Avalanche organization beyond his current contract.
Andrew Agozzino, LW, 23
After two seasons putting in hard work with the Monsters, Agozzino finally got his chance to play in the NHL this season. In one game, he was credited with an assist before being sent back down.
His offensive numbers for the Monsters this season are not pacing with those of the last two seasons but the overall lack of scoring the whole team is experiencing is having a detrimental effect on Agozzino. In 26 games, he has five goals and nine assists for 14 points which is seventh on the team. To put things into perspective, he led the Monsters in scoring his first two seasons.
Regardless of his slump, he is still an important part of the Monsters’ offense and plays in all important situations. His recent NHL call up was an ode to his hard-working nature and upbeat attitude.
Trevor Cheek, LW, 21
Cheek has been a Swiss-army knife for the Monsters this year, playing all over the lineup. On any given night and in any given game he could find himself as a top-six player or as a checking forward on the third line. He has even centered the fourth line on multiple occasions.
Cheek is a hard worker and noticeably hustles up and down the ice. While he is not known for his defensive stick work he is good at getting the body on the man to slow down rushes and block zone entries.
In 21 games, he has one goal and five assists for six points.
Samuel Henley, LW, 21
Henley was an undrafted QMJHL player whom the Avalanche signed at the tail end of his junior career. While playing with the Val d’Or Foreurs, he was known for his leadership and ability to play in all situations. He was a prolific offensive player but that part of his game has not quite carried over to the professional level.
In 28 games, Henley has six points playing mainly on the fourth and third lines.
Joey Hishon, C, 23
Hishon has been playing better as of late but he was off to a very rocky start to the 2014-15 season with just one assist in October. There is a lot expected from the Avalanche’s only first rounder not yet playing in the NHL or still in juniors.
Earlier in the season, he had trouble getting points on the board and even found himself relegated to third line duties but has really found his stride as of late. He is playing like the offensive wizard he was thought to be when he was drafted and now has 13 points in 24 games.
Michael Sgarbossa, C, 22
Just like Hishon, Sgarbossa didn’t have a good start to his season either but is now on an upward trend. He is one of the more offensively gifted players on the Monsters and the coaching staff has him playing as the top-line center.
He is often centering Michael Schumacher, a big bodied forward, and Colin Smith, a small but speedy winger. In 24 games, he has 14 points. Sgarbossa was also called up for three NHL games this year, registering one assist in limited minutes.
Troy Bourke, C, 20
Bourke’s first full season of professional hockey is going well and it doesn’t seem as if he is having too much trouble adjusting from junior hockey. In fact, many thought he was in the front of the line during a recent slate of call ups for the Avalanche but he has not yet gotten his chance.
Last year, he played in 15 games at the end of the Monsters’ season and scored seven points. This year, in 18 games, he has 10 points. Not only that, but he found some chemistry with Colin Smith during training camp and has appeared on the Monsters’ penalty kill unit. He has made some impactful plays including a shorthanded goal against the Hamilton Bulldogs that started with him stealing the puck then driving to the net through multiple players.
Colin Smith, C, 21
Smith was one of many players who got a chance to make their NHL debut this season and, while it was short-lived, it was well deserved. His whole career he has been put down for his size but he has made his critics eat their words.
He is tied for first in scoring on the Monsters with Maxim Noreau and leads all forwards. In 26 games, he has 19 points and is singlehandedly trying to keep a lackluster Monsters offense afloat.
Mitchell Heard, C, 22
The Avalanche’s first pick in the 2012 draft has not yet been what fans hoped he would be. In three seasons of AHL play, he only has seven goals, two of which were scored this season. Like Meurs, Heard was sent down to the Komets so that he could find his game and that is exactly what he did.
With the Komets, he went on an offensive rampage scoring 16 points in 10 games and quickly becoming a fan favorite as well as a coach’s delight. In minor league hockey, nothing good lasts forever and his good play earned him a promotion back to the Monsters where he has been since.
Duncan Siemens, D, 21
Some observers may label Siemens a bust because he was drafted so high (11th overall in 2011), but if one takes a step back and realizes this is only his second year of professional hockey, it is more reasonable to see him as a developing prospect. Defense is the hardest position to learn, especially at the pro level.
With that said, his development has been slow compared to his peers but that does not mean his NHL potential has diminished beyond hope. He is still the smooth skating and physical defenseman the Avalanche drafted three years ago.
He has never been known as a prolific scorer but one could expect someone who gets as much playing time as he does to shoot the puck more and create chances for his teammates down low. In 26 games he only has three assists and 13 shots on goal.
Stefan Elliott, D, 23
Avalanche fans breathed a sigh of relief when Elliott passed through waivers after the conclusion of training camp this year. He is still a highly skilled offensive defenseman with an NHL-caliber wrist shot. He just needs to work on getting all of his other tools together to arrive at the next level of his career. He is third on the Monsters in scoring with seven goals and eleven assists in 28 games.
Cody Corbett, D, 20
Former Edmonton Oil King and Minnesota native Cody Corbett didn’t make his professional debut until the end of October where he found himself paired with Siemens. He will need time to make some adjustments to the faster game at the professional level but has made some standout plays to show that his skills and hockey intelligence are there. He has also been given some power play time to help get his offensive production going. In 13 games he has one goal and one assist with an even rating.
Gabriel Beaupre, D, 22
Beaupre has found himself in and out of the lineup as well as back and forth between the Monsters and the Komets this season. He is one of the Monsters’ depth defenders that they feel could benefit from spending time down in the ECHL to get more ice time.
He has one assist in five games for the Komets and one point in nine games for the Monsters. On December 19th, he was again sent down to the Komets.
Markus Lauridsen, D, 23
Lauridsen has been one of the Monsters’ more consistent defenders this season and has done his job as a bottom-pairing defenseman really well. He has also chipped in the occasional point and in 23 games, he has four goals and four assists for eight points.
Non-Minor League Prospect Update
Chris Bigras was surprisingly cut from Team Canada’s World Junior squad despite having played on last year’s team. Bigras is seen as one of the top defenders playing in the OHL and his smart and dependable play would have been a useful asset for a Team Canada management group looking to improve on their substandard showing the past few years.
In 30 games for the Owen Sound Attack, he has 35 points. In his first game back from Team Canada camp, he scored five points including two goals.
Colorado Avalanche Prospect of the Month
If it were up to Avalanche fans, Calvin Pickard would never see another day in a Monsters uniform. Ever since being called up he has been lights out for a struggling Avalanche team. His play has been nothing short of incredible and he has pushed Reto Berra down the depth chart.
In 13 appearances, he is 6-5-2 but his record is not indicative of his play. He has a save percentage of .939 and goals-against average of 2.06. If Varlamov continues to battle injuries, Pickard may be looked upon as a workhorse for the Avalanche the rest of the season. This is nothing new to him as he was relied on heavily by the Seattle Thunderbirds during his junior hockey career.
Follow Chau Vo on Twitter via @chowdersoop