San Antonio Rampage experiencing the growing pains of housing Colorado Avalanche prospects

By Chau Vo
Chris Bigras - Colorado Avalanche

Photo: After half a season of pro hockey, Colorado 2013 second-round pick and former Owen Sound star Chris Bigras has advanced to NHL duties (courtesy of John Rivera/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

The San Antonio Rampage did not lose in regulation until November 7th against their rival, the Texas Stars. The month-long hot streak included six regulation wins and four overtime losses. They continued to rack up wins and stay atop the Pacific Division until December when they proceeded to lose seven in a row and a staggering 15 losses in 20 games. Colorado Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic has emphasized the need to establish a winning culture in their minor league system but knows such changes cannot be accomplished overnight.

The team’s prospect pool is in the bottom-third league-wide and only boasts two high-end prospects. The lack of depth at the forward positions is clearly evident considering the roster the Rampage have been forced to ice on a nightly basis. To make matters worse, top goaltending prospect, Calvin Pickard, was recently called up to the Avalanche because of injury to Reto Berra.

AHL

Calvin Pickard, G, 23

This season, Pickard is firmly entrenched as the third-string goaltender in the Avalanche goalie depth chart but in limited games has shown he is more than capable of NHL duties. Last year, he played hero in multiple outings when the Avalanche were struggling to score goals and catch up to the other playoff teams. He will remain with the Avalanche for as long as Reto Berra remains sidelined with an ankle injury suffered during a pre-game stretching exercise.

Spencer Martin, G, 20

Martin was a workhorse in junior hockey and the sole reason his team was able to squeak into the playoffs in 2013 and 2014. Last year, he suffered a season-ending injury and the loss of their top player led to the team failing to make the playoffs. Opting to go pro this year instead of returning for his overage season, Martin started off the 2015-16 season in the ECHL with the Fort Wayne Komets before call ups successively moved him up to the AHL. As long as Pickard remains in the NHL, Martin will split starting duties for the Rampage in the AHL.

Roman Will, G, 23

Will was the Rampage’s back up goaltender but after Pickard was called up to the Avalanche he split net duties with Martin. While he is three years older than Martin, he has yet to take the reins of the position and show why he should be next on the ladder after Pickard.

Mikko Rantanen, RW, 19

The organization’s top forward prospect, Rantanen made the Avalanche’s opening night roster and appeared in six games before being sent down to the AHL. In those six games, his minutes were limited so that the young Finn would not be overwhelmed making the jump from the Liiga. Once he was sent down, Rantanen displayed dominance never seen before from a player of his age. He was allowed to captain the Finnish junior squad competing in the 2016 World Junior Championships where he led his team to a gold medal finish. In 25 AHL games, he has 31 points. This puts him two points behind the rookie scoring leader, despite playing in 11 fewer games.

Borna Rendulic, RW, 23

The first Croatia-born player in the NHL enjoyed three games with the big club to start the season before being sent down to the AHL in October. Rendulic failed to register a point in his short stint with the Avalanche but has 20 points in 37 games for the Rampage. He is not expected to score at the NHL level, but if Rendulic wants another opportunity with the Avalanche he will have to step up his physical game.

Andreas Martinsen, RW, 25

Martinsen spent a short month in the AHL before being called up to the Avalanche where he has since remained. Opposing teams have quickly gotten acquainted with number 27 as the hard-charging Norwegian has made devastating hits his calling card in the NHL. Not only has he made his presence known in the hits column, but he has chipped in eight points in 30 games playing middle-six minutes.

Trevor Cheek, LW, 23

Cheek was lighting up the ECHL to the tune of eight points in six games before being called up to the Rampage but his role and offense fizzled out at the next level. He will most likely finish out the season for the Rampage at which point a decision will have to be made about his status within the organization. Cheek’s contract ends at the conclusion of this season and he does not have a good shot at making the Avalanche’s NHL roster but whether or not a bottom-six AHL player warrants an NHL contract is a topic up for debate.

Samuel Henley, C/LW, 22

Henley has been used as a center this season primarily on the fourth line with like-minded, heavy hitting forwards. In 43 games for the Rampage, he has seven points.

Joey Hishon, C, 24

His atrocious start to the season did Hishon no favors but he has recently stepped up his game and has been a consistent offensive player when the Rampage needed it the most. He has 25 points in 37 games so far for the Rampage and is third in team scoring. Although that would be impressive for most other prospects, Hishon is a former high draft pick (17th overall in 2010) so the bar has been set much higher for him. He is in his third full AHL season after missing a significant amount of time due to injury and the organization may be getting close to cutting ties with the player as it is hard to see where he fits in their long term plans.

