Nathan MacKinnon’s impact in NHL heads the Colorado Avalanche’s storylines for 2013-14 season

By Chau Vo

Chris Bigras - Colorado Avalanche

Photo: Defenseman Chris Bigras made a good first impression in camp with the Avalanche before he was assigned to the Owen Sound Attack (courtesy of Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

All eyes will be on Nathan MacKinnon on October 2nd as he will make the Colorado Avalanche’s opening night roster as the third line pivot. The 18-year-old rookie has big expectations coming in as the first overall pick but is in an excellent situation to excel as he will have the opportunity to learn from some of the league’s best centermen, including rising star Matt Duchene.

Elsewhere, other prospects in the Avalanche system will be looked upon to fill leadership and veteran roles as they continue their development on their respective junior and NCAA teams. Below are some storylines you might want to pay attention to this season if you are an Avalanche fan.

Pro

Top Pro Prospect
Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado Avalanche (NHL)

Former first overall QMJHL draft pick and now first overall NHL draft pick, Nathan MacKinnon, is not a  stranger to the spotlight of being a hockey star. Head coach Patrick Roy lobbied the Colorado Avalanche to draft this youngster after seeing firsthand the impact he can have while Roy was coach of the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL. The 18-year-old Cole Harbour native boasts elite skill levels to go with lightning quick speed and will be a handful for NHL defenders to contain.

MacKinnon recently gave Avalanche fans a scare when it was reported he would be sidelined with a hip flexor injury during training camp but returned September 26th just in time to play the Dallas Stars in a preseason game. MacKinnon will be given sheltered minutes as the third line center for the Avalanche and will not be expected to carry the offensive burden on a team whose top-six forwards are as potent as they come.

Bounce Back
Joey Hishon, C, Lake Erie Monsters (AHL)

Joey Hishon’s professional career has been marred with injuries stemming from an incident during the 2011 Memorial Cup playoffs when he was concussed after an illegal hit by Brayden McNabb (BUF) of the Kootenay Ice. Lingering symptoms would sideline this 2010 first round draft pick for a season and a half before being cleared for full contact practice in early 2013. Hishon would not make his professional debut for the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League until March of 2013 but in nine games he would prove productive by scoring six points including five assists. His season ended when Hamilton Bulldogs forward Joey Tenute illegally checked Hishon from behind resulting in a head injury.

Hishon was not available for the Colorado Avalanche 2013 training camp because of a groin injury sustained during offseason training.  This would be the third straight Avalanche camp Hishon has missed. On September 16th, Hishon was reassigned to the Monsters and will report to the team when cleared to play.

Unsigned for 2014-15
Brad Malone, C, Lake Erie Monsters (AHL)

After scoring his first NHL goal in the shortened 2013 season, Brad Malone would continue to impress Colorado Avalanche brass with a superb showing at training camp. Word out of camp is that his physical play and preseason scoring touch won over the coaching staff and give him a good shot at making the opening night roster on the fourth line. While he may not be the most talented prospect in the Avalanche pool, Malone brings other intangibles to the table and has proven himself an invaluable part of the organization.

Malone signed a one-year, two-way deal last July that runs out at the conclusion of this season. He will then be a restricted free agent and seeking his first one-way deal at the NHL level.

Junior

Top Junior Prospect
Chris Bigras, D, Owen Sound Attack (OHL)

After signing a three-year entry-level contract with the Colorado Avalanche, Chris Bigras was sent back to juniors to continue playing for the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League. Bigras had a good camp with the Avalanche and saw preseason play paired with Erik Johnson, catching the attention of head coach Patrick Roy. Roy was impressed with Bigras’ smart and steady play but thought it was best for his development if he went back to juniors for another year.

Bigras will be looked upon to lead the Attack on their quest for the Memorial Cup as the top defender for the team. With confidence from a good showing at camp, Bigras returned to the Attack lineup and put up three points including one goal in his first game back.

Offensive Breakout
Troy Bourke, C/W, Prince George Cougars (WHL)

Recently named as the new captain of the Prince George Cougars, Bourke will look to have that offensive breakout season that he is on the verge of. After scoring 56 points in 71 games in 2011-12 and 50 points in 63 games in 2012-13, Bourke is already at a point-per-game pace so far in the 2013-14 season. Bourke will get more ice time with the Cougars with the graduation of Colin Jacobs (BUF), who will be playing for the Rochester Americans of the AHL.

An elusive skater with top end speed, Bourke has a knack for driving to the net hard. Although small in stature Bourke is not to be overlooked when it comes to physical play. Bourke loves to throw his body around and already has four fights under his belt.

Amateur

Top Amateur Prospect
Gus Young, D, Yale University Bulldogs (ECAC)

After winning the NCAA National Championship for the first time in school history, the Yale Bulldogs hockey team will be happy to know that Gus Young will be returning for his senior season and is regarded as the top defender for the Bulldogs. For the last two years, Young has been the anchor of the Bulldogs blue line and proved himself capable of shutting down the opposition’s top offensive threats. The Bulldogs enter the season with a target on their backs as the reigning national champions as well as the team recently voted by ECAC coaches as the top team in the conference.

Young will assume leadership role among the six returning Bulldogs defenders including the three 2012-13 freshmen who were a big part of the national championship team.

Freshman to Watch
Will Butcher, D, University of Denver Pioneers (NCHC)

Will Butcher had an impressive showing at the U.S. National Junior Evaluation camp in Lake Placid this summer and stood out as the top offensive defensemen to be considered for the team. Not only did he lead all blueliners in points, but he was also the overall top scorer for Team USA. Butcher came into camp with international experience having played for the USNTDP for two years and represented Team USA in two U18 tournaments winning a gold and a silver.

Butcher will join the University of Denver Pioneers as they begin play in the newly formed NCHC. The Pioneers also parted ways with long time head coach George Gwozdecky in favor of Jim Montgomery. Butcher is expected to make an immediate impact on the Pioneers defensive corps in his freshman season.

Unsigned for 2014-15
Nate Condon, C, University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (Big Ten)

Nate Condon will enter his senior season with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers as one its top offensive threats after posting career highs in both goals and points his junior season. Condon was also named captain of the Gophers team and is the most experienced member of the hockey team having played a total of 118 games to date.

Condon will lead the Gophers as they embark on their inaugural season in the newly formed Big Ten Conference that also features powerhouse teams like Wisconsin and Michigan. His senior season will be a big one as his eligibility runs out next summer when he has to decide if he will sign a contract with the Colorado Avalanche or test the market as a free agent.

Europe

Top European Prospect
Wilhelm Westlund, D, Farjestad BK Karlstad (SHL)

Swedish defenseman Wilhelm Westlund made his professional debut last season for the Farjestad in the Swedish Hockey League, where he suited up for 26 games and notched one goal in a limited role. In addition to playing for the Farjestad professional team, Westlund played in 33 games with the junior club where he scored 15 points.

Westlund has international experience having played for the U17 and U18 teams where he scored a combined three points in 10 games. He was rated as the number 15 European skater in his draft class.