Avalanche Top 20 prospects

By Ryan Miller

The Colorado Avalanche have a stable filled with talented offensive prospects. T.J. Hensick, Ryan Stoa and Chris Stewart could all make legitimate runs at a regular spot on the Avalanche roster in the fall, especially with the seemingly imminent departures of Pierre Turgeon and Antti Laaksonen to unrestricted free agency. Beyond the forwards, however, the Avalanche lacks quality depth. On defense, Kyle Cumiskey has already seen some spot duty, but Johnny Boychuk has underachieved, and Nigel Williams is still a few years off.  There are no top goaltending prospects in the system.

Top 20 at a Glance

1. T.J. Hensick, C
2. Ryan Stoa, C
3. Chris Stewart, RW
4. Kyle Cumiskey, D
5. Denis Parshin, RW
6. Nigel Williams, D
7. Tom Fritsche, LW
8. Raymond Macias, D/RW
9. Codey Burki, C
10. Johnny Boychuk, D
11. David Jones, RW
12. Chris Durand, C
13. Brett Hemingway, RW
14. Michael Carman, C
15. Kevin Montgomery, D
16. Tyler Weiman, G
17. Linus Videll, LW
18. Victor Oreskovich, C
19. Michael Vernace, D
20. Brandon Yip, RW

1. T.J. Hensick, C
3rd round, 88th overall, 2005

The scoring leader for the Michigan Wolverines continues to display strength in almost all offensive aspects of the game. He has speed, confidence, and playmaking ability that combine to make him the brightest prospect currently in the Avalanche system. Hensick lead the Wolverines in assists (45) and points (66), and shared a three-way tie for the team lead in goals in 2006-07. He’s been named as one of the top 10 finalists for the 2007 Hobey Baker award as well. Hensick could still use some polishing in the defensive zone, as he was only a +1 with all of his offensive production.  A bit undersized at 5’10 and 185 lbs., he will never be a dominating physical force, but has the offensive skill to make up for it. Hensick could end up closely resembling playmaker Scott Gomez.

2. Ryan Stoa, C
2nd round, 34th overall, 2005

What Hensick lacks in size, Ryan Stoa possesses at 6’3 and 200 lbs. In his sophomore season at the University of Minnesota, Stoa’s production dropped slightly, landing him seventh on the team in scoring behind names like Kyle Okposo and Blake Wheeler, and tied with defenseman Erik Johnson. Stoa’s 11 goals and 12 assists in 39 games suggest a balanced offensive game and he has been consistent throughout his time with the U.S. National Team Development Program and at Minnesota. If he decides to go pro this year, he will likely be competing with Chris Stewart for a spot on the Avalanche roster as a power forward the team desperately needs, a spot Stewart held deep into the preseason in 2006. Stoa could probably most benefit from a junior season at Minnesota. A solid all-around player with excellent size, Stoa could become a player in the mold of Jason Arnott.

3. Chris Stewart, RW
1st round, 18th overall, 2006

Chris Stewart displayed a great deal of promise at training camp in 2006. He lingered on the roster late into the preseason and was among the last group of players cut from the roster. A lot still remains to be seen with Stewart, mostly because he played football instead of hockey as recently as 2003-04. Now focusing on hockey, Stewart is showing great potential as a power forward on the right wing and will try to follow his brother Anthony into the NHL. Though he is listed one inch shorter than Stoa, he is 30 lb. heavier. His high body fat has been one drawback in past years. The young Toronto native has 82 points and 108 penalty minutes through 61 games as captain of the OHL‘s Kingston Frontenacs, and a season ago had 87 points in 62 games.  Stewart attended Team Canada’s WJC camp in December. If he continues to develop, Stewart could play a similar style to Jarome Iginla.

4. Kyle Cumiskey, D
8th round, 222nd overall, 2005

Cumiskey was called up mid-season for nine games when John-Michael Liles, Jordan Leopold, and Patrice Brisebois were all sidelined with injuries. At 5’10, Cumiskey doesn’t play a physical game and relies on his quick feet and sound positioning. In 52 games with the Albany River Rats, Cumiskey has provided consistent offensive contribution with 5 goals and 23 assists and was a -4, about average on the team. Despite his baby-face appearance, Cumiskey could soon develop into a regular defenseman in the NHL, perhaps as a power-play specialist. It could be tough for him to find a regular spot on an Avs blueline, since they are looking for size and grit and already have their share of offensive-minded six footers in Liles and Leopold. Wherever he ends up, Cumiskey will probably best resemble a smaller version of Paul Martin.

