Colorado Avalanche depth analysis, Fall 2010

By John Canario
Photo: Although the Avs may have surprised some when they drafted Joey Hishon 17th overall, the decision early on looks to be a good one as Hishon has 10 goals and 16 points in his first 7 games in the OHL. (Photo Courtesy of www.ontariohockeyleague.com

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While much of the Colorado Avalanche’s talent pool remains the same as the previous couple of seasons, they did make several key acquisitions in June’s 2010 NHL Entry Draft. With management having successfully orchestrated such a talent-filled youth movement so quickly in the post-Joe Sakic era, opportunities with the parent club have been hard to come by for emerging prospects playing in Europe or at the junior, collegiate, and American Hockey League levels. That being said, they do have a handful of prospects who appear to be on the cusp of promising careers in the NHL.

Left Wing

The Avalanche are stacked with a plethora of young prospects down the middle but have less talent at the wings.

The 23-year-old Ryan Stoa, who also plays center, is Colorado’s top left wing prospect and will likely be the first Lake Erie Monsters’ forward call-up in an injury situation. However, the usually sure-handed Stoa he has yet to light the lamp in 10 games this season. Zach Cohen and Patrick Bordeleau also play for the Monsters, but in checking roles as they lack the offensive upside that Stoa possesses.

After three subpar AHL seasons, Tom Fritsche is now playing CHL hockey for the Tulsa Oilers. He appears to have maxed-out his potential a half-decade ago when he was playing at Ohio State. His long-term outlook is as a depth AHLer.

Denis Parshin remains a constant reminder to the Avalanche faithful of the risks associated with drafting European stars. Parshin, 24, continues to entertain Russian crowds in the KHL and doesn’t appear to have any intentions of leaving. Johan Alcen is the Avs’ only other forward playing in Europe. The 22-year-old plays for Leksand in the Allsvenskan. He is a responsible two-way player and could make the trip across the pond in a couple years.

Paul Carey is Colorado’s lone left winger playing in the NCAA. After scoring at will in junior, Carey has struggled to adapt to tighter checking at the collegiate level. Unless his play picks up, it’s unlikely that the Avalanche will sign the Boston College Eagle.

Center

The Avalanche have an abundance of skilled prospects playing center at various levels, in both scoring and checking roles.

Kevin Porter, Mark Olver and Justin Mercier continue to round out their play for the Lake Erie Monsters.
The three former collegiate stars are all fringe-NHLers at this point. Olver and Porter have already seen time this season with the Avalanche. Mercier continues to be the top checking-line forward in the system. Michael Carman, 22, centers the fourth line for the Monsters and has yet to perform at a level that would warrant a promotion.

Both Joey Hishon and Michael Bournival were selections in this past summer’s draft (first and third-round respectively) and are Colorado’s only forward prospects playing Canadian major junior hockey. The 17th overall selected Hishon is looking more like a steal than a head-scratcher at this point, posting a remarkable 10 goals and six assists in just seven OHL games this season. Not to be outdone, Bournival has posted 21 points in 15 contests thus far. Both appear to be on the fast-track to the NHL, with Hishon exemplifying star potential.

The University of Minnesota’s Nate Condon and the University of North Dakota’s Brad Malone are Colorado’s remaining NCAA pivots. Condon, a freshman for the Golden Gophers, is a natural scorer but will need to spend his college years working on his play without the puck. Malone, a senior for the Fighting Sioux, is more of an enforcer and could join the Monsters’ next season.

Players like Mercier and Bournival are capable of lining up at both the pivot and wing position, and could eventually see a more permanent move to the wing if they are brought up to the parent club, as the Avalanche have no shortage of talented young centers in Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny and Ryan O’Reilly.

Right Wing

Despite targeting the position with a pair of picks during the 2010 draft, Colorado’s greatest area of need from a prospect-perspective is at right wing. Brandon Yip is their top prospect, but there is a steep drop-off after the 25-year-old current NHLer.

As an AHL rookie right winger, Luke Walker, a scorer with a mean streak in the WHL, has struggled to adjust to the elevated competition with zero points through 10 games this season. He is at least a productive season away from seeing any time with the Avalanche.

