Colorado Avalanche show strength along the blueline at the minor-league level

By John Canario
Photo: Mark Olver opened up a lot of eyes in training camp, earning himself a four game NHL cup of coffee to start 2010-11 season. (Photo Courtesy of webb.nmu.edu)

With Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, Chris Stewart, and now Kevin Shattenkirk excelling at the NHL level, the Avalanche have a second wave of talented youth playing for their AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters. Hopeful for their first ever berth in the Calder Cup playoffs, the Monsters are led by a young team of intriguing prospects, primarily on defense.

AHL

Michael Carman, C, 22

Carman has held his own in his first full season as a member of the Lake Erie Monsters, posting seven goals and four assists through 39 games thus far. A prototypical checking-line player, Carman excels in the faceoff circle and as a forechecker. As a prospect who heavily relies on his ability to play physically, Carman will need to pack on a few more pounds to stay competitive at the AHL level, as his minus-six rating leaves more to be desired.

Zach Cohen, LW, 23

Cohen has not been able to find his scoring touch at the pro level, though he was not a prolific scorer in college or junior either. Despite a strong skill-set and an ideal blend of size and speed, Cohen’s tallied just two goals and four assists in 33 games this season for Lake Erie, but has found other ways to help out. He’s played well in his own end but the big winger isn’t a threat to crack the Avs’ roster any time soon.


Justin Mercier, LW, 23

Mercier is suffering from a serious case of the AHL sophomore jinx. After an encouraging rookie season last year, Mercier has struggled in 2010-11 with just five goals and seven assists in 40 games. Usually hailed for his defensive zone play, Mercier hasn’t been quite as effective this season as his minus-four rating indicates. At his current level of play, Mercier will not be receiving another NHL stint any time soon, unlike last season when he was called up for nine games.

Mark Olver, C, 22

Olver has more than justified his fifth-round selection as an overage player in 2008. After pleasantly surprising the Avalanche’s coaches and management in training camp, Olver stuck with the parent club for the first four games of the NHL season, registering a pair of assists in limited minutes. His demotion was likely due to the excess of scoring centermen on Colorado’s roster, and Olver could be just an injury or two from being called up again. The diminutive pivot is second on the Monsters’ with 11 goals in 35 games. He has also registered 10 assists, but owns a team-worst minus-10 rating.

Ryan Stoa, C/LW, 23

Many expected the power forward to crack the Avs’ roster out of training camp but Olver beat Stoa out for the last spot. Stoa then proceeded to post zero goals and a single assist in 10 games to start the AHL season. Since then, the hulking forward has posted 13 goals and 10 assists in 28 games. If he continues to elevate his game and produce consistently, an NHL opportunity is likely to arise.

Luke Walker, RW, 20

The Monster’s have used the gritty AHL rookie in a checking-role so far this season to allow him to gradually adjust to the bigger, faster pro-game. After being held pointless in his first 12 games, Walker has made the most of limited offensive opportunities compiling five goals and two assists in his last 25 games. Putting on a few more pounds would compliment Walker’s physical style of play and might accelerate his development. He will be given plenty of time to develop with the Monsters, and could be playing in Lake Erie for another couple years or so.

Joel Chouinard, D, 20

The youngest member of the Lake Erie Monster’s was excelling as an AHL rookie before his season was derailed by a broken collarbone. In the six games Chouinard did play in, he impressed with three goals and three assists and saw time on the Monsters’ powerplay unit. When Chouinard does return from injury, he will likely receive attention from Avalanche management if he can replicate the success he showed early on this season over a larger sample size.

Cameron Gaunce, D, 20

While Gaunce has yet to show the offensive flair he demonstrated in junior for the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, his defensive play this season has been unmatched by any other player – rookie or veteran – on the Monsters’ squad. The first year AHLer has registered ten assists and a plus-eight rating through 39 games and has not shied away from playing physically with 44 minutes spent in the penalty box. With Gaunce’s reliability in his own end, he could be among the defenders called up if Colorado runs into serious injury problems, but for now Avalanche management are pleased seeing their former second-round pick developing for their AHL-affiliate.

Jonas Holos, D, 23

Holos has not quite found his niche yet in his first year of North American hockey. After starting the season with the Avalanche where he was frequently used as a healthy scratch, Holos was sent down to Lake Erie where he registered two assists in seven games. The 2010 Norwegian Olympian has since been recalled by Colorado, where he has been used sparingly. He has zero goals and three assists in 15 games at the NHL level this season but has seen some time on Colorado’s powerplay. With fellow rookie and offensive defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk playing so well, the Avalanche have been forced to continue to scratch Holos of late.

Raymond Macias, D, 24

The California-native is on pace to produce the highest single-season point totals of his AHL career with three goals and nine assists in 31 games thus far. The veteran has been a staple on the Monsters’ powerplay unit this season, with two of his goals coming with the man-advantage. Solid but unspectacular, Macias continues to project as a depth NHL blueliner, capable of filling in during injury situations.

Kevin Montgomery, D, 22

Montgomery has been the most improved Monsters’ player since last year, having already more than doubled his point totals from his rookie 2009-10 season. He leads all Monsters’ defensemen this season with 16 points in 33 games played. Montgomery’s inspiring play earned a brief
call-up when Kyle Quincey was placed on the injured reserve, though he never saw any game action and was later returned to Lake Erie. A versatile defender who is comfortable at both ends of the rink, Montgomery is currently first in the pecking order should the Avs’ need to call up a defenseman from the minors.

Kevin Shattenkirk, D, 21

The Avalanche decided to call up their prized rookie defensemen after 10 pointless games to start the season in Lake Erie, and what a decision it was. Shattenkirk has rewarded Avalanche management for the decision by scoring five goals and contributing 15 assists in 31 games. His 20 points place him among the leaders in scoring rookie defensemen and Colorado has rewarded the first-year player by giving him nearly 20 minutes of ice-time per game. One of the frontrunners for the Calder Trophy this season, Shattenkirk will continue to anchor Colorado’s top powerplay unit in 2010-11.

Trevor Cann, G, 21

With injuries to Avalanche-owned goaltenders, Cann has been between the Monsters and the Tulsa Oilers of the Central Hockey League several times this season. While he has consistently posted strong performances for the Oilers in the high-scoring CHL, Cann has struggled in six games in Lake Erie with a 3.76 goals against and an .883 save percentage. Until Cann can prove he is capable of consistent, successful netminding at the AHL level, he will remain at the bottom of Colorado’s backstopping depth chart.


CHL

Tom Fritsche, LW, 24

A member of the Lake Erie Monsters for the previous three injury-riddled seasons, Fritsche’s lackluster, uninspiring play resulted in a demotion to the CHL’s Tulsa Oilers this year. He has not contributed offensively at the CHL level with just nine points in 23 games and is likely to be released by Colorado when his current contract expires at the end of the season.

Harrison Reed, RW, 22

Reed, who also began the season playing for the Oilers, has fared quite a bit better in comparison to Fritsche, racking up 13 goals and 17 assists in 28 games. With an expiring contract at the end of this season the Avalanche want to know just what they have in Reed, and have brought him up to the Monsters where he has been held off the scoresheet through seven games.