Troy Bourke, C, 21

Bourke is the Rampage’s Swiss-army knife. He can play any role and any position without fuss. His work ethic is second to none and while all of his attributes make him easy to root for, Bourke’s role within the organization remains insignificant. Bourke only has eight points in 39 games this season but has often been lined up with less offensively talented players than himself. He has shown he can score at the junior level but hasn’t been given much opportunity in the AHL. He still has one more full season remaining on his entry-level contract with the Avalanche.

Colin Smith, C, 22

Smith has consistently been one of the Rampage’s top offensive players throughout this entire season. Although his 33 points in 44 games puts him only at 15th among league scorers, night in and night out Smith continues to drive the play for his linemates and create offensive chances –  something very few Rampage players have been able to do. He was awarded for his play last year with a late-season call up to the Avalanche for one game but is unlikely to receive another opportunity this season as he is behind other prospects on the priority list. Regardless of his future role with the Avalanche, Smith will be a fan favorite in San Antonio any night he dons the Rampage jersey.

Brandon Gormley, D, 23

Acquired for Stefan Elliott before the start of the season, Gormley spent three months and played 26 games for the Avalanche before clearing waivers en route to San Antonio. Although he was not the worst defenseman on the Avalanche roster, Gormley failed to secure a spot on the third pairing with his soft play and was often criticized for getting knocked off the puck too easily. Gormley’s contract expires this summer and the Avalanche will have to decide if they want to tender him an offer or trade his rights to another team who is willing to take a gamble on a former 13th overall draft pick.

Chris Bigras, D, 20

Bigras made his professional debut this season and immediately started making an impact. While offense is not his game’s strong suit, he is an intelligent player who can make the right play with the puck. Bigras put up 19 points in 37 games for the Rampage before being called up to the Avalanche halfway through the season. The organization’s top defensive prospect, Bigras was playing top-four minutes for the Rampage and has been playing on the third pairing for the Avalanche.

There is no rush to push Bigras into playing tough minutes at the NHL level, and more AHL time is usually of benefit to a young player. That said, with Erik Johnson returning from injury, it was Nikita Zadorov who was returned to San Antonio. For now, Bigras has his first taste of NHL level competition and will use that to his advantage to further his development.

Duncan Siemens, D, 22

Siemens continues to be a big question mark for the Avalanche. While he has been a good AHL player, he hasn’t been able to take the next step in his play that would earn him a considerable look at the NHL level. Mistakes are magnified at the top level and Siemens has made plenty of them this season. He is strong and steady defensively but hasn’t shown the puck skills that would earn him a call up. In 141 AHL games, Siemens has only registered two goals and 13 points.

Mason Geertsen, D, 20

Geertsen has been on the wrong end of roster decisions this season not because of his play but because of his age. The young defenseman has been categorized as a long-term prospect by the organization and has been scratched on multiple occasions in favor of more experienced players. Regardless of the number of games played this season, Geertsen’s style of play is one head coach Patrick Roy covets so his development will be closely monitored by the team’s developmental staff.

Cody Corbett, D, 22

Corbett has spent half of this season split between the Komets and the Rampage. Signed two summers ago to provide minor league depth, he has failed to show why he should be re-signed once his current contract expires. However, he had been a big part of the Komets blue line before his call up to the Rampage.

ECHL

Garrett Meurs, RW, 23

At this point Meurs doesn’t seem to be much more than an AHL call up option in the organization and is unlikely to receive another contract from the Avalanche. His current deal will expire at the end of this season and it will take a significant boost in his play for him to get back on the team’s radar. A 2011 draftee, Meurs is one of few survivors from the previous regime.

Gabriel Beaupre, D, 23

With the expected prospect turnover coming up this summer, Beaupre will also be a victim of the contract limit in place for NHL teams. Drafted 153rd overall in 2011, Beaupre was always a long shot to make the NHL but was pushed down even further the depth chart this season with the influx of defensive prospects making their professional debut this season.

World Junior Championships

The Avalanche’s two representatives in this year’s tournament were forward Mikko Rantanen and defenseman Sergei Boikov. Both players appeared in all seven games for their countries and played against each other in the championship game where Rantanen and the Finns would beat Boikov and the Russians to win the 2016 tournament.

Prospect of the Month

Mikko Rantanen - Colorado AvalancheMikko Rantanen was not under the spotlight this tournament despite wearing the “C” for his team. Instead, he was able to operate silently in the background while two young star forwards on his team attracted the most attention. However, Rantanen answered the bell when his team needed him to provide offense when the top line went cold. He finished the tournament with five points in seven games.