With the exception of Will Butcher, it still remains to be seen just where the Avalanche’s NCAA and European prospects fit into the team’s long-term plans.
Butcher is a big part of the University of Denver Pioneers blueline and has had international success with Team USA in junior tournaments. Ben Storm, however, has not seen much more than bottom pairing minutes with his respective NCAA team. Both get the chance to participate in the NCAA Tournament however.
Anton Lindholm and Wilhelm Westlund both remain in Sweden and while Lindholm has stepped up his game to become a big part of his SHL club, Westlund has seemingly taken a step back with a demotion to the HockeyAllsvenskan. Maximilian Pajpach is still sidelined with an injury but with the Avalanche’s goaltending depth in North America he will have to fight for a spot in the club’s minor league teams when he moves on from playing in Finland’s junior system.
Will Butcher, D, University of Denver Pioneers (NCHC)
Drafted 5th round, 123rd overall, 2013
Butcher showed he is a top NHL prospect with his performance in this year’s World Junior Championship. He played big minutes for Team USA and also served as assistant captain for a young and inexperienced American squad. His steady and reliable play meant that Team USA coaches felt comfortable pairing him with 2015 draft eligible Brandon Carlo. Although the two only combined for two points in five games played they were tasked with shutting down the opposition’s top forward lines.
For the Pioneers, Butcher plays on the second pairing in a more offensive role while paired with Montreal prospect Josiah Didier. With 16 points in 36 games, Butcher hasn’t taken that offensive step up that Avalanche fans were hoping for but with the graduation of Joey LaLeggia (EDM), Butcher should expect to see increased minutes in both the offensive zone and top power play unit next year.
The Pioneers finished third in the NCHC tournament and are set to face Boston College in the first round of the NCAA tournament on March 28th.
Ben Storm, D, St. Cloud State Huskies (NCHC)
Drafted 6th round, 153rd overall, 2013
Storm’s first collegiate goal came in the dying seconds of a 5-1 loss to Union College this season. While it was a great milestone for the Laurium, Michigan native, he certainly wishes it would have come under different circumstances. Since that moment, he has scored one other goal and assisted on three others for St. Cloud State.
The 6’6 230 pound defenseman isn’t known for his offense. Instead, he is relied on to punish any opposing players daring to come near his goaltender’s crease or follow him into the corner walls.
Storm had the choice of choosing to play college football or college hockey but for him it was an easy choice. Hockey has always been his number one passion and when the Huskies offered him a scholarship he immediately accepted.
Storm will spend the next two years honing his craft with the Huskies before he pursues a professional career. He is set to face off against Michigan Tech, the school where his brothers played college football and where he was offered a scholarship, on March 28th in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Anton Lindholm, D, Skelleftea AIK (SHL)
Drafted 5th round, 144th overall, 2014
Lindholm is the Avalanche’s top European prospect and was the team’s fifth choice in the most recent draft. He grew up playing in Skelleftea’s youth and junior programs before moving up the ranks to the top team at the end of last season and for the playoffs. The playoffs was where he separated himself from other prospects and showed he could compete in the top Swedish league despite being 18 years old.
This year, he took a small step backwards when Skelleftea decided he would be better suited playing for Malmo of the tier-2 league for a short period of time. After five games, Lindholm’s confidence and play was boosted and he was called back up to the SHL. Since then, he has remained a consistent member of the Skelleftea blueline and had seven points in 35 total games during the regular season.
Wilhelm Westlund, D, Djurgarden (SHL)
Drafted 7th round, 183rd overall, 2013
Westlund is currently on loan to the Vita Hasten HC of the second-tier Swedish professional league. He was briefly called up to Djurgarden in December due to injuries and players playing in the WJC although he did not play in any games.
In 40 games for Vita Hasten, he has two goals and nine assists for 11 points. After this season, the Avalanche will have two more seasons to sign him to a contract otherwise they lose his rights.
Maximilian Pajpach, G, Tappara U20 (Jr. A SM-Liiga)
Drafted 6th round, 174th overall, 2014
Pajpach has yet to appear in a game this season after suffering an injury prior to training camp last fall. The Slovakian native’s contract in Finland expires at the end of next season.
Prospect of the Month
Chris Bigras made several appearances in this year’s unofficial OHL Coaches’ Poll. Last season, he earned top honors as the “Best Defensive Defenseman” in the Western Conference and was the runner-up in this season’s poll. Additionally, he also finished second under the “Best Offensive Defenseman” and “Smartest Player” categories, an ode to his well-rounded game.
In 62 games for the Owen Sound Attack, he scored 20 goals and 51 assists for a total of 71 points. His 71 points were good enough for second in regular-season scoring by a defenseman in the OHL.
Follow Chau Vo on Twitter via @chowdersoop