Minor league affiliate for Colorado Avalanche led by promising defensemen

By John Canario
Photo: In his first professional season, Mark Olver posted 23 goals and 17 assists in 58 AHL games. He even saw several call-ups to the NHL, appearing in 18 major league games. (Photo Courtesy of webb.nmu.edu)

The list of players on the Colorado Avalanche‘s minor league report looks somewhat different than it did at the halfway point of the 2010-11 season. General manager Greg Sherman alleviated the logjam of talented young defenders in the team’s system by trading highly touted prospect Kevin Shattenkirk and also Kevin Montgomery, both of whom started the season playing in the AHL.

The 2010-11 campaign for Colorado’s AHL-affiliated Lake Erie Monsters was highlighted by an influx of new, mostly younger players. The youthful Monsters fared well in comparison to years’ past, attaining a playoff berth for the first time in the team’s four-year history, before bowing out to the Manitoba Moose in seven games.


Forward

Michael Carman, C, 23

In 69 games with the Lake Erie Monsters this season, Michael Carman contributed nine goals and eight assists. He also added a single assist in seven postseason contests. While his numbers are far from jaw-dropping, the former defenseman-converted-pivot has a polished two-way game that includes dominance in the faceoff circle. Six of his regular season goals came while killing penalties which tied him for first in the AHL. The bruising center is rarely one to shy away from the corners and playing physically ranks among Carman’s greatest strengths, though he is unlikely to be called up to the NHL ranks based solely on his defensive play.

Zach Cohen, LW, 24

Zach Cohen tallied just a pair of goals and eight assists in 63 games for the Monsters, and was used only sparingly as the 2010-11 season progressed. Cohen is a strong skater and has ideal size, but has yet to perform at a level that would warrant promotion to a scoring line. The Schaumburg, Illinois-native has not developed how Colorado management had hoped and the 6’3 winger appears at risk of being released by the Avalanche once his contract expires at the end of 2011-12, unless he shows improved play next season.

Justin Mercier, LW, 23

After a horrendous start to the 2010-11 campaign, Justin Mercier salvaged what appeared to be a major step back after a strong rookie season in 2009-10. Mercier finished the season with 12 goals and 16 assists in 80 games for Lake Erie, with four of his 28 points coming shorthanded. In a seven-game quarterfinal loss to the Manitoba Moose, Mercier tied for the team lead in goals with three, and points with five. While the winger did not receive the same nine-game call-up to the Avalanche that he did in 2009-10, he appears to be back on his way toward the NHL after a slow start this year.

Mark Olver, C, 23

Mark Olver turned in a terrific first full season as a professional. Over several stints with the Avalanche, Olver impressed with a pair of goals, seven assists and 18 minutes in penalties in just 18 games. With Lake Erie, the scrappy pivot amassed 23 goals and 17 assists in just 58 games and demonstrated defensive improvement as the season progressed. With a minus-10 rating through his first 37 games, Olver turned in a plus-eight rating over his final 21 games. He also demonstrated some special teams’ prowess, netting six powerplay markers. Despite a strong 2010-11 campaign, Colorado has a plethora of scoring centers on the parent club and Olver may have to wait for an injury or a trade before he is presented with full-time NHL duty.

Ryan Stoa, C/LW, 24

Ryan Stoa was the only member of the Monsters with more powerplay goals than Olver, scoring seven times with the man advantage. In total, he racked up 16 goals and 17 assists in 48 contests for Lake Erie. With Stoa set to become a restricted free agent this offseason, the Avalanche were eager to see what they had in the power forward and brought the former second-round pick up for 25 games toward the end of the year. Despite receiving more than 13 minutes of ice time per game and considerable minutes on the powerplay, Stoa mustered just two goals and two assists. Nearly six years removed from his draft, Stoa has shown he can score in the AHL but has yet to produce consistently at the NHL level. At this point, his future with the Avalanche is hazy.

Luke Walker, RW, 21

Luke Walker put forth a respectable rookie campaign with Lake Erie, finding the net 10 times and registering 8 assists in 75 games. The pesky winger seemed to become increasingly comfortable playing at the AHL level as the season wore on, and contributed a goal and an assist in five playoff games. The third-youngest member of the Monsters is a bit of a scrawny project, but his tenacious style of play sets him apart from the other young right wing prospects the Avalanche have in their system. Walker demonstrated somewhat of a scoring touch this season, and it would not be a stretch to project twenty goals for the Monsters’ forward in 2011-12.

Tom Fritsche, LW, 24

This season, left winger Tom Fritsche was demoted to the Central Hockey League’s Tulsa Oilers and did not respond well. The former Ohio State Buckeye accumulated just 15 points in 35 games and was an abysmal minus-11 despite playing the previous three seasons in the more competitive AHL. Colorado is likely to release the former second-rounder who becomes a restricted free agent on July 1st.


Harrison Reed, RW, 23

Harrison Reed also spent some time in Tulsa, but was rewarded for strong play with a promotion to Lake Erie. In 38 games with the Monsters, Reed notched three goals and was a minus-six, albeit playing only limited minutes and in a checking role. Though he produced offensively at the OHL, ECHL and CHL levels, he has yet to consistently display his offensive talents in the AHL, and could be released this summer when his contract expires.

Defense

Joel Chouinard, D, 21

Joel Chouinard impressed early on with 13 points in his first 18 games but finished the season with just four points in his final 17 contests. He also accumulated 14 penalty minutes and was a minus-three. The former member of the Victoriaville Tigres has a cannon-like slapshot and is at his most dangerous on the powerplay. He missed a large chunk of the season with a broken collarbone, but if he can stay healthy and repeat the offensive production he displayed early on this season, he could get a shot with the parent club next year.

Cameron Gaunce, D, 21

Cameron Gaunce took some progressive steps forward in his first year as a professional, even earning himself an 11 game call-up to Colorado towards the end of the season. Averaging under 13 minutes of ice time per game, the versatile defenseman scored once and was a minus-three. At the AHL level, he led all Monsters’ rearguards with 20 assists and 22 points, and was a plus-13. With a slew of expiring contracts on the blue line, Colorado is likely to have Gaunce start the 2011-12 season at the NHL level.

Jonas Holos, D, 23

Jonas Holos had a rocky NHL rookie season, most of which he spent with the Avalanche. In 39 games, he was held goalless and had just six assists, despite averaging more than 18 minutes per game, more than a minute and a half of which came with the man-advantage. The Sarpsborg, Norway-native also played 17 games for Lake Erie contributing six assists. Solid but unspectacular, a strong training camp will help the smooth-skating defender re-secure a spot on the Avs’ roster in 2011-12.

Raymond Macias, D, 24

Raymond Macias played in 43 games in the 2010-11 season, his fourth with Lake Erie. He found the net three times and added 11 helpers, but his minus-eight rating was the worst among the Monsters’ blueliners. To this point, Macias has been unable to replicate the offensive success he demonstrated at the WHL level to the pro game. The longest-serving member of the Monsters could see his tenure in Lake Erie come to an end as he becomes a restricted free agent this summer.

Goaltender

Trevor Cann, G, 22

Constantly bouncing back and forth between Lake Erie and the Tulsa in 2010-11, Trevor Cann never quite found his groove. He posted a 3.43 goals against average and .892 save percentage in seven games with the Monsters. With Tulsa, Cann had a respectable .908 save percentage which he upped to .916 in the CHL playoffs, before bowing out to the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs in the conference semifinals. The former OHL standout has not consistently performed at an elite level like he did during his junior days, and has yet to show he can compete at the AHL level.