With an array of prospects playing at the collegiate, European, and minor pro ranks, the Colorado Avalanche had just seven young players refining their skills at the junior level this year. Among this group are Joey Hishon, Stefan Elliott, Calvin Pickard and Tyson Barrie, each of whom signed an entry-level contract with the Avalanche in the past month. Colorado’s septet of junior prospects is comprised of four defensemen, two goaltenders, and one center – three of whom play in the OHL and four in the WHL. Joey Hishon of the Owen Sound Attack and Troy Rutkowski of the Portland Winterhawks continue to put their skills on display, with each of their teams still alive in the CHL playoffs.
Joey Hishon, C, Owen Sound Attack
Acquired: 1st round, 17th overall, 2010
Joey Hishon delighted Avalanche management and fans alike this season with an 87-point campaign, despite missing 18 games due to a hand injury and a suspension. The skilled pivot has been known to find the net with regularity and to create offensive opportunities out of seemingly harmless situations, but he also displayed some nastiness this season. The diminutive center amassed 64 penalty minutes after averaging just 33 per season in his three previous campaigns, and was even suspended for six games for punching highly-touted prospect Ryan Strome.
The Owen Sound Attack are currently battling for OHL, and perhaps even CHL, supremacy in the Western Conference finals, and a great deal of their success will be tied to Hishon’s performance going forward. While the sniper has just three goals and six assists in 12 postseason games thus far, a Memorial Cup Championship would certainly boost the 19-year-old’s chances of making the parent club for the 2011-12 season.
Brandon Maxwell, G, Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: 6th round, 154th overall, 2009
Once again in 2010-11, Brandon Maxwell failed to take a step forward in his development, and his poor play was even a significant contributor to his Kitchener Ranger’s first round playoff exit. After surrendering 16 goals in his first four playoff games, Kitchener Rangers’ head coach Steve Spott handed the starting reigns to 18-year-old draft prospect Mike Morrison, whose brilliant play all but completed a Rangers’ seven-game comeback over the Plymouth Whalers. With Morrison’s emerging abilities as a sound netminder, Maxwell could be relegated to the Rangers’ bench next season.
During the regular season, Maxwell tied for 10th among OHL goaltenders with a .903 save percentage and 12th with a 3.22 goals against average. The 20-year-old appears to be a long-shot to crack the NHL.
Stephen Silas, D, Belleville Bulls
Acquired: 4th round, 95th overall, 2010
Stephen Silas went from four goals and 45 assists in 2009-10 to just two goals and 34 assists this past season. The 18-year-old blueliner also had a minus-16 rating, but part of that can be blamed on the top-heavy disparity of talent in the OHL’s Eastern Conference. Silas was forced to log some heavy minutes this season for a Belleville Bulls’ defense that was among the worst in the OHL. Despite making the playoffs, the Bulls allowed 97 more goals than they scored this year and had no regulars who finished the season with a less than a double-digit negative rating.
How Silas responds after a somewhat regressive year will go a long ways in determining his NHL outlook. He will likely play another season or two in the OHL.
Tyson Barrie, D, Kelowna Rockets
Acquired: 3rd round, 64th overall, 2009
For the fourth straight season, Tyson Barrie led Kelowna Rockets’ defensemen in goals (11), assists (47) and points (58) in just 54 contests, giving him 228 points in 256 career OHL games. He was recognized for a second straight year as the WHL’s Defenseman of the Year. Barrie also tacked on 11 points in 10 postseason games, as the tenacious leader took his inferior Rockets to six games in the second round of the WHL playoffs against a powerhouse Portland Winterhawks’ team marked by 10 NHL-affiliated players.
Barrie’s ability to dictate the flow of the game is a unique talent. The 19-year-old is at his best leading the rush up ice or commanding the powerplay, and it’s not farfetched to believe these skills will transfer well as he moves on to the pros. As he has just completed his fifth and final season of WHL eligibility, Barrie will join either the Avalanche or the AHL-affiliated Lake Erie Monsters next season.
Stefan Elliott, D, Saskatoon Blades
Acquired: 2nd round, 49th overall, 2009
Stefan Elliott certainly saved the best for last. In his final year of WHL eligibility, the 20-year-old led all WHL defensemen with 31 goals, 81 points and a whopping plus-62 rating in 71 games. However, Elliott and his first-place Saskatoon Blades were unable to turn their regular season success into postseason triumph, bowing out in the second round to the Kootenay Ice in just four games.
Like Barrie, the smooth-skating, puck-moving rearguard will start the 2011-12 campaign with either the Avalanche or the Monsters. With a slight size advantage on Barrie, Elliott could have a leg up on his fellow British Columbia-native.
Calvin Pickard, G, Seattle Thunderbirds
Acquired: 2nd round, 49th overall, 2010
Although his Seattle Thunderbirds finished last in the Western Conference, Calvin Pickard captured Second All-Star Team honors in the WHL in 2010-11. The 19-year-old goaltender posted a stingy .916 save percentage and played in 68 of his team’s 72 games. The heavy workload will benefit the young goaltending prospect in his quest for the pros.
Despite consistent, stellar performances during the past two regular seasons, Pickard has yet to demonstrate his skills under the pressure that postseason hockey brings with it. He’ll spend at least another year stifling shooters in the WHL, after which he could hastily be brought up to the more challenging AHL ranks.
Troy Rutkowski, D, Portland Winterhawks
Acquired: 5th round, 137th overall, 2010
Though not as finely polished as Barrie and Elliott, Troy Rutkowski is an offensive-minded rearguard who does a little bit of everything on the blue line for the Portland Winterhawks. Rutkowski, 18, amassed 10 goals and 37 assists in 72 games this past season to go along with 65 penalty minutes and a plus-24 rating. He’s also racked up seven points in 10 playoff contests so far as his Winterhawks continue to vie for a WHL Championship.
Rutkowski will spend another season or two sharpening his skill-set, which will likely include improving positional play. He projects as a depth defenseman who is still a few years away, though a Memorial Cup Championship would help beef up Rutkowski’s resume.