5. Denis Parshin, RW
3rd round, 72nd overall, 2004

Following a theme with Avalanche prospects, Parshin lacks size by NHL standards, varying from 5’8 to 5’10 depending on the listing, but he relies heavily on blinding speed and excellent puck control to beat opponents. Statistically, Parshin has been a perennial underachiever until this year when he put up 18 goals and 14 assists in 54 games in the low-scoring Russian Super League.
At 21 years old, and it would seem like a good time to make the move to North America.

6. Nigel Williams, D
2nd round, 51st overall, 2006

Williams left the University of Wisconsin last fall after playing just one game because of lack of ice time, and went on to have a terrific year for the OHL Saginaw Spirit.  He put up 17 goals and 19 assists in 46 games from the back line.  Offensive talent combined with hard shot, physical play, and exceptional footwork his size (6’4, 226 lbs.) give him all the raw tools to succeed.  And he has not yet even turned 19. If he continues to develop, Williams could step into the NHL in about two years.

7. Tom Fritsche, LW
2nd round, 47th overall, 2005

The jury is still out on Tom Fritsche, despite leading the Ohio State Buckeyes in points two years in a row. His development was thrown into limbo early this season when he had a bout with a chronic intestinal disorder. As a result, Fritsche only participated in 19 games in 2006-07, but still managed to score five goals and eight assists. Touted as a strong playmaker with ability and creativity to spare, Fritsche racked up accolades and awards as a rookie at Ohio State in 2004-05. Fritsche is yet another player who has plenty of skill, but lacks dominating size at 5’11 and 183 lbs. In order to get to the NHL and stay there, Fritsche will have to get back on track, continue to be a solid playmaker and contribute consistently to the offense.

8. Raymond Macias, D/RW
5th round, 124th overall, 2005

Macias has suffered from a bit of a position identity crisis since 2003-04. He played defense for the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL, then moved to right wing, and was back on defense for the 2006-07 campaign, seeing serious time on the power play. Playing the blue line didn’t hinder Macias’s offensive production, however, as he jumped from 38 points in 2005-06, to 70 in 2006-07 as a 20-year-old.  He was also a team-leading +29.  Currently out with a wrist injury, he’s close to returning for the playoffs.

9. Codey Burki, C
2nd round, 59th overall, 2006

Burki was the WHL‘s fifth-leading scorer in the regular season on the Brandon Wheat Kings. Burki maintained the momentum he gathered in 2005-06, finishing second on the team in assists with 49 and first in points with 85 in 70 games on a team with a few potential NHL players on its roster. CSS had Burki ranked as the 18th North American skater in the 2006 draft, but he has a reputation for not bringing 100 percent effort every day. He has been playing with the same linemates in Brandon for two seasons, and they have shown the chemistry to be the highest scoring line in the WHL. Burki has the skill and the smarts to be an NHL player, but questions about his work ethic will haunt him until he shows otherwise.

10. Johnny Boychuk, D
2nd round, 61st overall, 2002

For the past two years, the Avalanche have held out hope that Johnny Boychuk would step up and play consistent, physical, punishing defense. Unfortunately, Boychuk has disappointed and was yet to play his first NHL game at age 23. At 6’2 and almost 220 lbs., Boychuk possesses the physical characteristics, skating, and the nasty edge to be a mainstay on the Avalanche blueline, but he hasn’t been to put it all together. Boychuk has been a point producer in the AHL, though his production per game was down this year, but may be running out of time to impress the big club in Denver. The Avalanche tried him at forward in the preseason, and even had Albany continue the experiment early in the year, but he has since gone back to defense.

11. David Jones, RW
9th round, 288th overall, 2003

Named a top 10 finalist for the 2007 Hobey Baker award, David Jones has impressed at Dartmouth College. Jones led the Big Green in scoring with 18 goals and 26 assists in his junior year. Jones is a bit of a late bloomer – he will be 23 in August – but has developed into a decent power forward prospect with good size and a competitive edge that motivates him to play with intensity every night.  Jones was also Ivy League Player of the Year, and a unanimous selection for First-Team All-ECACHL.

12. Chris Durand, C
2nd round, 52nd overall, 2005

Durand is a strong two-way player and has great balance to his game. With a hard shot and great on-ice vision Durand needs to overcome a lack of consistency and underperformance. Playing in the WHL for the Prince George Cougars, Durand’s inconsistency has left him in the middle of the pack on a team that is loaded with future NHL players. On any given night, Durand can dominate the game or disappear. His points per game this year is down to just .24 from a high of .79 in his draft year. If he performs to his potential on a regular basis, Durand could hold down a regular third line spot at a higher level because of his ability to play in both ends and his ability to play physically and do the dirty work.