Harrison Reed, currently playing for the Tulsa Oilers of the CHL, continues to bounce around the minor leagues, while 2010 seventh-round pick Luke Moffat, playing for the Michigan Wolverines, remains a long-term project.

Defense

With a great focus on the blue line the past few years, the Avalanche are blessed with an array of skilled defenders in their system.

Jonas Holos is Colorado’s only prospect currently playing in the NHL, and the 23-year-old hasn’t looked out of place thus far. Currently a depth defenseman in his first year of North American hockey, it won’t be too long before the Norwegian sees time on one of the Avalanche powerplay units.

21-year-olds Kevin Shattenkirk and Colby Cohen, and 20–year-olds Cameron Gaunce and Joel Chouinard are each rookie defenders for the Lake Erie Monsters this year. While each member of the quartet has tremendous offensive talent, they also need to work on their defensive zone play. Gaunce and Cohen excelled the most during training camp, and could be called up as early as this year if the Avs’ defense corps is severely depleted.

Kevin Montgomery, Raymond Macias and Travis Gawryletz round out the prospect bunch playing for the Monsters. Montgomery, 22, may have NHL potential as a depth player if he continues to improve defensively, but Macias and Gawryletz will likely spend their respective careers in the minors.

19-year-old puck-moving rearguards’ Stefan Elliott and Tyson Barrie continue to clutter up WHL scoresheets with lofty point totals. Both are in their final year of eligibility, and will likely join the Monsters next year for some AHL seasoning.

2010 draft picks’ Stephen Silas of the Belleville Bulls (OHL) and Troy Rutkowski of the Portland Winterhawks (WHL) will likely continue to hone their skills at the major junior level for a few years. With so many good young defensemen ahead of them in the system, there is no reason to rush their progress. Silas is known for his ability to calmly make smart breakout passes, while Rutkowski is comfortable at both ends of the ice and plays with some grit.

With Holos crossing the pond, Jens Hellgren and Richard Demen-Willaume are the Avs’ only remaining defensive prospects playing in Europe. Both were intended as long-term projects when drafted, and could be another couple years from playing North American hockey.

Unlike in previous years, Gus Young is Colorado’s only defensive prospect playing NCAA hockey. Playing for the Yale Bulldogs, Young is another long-term prospect and will likely play out his collegiate eligibility.

Goaltending

The Avalanche were strapped for top-tier goaltending talent in their system until this summer’s NHL Entry Draft, when they selected Calvin Pickard and Sami Aittokallio in the second and fourth rounds respectively.

Pickard, who plays for the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL, has picked up right where he left off last year posting a .926 save percentage 12 games into the regular season. Pickard will likely spend another year or two in junior before challenging for a roster spot in Colorado or Lake Erie. The athletic Aittokallio, who plays in Finland, will continue to sharpen his backstopping skills for a couple of seasons before making the jump to North America.

Aside from Pickard, Brandon Maxwell is the Avs’ only prospect playing junior hockey. The 19-year-old plays for the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. Despite playing for powerhouse Rangers’ teams, Maxwell has yet to string together solid, consistent starts and is a longshot to even earn backup duties at the NHL ranks.

Kent Patterson and Kieran Millan are the Avalanche’s netminding prospects playing in the NCAA. Patterson, who plays for the Minnesota Golden Gophers, is excelling early on with an increased workload after spending the past two seasons as a backup. After a shaky 2009-10 campaign, Boston University’s Kieran Millan has rebounded with an impressive 4-0-1 record, a .934 save percentage and a 1.97 goals against average so far this year. Both have two more years of college hockey eligibility but, progress pending, could challenge for a spot on the Monsters before then.

With veteran John Grahame having been called up to Colorado with an injury to starter Craig Anderson, Trevor Cann was called up to Lake Erie from the Tulsa Oilers of the CHL. Cann has not performed well enough to justify his second-round selection in 2007, but the diminutive netminder will be given the occasional opportunity to impress at the AHL level for however long Anderson remains sidelined.