Colorado Avalanche possess slew of bruising defenders in junior

By John Canario
Photo: A late round pick in 2011, Garret Meurs has shown improved consistency early on in the 2011-12 season. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The Colorado Avalanche have six prospects honing their skills at the junior level, comprised of one player in the OHL, two in the QMJHL in the WHL, and three in the WHL.

OHL

Stephen Silas, D, Belleville Bulls
Acquired: 4th round (95th overall) in 2010


Stephen Silas is a good puck-moving defender, but he has yet to take the strides forward that the Avalanche had hoped when they drafted him in 2010. His skating is only mediocre and he has yet to stand out as a star on either offense or defense. He lacks the elusiveness and cannon-like shot of a top-tier offensive defenseman, and he does not possess the size or physicality of an ideal shut-down rearguard. So far this season, he has notched a goal and 10 assists through 19 games.

Currently Silas projects as a depth NHL defenseman and he will probably see extended time in the minors when he does graduate from his fifth season of junior hockey at the end of next season.

Garrett Meurs, RW, Plymouth Whalers
Acquired: 5th round (123rd overall) in 2011

Garrett Meurs is a gritty right winger with an underrated scoring touch. A decent skater who was plagued by frequent spurts of inconsistent efforts during his first two seasons in the OHL, the 18-year-old has done a significantly better job of contributing on a regular basis in 2011-12. The Ripley, Ontario native has found the net seven times and added 11 assists through 21 games, putting him on pace for career highs in all offensive categories.

Meurs' projects as a third line player at the NHL level, but he is still at least a couple of years in junior away from moving on to the pros.

QMJHL

Gabriel Beaupre, D, Val d'Or Foreurs
Acquired: 6th round (153rd overall) in 2011

Twenty-two games into his fourth season with the Val d'Or Foreurs, Gabriel Beaupre has posted just a goal and a pair of assists to go along with a minus-4 rating, bringing his QMJHL career plus/minus rating to a whopping minus-60. To be fair, Beaupre has played on some lousy Foreurs team during his QMJHL tenure but he will need to turn that number around to advance to the professional ranks, considering that his offensive game leaves more to be desired.

At the pro level, Beaupre projects as a depth shut-down defenseman capable of delivering jarring bodychecks. How much the scrawny 18-year-old develops over the next year will shed light on his future as a hockey player.

Dillon Donnelly, D, Shawinigan Cataractes
Acquired: 7th round (183rd overall) in 2011

Dillon Donnelly is cut from the same cloth as Beaupre: big and physical but not a whole lot else, at least at this stage in his development. The Amherst, New York-native is a hard-nosed, aggressive rearguard who rarely passes up the opportunity to drop the gloves. After accumulating 21 fighting majors last season, he has four through 24 games this season. He also has a pair of assists, 44 minutes in penalties and is tied for the team lead among blueliners with a plus-nine rating.

As Donnelly and Beaupre are both long-term projects, they will play out their QMJHL eligibility. This will allow them to develop their skating, puck-moving skills and positional play, which will likely result in a statistical increase in production in their fourth and fifth seasons. Donnelly projects as a depth shut-down defender who can also play the role of an enforcer.

WHL

Duncan Siemens, D, Saskatoon Blades
Acquired: 1st round (11th overall) in 2011

Duncan Siemens is the complete package: a big, smart, two-way, puck-moving rearguard with a heavy shot who can be downright nasty in his own end. At 6'3, 205 pounds, the 18-year-old is an intimidating presence for opposing forwards battling for pucks in the offensive zone corners and around the goal. With four goals and 10 assists through 21 games thus far, Siemens is set to eclipse his offensive totals from last season, though he has struggled at times over-handling the puck.

The Avalanche have an abundance of young prospect talent on the blue line in Cameron Gaunce, Stefan Elliott, and Tyson Barrie, but Siemens will have an opportunity to leapfrog the trio if he can outperform them at training camp next year. He is a virtual lock for a top-four role in the NHL some day.

Calvin Pickard, G, Seattle Thunderbirds
Acquired: 2nd round (49th overall) in 2011

Calvin Pickard is the top goaltending prospect in Colorado's system, but he certainly hasn't shown it a quarter of the way into the WHL season. The 19-year-old owns a hefty 4.03 goals against average and an .893 save percentage through 16 games, putting him on pace for the worst statistical totals of his four-year junior career. He's posted back-to-back victories and a .900 save percentage in his past two games though, so it's possible that he has put his early-season slump behind him.

Pickard is typically a sound technical goaltender with the athleticism to make difficult saves. He'll be eligible to join the Avalanche's AHL-affiliated Lake Erie Monsters next season, but could see another year in the WHL if he doesn't vastly improve upon his ugly start to the 2011-12 campaign.

Troy Rutkowski, D, Portland Winterhawks
Acquired: 5th round (137th overall) in 2011

Just a couple years ago Troy Rutkowski was regarded as arguably the top defenseman on the Portland Winterhawks roster. He has since been surpassed by a trio of younger blueliners: 2011 draft picks Joe Morrow (PIT) and Tyler Wotherspoon (CGY) and 2012 draft prospect Derrick Pouliot. As a result, Rutkowski's offensive numbers are suffering this season. The physical, hard-shooting rearguard has notched just three goals and five assists through 22 contests putting him on pace for his worst season statistically since his rookie campaign in 2008-09. Similarly to Siemens, Rutkowski occasionally gets himself into trouble trying to do too much with the puck.

The 19-year-old has taken a step back and, unless he has a truly jaw-dropping second half of the season, he will probably play a fifth season in the WHL in 2012-13. He currently projects as a bottom pairing defender at the professional level.

 

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