13. Brett Hemingway, RW
7th round, 225th overall, 2003

Hemingway just completed his career with the University of New Hampshire. He finished the 2006-07 season as the fifth leading point getter for the Wildcats with 13 goals and 19 assists in 36 games. His passing skills are excellent, and he has good offensive abilities overall. Hemingway is similar to Stoa because he most prefers to pass the puck, but will score goals because he has a decent shot and parks himself in front of the net. His defensive game is not bad, but not remarkable either.  He’s likely headed for the AHL next season. 

14. Michael Carman, C
3rd round, 81st overall, 2006

Michael Carman seems to some to be a sure third-line grinder in the NHL at some point in the future. Carman, a teammate of Stoa, has a remarkable blend of speed, puckhandling, playmaking, and grit. He has a nose for the net and never shown any fear of doing the dirty work and finishing his checks. The one drawback on Carman is perhaps his endurance. He is still young and will continue to develop physically. Look for Carman to be a prototypical third liner on an NHL roster in a few years.

15. Kevin Montgomery, D
4th round, 110th overall, 2006

Montgomery began the year at Ohio State with Fritsche, playing 17 games, but moved to the OHL London Knights, where he had 17 points in 31 games. Montgomery is a generally well-rounded, but offensive-minded defenseman. Perhaps the highlight of Montgomery’s game is his on-ice intelligence. He seems to know exactly when to make an outlet pass or take it himself, and he is a more dangerous player to play against as a result. At 6’2, only 19 years old, Montgomery has the potential to improve his defensive game and continue to contribute offensively. He has missed some games this month with a "lower-body injury."

16. Tyler Weiman, G
5th round, 164th overall, 2002

Weiman solidified his spot in the AHL this season after spending the last two years in the low minors. He does not have great size at 5’11, but is quick and has a remarkable ability to recover when he makes a mistake. However, his consistency has been a big issue. Weiman has posted a 2.90 GAA and .907 save percentage in Albany this year, while playing in 43 games and splitting time with Justin Peters (CAR).  This is the last year of Weiman’s entry-level contract, and it’s not certain that he’s proven enough to warrant re-signing.

17. Linus Videll, LW
7th round, 204th overall, 2003
   
At 6’3 and 215 lbs., and equipped with the ability to effectively use his size, Linus Videll is most effective as a pillar in front of the opposing team’s net. Videll did not play and SEL games this year, spending all of his time in the second level Allsvenskan, where he had 39 points in 45 games. At almost 22 years old, Videll has become a long shot at this point, would need to work on his skating which is his downfall, and continue to use his size to his advantage. 

18. Victor Oreskovich, C
2nd round, 55th overall, 2004

Oreskovich has some size and skill, and placed second on the Kitchener Rangers in points in 2006-07 with 28 goals and 32 assists in 62 games. But, his points per game did not improve from his 2005-06 season.  Overall, he does nothing outstanding and his skating needs work.  He remains a project at this point.  Oreskovich has been out since March 8 with a knee injury, but has recently started skating again. Too old to play junior next year, he’ll need to turn pro in the offseason.

19. Michael Vernace, D
7th round, 201st overall, 2006 by San Jose — traded for conditional draft pick June 1, 2006.

Vernace, a former teammate of Wojtek Wolski, is point-producing defenseman who is decently sized at 6’2, 200 lbs. He was the highest scoring defenseman in Brampton Battalion history, averaging almost a point per game in 138 career games in Brampton.  He has brought that offense to the pros this year, putting up 14 points in 24 games for the CHL affiliate Arizona Sundogs, and 12 points in 30 games with the River Rats.  Vernace may have to wait a year or two for his opportunity, continuing to build on his offensive capabilities. He can improve his awareness in the defensive zone, though he has been a respectable +2 with Albany.

20. Brandon Yip, RW
8th round, 239th overall, 2004

In an injury-riddled 2006-07 campaign for the Boston University Terriers, Yip managed five goals and 6 assists in 17 games. Seen by many to have scoring potential, Yip must improve his strength to compliment his 6’1 frame. He moves up and down the ice quickly and smoothly, and has excellent on-ice vision, making him a threat anywhere on the ice. If Yip can build bulk, prove he isn’t injury prone, and become more responsible in his positional play, he could see time in the NHL. Yip will be a junior at BU in the fall, and has time to develop.

Missing the cut:  Billy Sauer, G

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