The Carolina Hurricanes and Colorado Avalanche will enter their second consecutive year of a developmental partnership, albeit with a different AHL franchise in 2006-07. After their former farm team, the Lowell Lock Monsters, was purchased by the New Jersey Devils, the Devils farm team, the Albany River Rats, became the AHL affiliate for both the Avalanche and the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
The Rats are looking to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in six seasons this year with a roster full of fresh faces. The Colorado Avalanche will provide a few veterans and several prospects to the club to try and achieve that goal.
The goaltending in Albany this year looks to be shared by a couple of newcomers in Justin Peters and Colorado prospect Tyler Weiman. Weiman got his first taste of the AHL last year, playing 14 games for the Lock Monsters after spending most of the season in the ECHL with the San Diego Gulls. The 22-year-old could use a full season in the AHL to work on his consistency, though he is likely to share duties with the rookie Peters, at least to begin the year.
On defense, Johnny Boychuk and Jeff Finger will look to continue to experience progress as they enter their third and fourth professional seasons respectively, while newcomers Kyle Cumiskey and Mitch Love will bring some youth and additional skill to the blue line.
As far as Colorado defensive prospects are concerned, the strongest they have playing in Albany seems to be Boychuk. The 22-year-old brings a smart defensive game, as well as a physical edge. While he can chip in offensively with a terrific slapshot, his value lies in playing strong defense. He, too, needs to work on being more consistent, but if he continues to build on the progress of his first two professional seasons, he’ll be a solid contributor for the Rats this year.
Cumiskey, on the other hand, while he is a very intelligent two-way player, brings plenty of offensive skills to the River Rats. Standing at 5’11, Cumiskey’s size used to be thought of as a significant detriment. But with the enforcement of the new rules, which benefit the smaller, more skilled players, Cumiskey could be a very dangerous weapon from the blue line — particularly on the power play.
Love enters the 2006-07 season after five years of junior hockey in the Western Hockey League (WHL). The young, stay-at-home defenseman showed steady improvement throughout his junior career, even adding an offensive element to his game (scoring 29 points in 59 games in his final season). The rugged defenseman, though, is still known more for his defensive play and aggressive style. Depending on the amount of ice time he gets in his first full professional season, Love could make a positive impact, as he brings a very complete game.
While the bulk of Albany’s offense this year will be comprised of Carolina prospects, there are a few players in the Avalanche organization who could play a key role in the Rats’ success. Peter Tsimikalis is hoping to make a statement in his first year pro, while players like Dan DaSilva, Cody McLeod, and David Svagrovsky will be trying to rebound from shaky rookie seasons.
Tsimikalis will definitely be looking to impress Colorado in his first year pro. Invited to training camp last month, the Aurora, Ontario native was cut from the big club and assigned to Albany after scoring 99 points last season with the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). The 6’1, 195-pound playmaker could put up some good numbers in his first professional season, but will need to work on his defensive game.
DaSilva, 21, signed with the Avs as a free agent prior to last season and saw time in both the AHL and ECHL. He scored a combined 13 points playing with Lowell and San Diego. This season, the right winger is hoping to duplicate the success he experienced in juniors playing for the Portland Winter Hawks, where he increased his scoring totals every year, posting 73 points in his final season. If DaSilva gets a decent amount of ice team, he could put up some good numbers.
DaSilva will be suiting up with one of his former Winter Hawk teammates this season in McLeod. McLeod was second to DaSilva in points with Portland in 2004-05 (31 goals, 29 assists), but he too split last season between Lowell and San Diego. A tough guy with average offensive skills, McLeod brings a physical presence to this River Rats team.
Svagrovsky, 21, is looking to stick in the AHL this year after he followed the same path as DaSilva and McLeod in 2005-06. The 6’4, 210-pound Prague native won’t be counted upon too heavily for offense, as he put up just nine points in 53 combined AHL and ECHL games last year. Rounding out the forward lines from the Colorado organization are Mat Murley and Ben Guite, whom were both acquired via free agency over the summer. The duo should provide some solid veteran leadership as well as some additional scoring.
For a few of the forwards on this team, this season could be their chance to prove that they can stick at the AHL level, and possibly make it to the NHL, which should be enough motivation to produce some successful seasons. The Colorado prospects on the blue line should only further develop their potential, and can be valuable contributors on this team if they continue to do so. With a new team — that will include plenty of help from the Carolina system — and new affiliates, this Albany River Rats squad should certainly experience more success this year than they have in the past few seasons.
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