The Lake Erie Monsters enter the 2010-11 season optimistic that they can attain their first playoff berth in the franchise’s young existence. Though they have improved each of the last two years, they have yet to finish better than 6th in the competitive North division, as they did this past season with a 34-37-9 record.
The 2009-10 campaign was marked by defensive lapses and penalty kill struggles, as the Monsters ranked 24th in goals allowed (3.21 per game) and 29th shorthanded (79.5 percent). However, there were several young players that did emerge and could have greater impacts this season in increased roles.
Much like the Avalanche saw an influx of young contributors last season in Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly and Chris Stewart, the Monsters have approximately a dozen new faces, many with the potential to make an immediate impact.
The Monsters will have to look elsewhere for scoring this season, having lost eight of their nine top point producers from 2009-10, either to free agency or to promotion to the parent club.
Ryan Stoa, who nearly survived the final round of cuts from the Avalanche roster, will be relied upon for his natural ability to bulge the twine, as he did 23 times as an AHL rookie last season. Stoa, 23, has 40-goal AHL potential, but he could be brought up to the Avalanche if any of Kevin Porter, Mark Olver or Phillipe Dupuis don’t pan out. Justin Mercier, another player who many expected to make the parent club, had a particularly poor showing in training camp and will rejoin the Monsters for a second year. A defensive specialist, the 23-year-old will shore up Lake Erie’s checking and penalty killing lines.
Other forwards who should figure into the scoring this year are youngsters Matthew Ford and Luke Walker as well as AHL veterans Greg Mauldin, David Van Der Gulik and Ben Walter, who were acquired via free agency this offseason.
With so many talented, young defensive prospects in their system, it was not surprising to see the Avalanche let free agents Tom Preissing, Brett Skinner, Brian Fahey, Wes O’Neill and Derek Peltier walk this past summer. All five of these blueliners played substantial minutes last season in Lake Erie, so their will be ample opportunity for offensive rearguards Colby Cohen, Cameron Gaunce, Kevin Shattenkirk and Joel Chouinard to put their skills on display. Cohen and Shattenkirk dominated offensively for Boston University for the past three years, while Gaunce and Chouinard posted impressive scoring totals for their respective CHL teams the last few seasons.
25-year-old shutdown defenseman David Liffiton, who was signed this offseason, will add a veteran presence on what is sure to be one of the youngest defensive corps in the AHL this season. Raymond Macias, Travis Gawryletz and Kevin Montgomery are the only returnees along the blue line for the Monsters.
With Tyler Weiman, the Monsters’ starting netminder the last couple seasons, signing with the Vancouver Canucks, Lake Erie could be trying out a goaltending by committee plan in 2010-11, headed up by a trio of backstoppers with varying experience.
John Grahame is a 35-year-old journeyman backup who, after a less than stellar campaign split between the Adirondack Phantoms and the Monsters last year, could be embarking on his final year of professional hockey in North America. Jason Bacashihua, 28, played for the Monsters in 2008-09 but spent last season with the Hershey Bears, where he compiled an impressive 17-3-1 record to go along with a .911 save percentage.
With two elder statesmen vying for playing time, Trevor Cann could see an increased role as the franchise tries to evaluate the 21-year-old’s future prospects. Expect either Bacashihua or Cann to begin the season as the starter, the former having the upper hand.
The same coaching staff returns for the Monsters this year, comprised of head coach David Quinn and assistant coach Dan Laperriere.
The Avalanche had no shortage of youth in training camp. Prospects Brandon Yip, Kevin Porter, Ryan Wilson, Mark Olver and Jonas Holos all made the Avalanche’s final roster cuts on October 3rd, while Colby Cohen, Ryan Stoa and enforcer Patrick Bordeleau were the final three players assigned to Lake Erie. Olver pleasantly surprised head coach Joe Sacco with his strong two-way play which was enough to earn him a roster spot to start the season. Holos impressed in camp with slick passes and his reliable positional play, just edging out Cohen who drew attention from the coaching staff with his blistering howitzer-like slapshot. Yip, Porter and Wilson each have NHL experience already, and will be expected to contribute from the get-go in 2010-11.
Kevin Shattenkirk, Cameron Gaunce, Joel Chouinard, Justin Mercier, Trevor Cann, Michael Carman, Zach Cohen, Tom Fritsche, Raymond Macias, Kevin Montgomery, Travis Gawryletz and Luke Walker rounded out the other prospects cut by the Avalanche, though they were assigned to the Monsters on September 21st. Gaunce, who worked out with former NHLer and fitness freak Gary Roberts this offseason, showed up at camp some 10 pounds lighter. He won both the Wingate anaerobic test and the long jump during the Avs’ fitness testing. He will continue to work on his skating with the Monsters this year. Shattenkirk, long considered Colorado’s top prospect, had a mediocre camp, displaying his well known offensive abilities on the attack but playing less reliable in his own end. He and Cohen will lead the powerplay in Lake Erie this year.
Stefan Elliott, Joey Hishon, Calvin Pickard, Michael Bournival, Stephen Silas, Troy Rutkowski and Brandon Maxwell were also cut on the 21st, but were reassigned to their respective major junior teams. Elliott was the only real surprise here, but he suffered a number of defensive lapses in camp during team scrimmages and will spend another year refining the defensive parts of his game in the WHL.