Avalanche offseason prospects update

By Ryan Garner

Whether they’re scooping up free agents or pulling off blockbuster trades, the Colorado Avalanche continue to be one of the NHL’s busiest teams on the transaction wire. This summer, GM Pierre Lacroix has added even more pieces in an attempt to bring the Stanley Cup back to Denver. Unfortunately, immediate results at both the major and minor league levels have taken precedence over establishing a solid prospect system for the future. Below is the major prospects news from the summer of 2004.

Taking the next step

The offseason has brought about many changes for the 2004-05 AHL affiliate Hershey Bears lineup. After successful campaigns in either college or junior, four Avalanche prospects are slated to make the move to the pro ranks and begin the 2004-05 season with the Bears.

Defenseman Johnny Boychuk is one of the Avs most promising youngsters. The 20-year-old Edmonton native posted a career-high 33 points in 62 games for the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League last season. Boychuk has faced high expectations since Colorado selected him 61st overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, and he’s expected to grab a spot as one of the top four on the Bears blueline.

After registering 35 points in 41 games for Boston University in 2002-03, Frantisek Skladany could only muster 24 in 37 games for the Terriers last season. Despite his drop in production, the Avalanche signed the Slovakian winger to an entry-level contract in mid-June. Skladany managed to appear in five games for Hershey at the end of last season and Colorado management is confident he can make a smooth transition to the pro game.

Colorado also locked up Tyler Weiman in mid-June, signing the diminutive goaltender to a three-year deal. The 5’11, 160-pound netminder has spent the last four seasons with the Tri-City Americans of the WHL. Weiman was selected by the Avs in the fifth round, 164th overall at the 2002 Entry Draft and should start the season as the backup to Peter Budaj in Hershey.

The Avalanche signed forward Ryan Steeves to a three-year contract in mid-July. The 21-year-old posted 26 points in 31 games in has fourth and final year with the Yale Bulldogs last season. Steeves was selected in the seventh round, 227th overall at the 2002 Entry Draft, and Colorado fans are hoping he can follow in the footsteps of fellow 227th overall pick from 2001, Marek Svatos.

The Hershey Bears continued to add to their depth during the offseason, signing Brett Clark, Jeff Ulmer, D.J. Smith and Mathieu Darche, all 27 years of age. This may be beneficial for the fans in Chocolatetown, but chances are slim that any of these players will ever add to the decibel level of the Pepsi Center. Meanwhile, they will take away ice time from developing prospects in the Avalanche system.

Budaj sees international action

The Colorado Avalanche are always well-represented at international competitions, and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey is no different. Six of the eight teams competing in the tournament have a member of the Avalanche on their roster. Perhaps the most surprising Colorado player competing is goaltender Peter Budaj. The 21-year-old prospect was named to Team Slovakia’s roster earlier this summer as a backup to Jan Lasak and Rastislav Stana. Budaj posted a 2.80 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in 46 games for the Hershey Bears last season, his second with the AHL club. Although he will see a limited amount of ice time, the World Cup experience should assist the young Slovak’s development toward regular duty in the NHL.

Bears preseason schedule

The Hershey Bears will play three preseason games leading up to their 2004-05 season opener against the Norfolk Admirals on October 15, 2004 in Norfolk, Virginia.

Saturday October 2, 2004 @ Wilkes-Barre Penguins 2:00 pm
Sunday October 3, 2004 Binghamton Senators 5:00 pm
Saturday October 9, 2004 Norfolk Admirals 7:05 pm in Reading, PA

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