Avalanche AHL prospects update

By Janine Pilkington

After a rough December, the Lowell Lock Monsters slowly began to turn themselves around in January 2006, winning seven and losing seven in 14 games.

“Things are coming along,” said Lowell Assistant Coach Joe Sacco. “We’ve gone through a lot of players, and with a lot of first and second-year pros, there were a lot of growing pains, so to be where we are is a credit to this team.”

Lowell is a shared affiliation between the Carolina Hurricanes and Colorado Avalanche, which can mean a lot of roster changes over the course of the season. The Lock Monsters currently hold the No. 5 spot in the Atlantic Division. The good news is many of January’s games were close, with four progressing to overtime, as well as four losses and three wins being decided by a single goal. The Lock Monsters beat Norfolk by a margin of seven goals on January 6th and Hartford by six near the end of the month. The team currently stands just below .500 with a 20-24-4-4 record.

Defense

Johnny Boychuk has shown steady improvement since the season began. The 6’2 215 lb blueliner has the advantage of size and strength with a little offensive upside. He’s posted 18 points (3 goals, 15 assists) and 51 penalty minutes in the 50 games he’s played, and though he’s still got a way to go before he hits the NHL, Assistant Coach Joe Sacco says that all the potential is there.

“Johnny’s been doing well. He’s a second-year pro now, a big strong kid who has the ability to play physical,” he told Hockey’s Future. “He’s got a knack for stopping up players and catching people with their heads down. He really has come a long way.”

Though Boychuk has shown improvement, the team would still like to see more consistency from him. The biggest thing will be to speed up finishing his plays, which he has demonstrated the ability to do, but hasn’t done consistently enough.

“I’d like to see him work on his reads,” explained Sacco. “Like when to be aggressive versus when not to be aggressive, or when to hit, and just to do things quicker all the time.”

Finnish defenseman Mikko Viitanen joins the Lowell Lock Monsters for the first time in 2005-06 after splitting the previous two seasons between the Hershey Bears (AHL) and the Reading Royals (ECHL). Viitanen is a good size at 6’3 220lbs, and though he has the ability, he is not overly physical. He’s been effective on the penalty kill, where one of his biggest strengths is in his stickwork. Viitanen has a good reach and is able to take away passing lanes and create turnovers.

“He still has a long way to go,” said Sacco. “He’s another one that has to do things quicker, and sometimes he gets caught holding the puck too long.”

Viitanen currently has 5 points, 36 penalty minutes and stands at a +3 in the 44 games he’s played with Lowell. He’s been a little slow to develop since coming to the states, and this is the first season he’s really been ready for the AHL level after having two brief, 20-game stretches in previous seasons.

Jeff Finger is in his third professional season, and his first with the Lock Monsters. He played briefly for the Royals in the 2003-04 season before being promoted to Hershey, and then stuck with Hershey during the 2004-05 season. Another good-sized defender at 6’2 205lbs, he’s reliable in his own end and has the ability to play in all situations.

“Jeff’s probably the most consistent defenseman we have on the team,” said Assistant Coach Joe Sacco. “He’s a strong guy, very physical, he’s a stay at home type defenseman. He’s not going to put up a lot of points, but he moves the puck well and has decent mobility.”

Finger has been recognized for his leadership and was appointed alternate captain for the Lock Monsters this season. He currently has one goal, 14 assists and 79 penalty minutes in 42 games.

Forwards

Frantisek Skladany joined the Lock Monsters in November of 2005 after beginning the season with the San Diego Gulls (ECHL). A strong defensive forward, Skladany is a former Boston University Terrier who has also played with Hershey, Quad City (UHL) since his graduation in 2004. He hasn’t put up a lot of points since he’s been with the Lock Monsters, but one of his strengths, according to Lowell’s assistant coach, is his consistency.

“You know what you’re going to get with this guy, shift to shift it’s always the same,” Sacco said. “He’s physical, he finishes his checks, and he’s got some ability to get under other guys’ skin because of the way he plays.”

Skladany was drafted by the Avs in the fifth round of the 2001 entry draft. He currently has a goal, 7 assists and 22 penalty minutes in 36 games with the Lock Monsters.

Ryan Steeves is currently in his second pro season and his first with the Lowell Lock Monsters. An exceptional skater with the ability to make an impact offensively, Steeves has yet to produce the numbers expected of him at the pro level. He had 11 points and 24 penalty minutes in 75 games with the Hershey Bears during his rookie season in 2004-05. Those he’s already surpassed that this season with Lowell, his coaches still feel that he could be doing a little more.

“Ryan’s been an interesting story in that we were expecting a little more,” admitted Sacco. “He’s probably the best skater we have — the fastest, though at times he does not use his speed. He has a chance to take it to the next level, but he needs to become more physically involved. Ryan still has a way to go.”

Though the Lock Monsters have not yet gotten the offense they expected from Steeves, he is currently sixth in scoring among players still active on the Lowell roster with 13 points in 44 games, and he has been used effectively on the penalty kill. He scored a power play goal against Norfolk near the beginning of January in what would be a two-goal game for the young center, and he’s had three other two-point games since the beginning of the season.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.