Mikko Rantanen did not disappoint as the Colorado Avalanche’s top prospect this season

By Chau Vo
Julien Nantel - Colorado Avalanche

Photo: 2014 7th-rounder Julien Nantel is part of a trio of Colorado Avalanche prospects seeking a QMJHL title with Rouyn-Noranda, starting tonight (courtesy of Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

 

 

 

The Colorado Avalanche missed the playoffs for the second season in a row in Patrick Roy’s third season behind the bench. Just like last year, it was their slow start that hurt them down the stretch as they missed the final wild card spot by a mere few points. There are obvious weaknesses in their NHL lineup but they have several prospects who could play integral roles in the 2016-17 season.

Hardest Worker: Troy Bourke, C, San Antonio Rampage (AHL)

Bourke’s second full season of professional hockey did not go as well as he expected but it was more indicative of his coach than himself. His work ethic has always been the strong point of his game going back to minor hockey so it’s not a surprise it carried over to his professional career. With a new coach yet to be named in San Antonio next season, Bourke will have an opportunity to rejuvenate his young professional hockey career and show the organization why he is someone that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Hardest Shot: AJ Greer, LW, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)

Boston University failed to utilize Greer’s offensive prowess and lost an important player in the process. After just 18 games with the Terriers, Greer made the decision to give up his NCAA eligibility and play junior hockey in the QMJHL. He may not have the hard shot from the point like the defensemen in the Avalanche’s system, but Greer’s shot is quick and heavy. It helped him score 27 points in 33 regular season games for the Huskies and 15 in 14 playoff games. The Huskies are favorites to win the QMJHL championship and advance to the Memorial Cup tournament. 

Best Defensive Prospect: Chris Bigras, D, Colorado Avalanche (NHL)

The Avalanche were patient with Bigras’s development and let him finish his junior eligibility before making the jump to professional hockey. He started the season with the San Antonio Rampage but it did not take long for him to be called up to the Avalanche where he finished the season.

In San Antonio, Bigras was the team’s top defensive player playing in all situations and against the opposing team’s top players. He scored 19 points in 37 games with the Rampage and three in 31 games for the Avalanche. Head coach Patrick Roy eased Bigras into the NHL by playing him on the third pairing but he should contend for a top-four spot next season.

Fastest Skater: Julien Nantel, LW, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)

On March 9th, 2016, the Avalanche signed Nantel to a three-year entry-level contract. The 204th pick of the 2014 draft earned his contract with his hard work and significant improvement to his game since being drafted two years ago. The Huskies helped Nantel mold himself into a strong two-way player who excels on the penalty kill and will be a welcome addition on the Rampage roster next season that is expected to feature many new faces. 

Prospect of the Year: Mikko Rantanen, RW/C, San Antonio Rampage (AHL)

Rantanen’s first season playing North American hockey was certainly one he will remember for the rest of his life. The young Finnish forward got his first taste of NHL action on opening night playing on the fourth line and in a limited role before being demoted to the AHL after several games. The demotion had nothing to do with his play as he showed he was more than capable of keeping up with the pace but the Avalanche felt it was best for the organization that they did not burn a year off of his entry-level contract. Rantanen responded to the demotion by having one of the best seasons in AHL history for a teenager with 60 points in 52 games. 

Halfway through the season, Rantanen had the opportunity to lead his country’s WJC team to a gold medal finish beating Russia 4-3 in the final game. Rantanen scored nine points in 12 games in the tournament and took more of a secondary role but when Finland’s top guns were shooting blanks it was Rantanen who stepped up his game.

Breakout Player for 2016-17: Nicolas Meloche, D, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)

After two and a half seasons with Baie-Comeau Drakkar, Meloche was traded on December 21st, 2015 to the Gatineau Olympiques. The move signaled a rebuilding phase for Drakkar as they were having a historically bad season in the QMJHL. They received three pieces back in the trade including two first rounders and also gave Meloche a chance to shine on a contending team. 

Meloche has one more season of junior eligibility left before he makes the jump to professional hockey. The Avalanche are high on the young defenseman who plays a well rounded game with a ferocious demeanor. The organization is weak on defensemen who play on the right side after trading away Kyle Wood and Stefan Elliott and is putting a lot of faith in Meloche.

Most Improved: J.T. Compher, C, University of Michigan (Big Ten)

There was a lot of question whether Compher would sign with the Avalanche or play one more year of college hockey and having the opportunity to pick his team next summer. Compher quickly put an end to all speculation by signing an entry-level deal on April 25th before heading to Russia to represent Team USA in the World Championship. 

Compher’s breakout season concluded with a disappointing loss to the eventual champion in the quarterfinals. After being named captain last summer, Compher rewarded the program with 63 points in 38 games – second highest on the team and behind only freshman phenom Kyle Connor.

Overachiever: Andreas Martinsen, RW, Colorado Avalanche (NHL)

Martinsen started off the season with the Rampage but was called up early November after ten games in the AHL. The Norwegian got off to a good start with eight points in his first 25 NHL games but eventually cooled off and only scored three in his remaining 30. Earlier in the season, Martinsen shuffled back and forth between the third and fourth lines playing an energy role. Fans became accustomed to his bone-jarring hits but as the season progressed he became a liability in his own zone. The Avalanche have some decisions to make about their bottom-six next season and Martinsen could see himself as the odd man out.

Underachiever: Brandon Gormley, D, San Antonio Rampage (AHL)

Once regarded as a top-five pick in the 2010 draft, Gormley fell to 13th where the Phoenix Coyotes thought they got the steal of the draft. He made his professional debut with the Portland Pirates and immediately contributed points but struggled at the NHL level. After 32 NHL games with the Coyotes, he was traded to the Avalanche for similarly struggling prospect Stefan Elliott.

Roy thought a change of scenery was what Gormley needed to kickstart his game but in 26 games with the Avalanche he was demoted to the AHL where he finished the season. He is unlikely to be qualified by the Avalanche as they have a plethora of up and coming defensemen who will be competing for limited available positions on the Rampage blue line. 

Highest Risk/Reward: Andrei Mironov, D, Dynamo Moscow (KHL)

When the Avalanche selected Mironov in 2015 they knew he had just recently signed a two-year extension to stay in the KHL. They also knew they would no longer hold his rights in 2017. It was a risk the organization felt safe taking as the 21-year old Moscow-born defenseman has extensive international and professional experience at his young age. If the Avalanche are able to convince Mironov to join the team at the conclusion of the 2016-17 KHL season, he immediately slots in as the team’s 6th or 7th defenseman. 

Prospect of the Month

JC Beaudin - Colorado Avalanche2015 third-round pick J.C. Beaudin is second on his team in playoff scoring with 19 points in 15 games, one point ahead of 2015 ninth overall pick Timo Meier, playing on the top line for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. The Huskies breezed through the first two rounds of the QMJHL playoffs only losing once, to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. Beaudin had two points in game six to clinch the next series against the Moncton Wildcats. The Huskies will now face the Shawinigan Cataractes for the President Cup and a chance to represent the QMJHL in the Memorial Cup tournament.