Avalanche Top 20, Spring 2008

By Ryan MacLeod

T.J. Hensick continues his dominance of Colorado’s prospect rankings.  There are four newcomers, including goaltender Billy Sauer.  The list is comprised of 11 forwards, seven defensemen, and two goaltenders.
1. T.J. Hensick
2. Kevin Shattenkirk
3. Nigel Williams
4. Chris Stewart
5. Kyle Cumiskey
6. T.J. Galiardi
7. Colby Cohen
8. David Jones
9. Raymond Macias
10. Ryan Stoa
11. Justin Mercier
12. Cody McLeod
13. Brad Malone
14. Paul Carey
15. Billy Sauer
16. Codey Burki
17. Denis Parshin
18. Johnny Boychuk
19. Trevor Cann
20. Tom Fritsche

1. (1) T.J. Hensick, C, 22

Acquired: 3rd round, 88th overall, 2005

Hensick is the most exciting prospect in Colorado’s system.  He has been the team’s No. 1 blue chipper for three consecutive top 20 articles, however, now is the time for the youngster to start proving himself at the NHL level.  

He’s been bounced back and forth between Lake Erie and Colorado this year, posting six goals, five assists and a -4 in 31 games with the Avalanche, while adding eight goals, 21 assists and a -15 in 35 games with the Monsters.

After being a Hobey Baker award finalist in the NCAA, his game is translating very well in the pros.  Hensick displayed his impressive offensive arsenal picking up two goals and two assists at the AHL All-Star Classic this year.

He possesses a great set of wheels, a good wrist shot and excellent on-ice vision.  The biggest hurdle will be overcoming his 5’10, 185-pound frame, but he still has all the tools to fit into a top-six forward role.

2. (2) Kevin Shattenkirk, D, 19

Acquired: 1st round, 14th overall, 2007

Shattenkirk fits the mold of a post-lockout defender, with his strong mobility and smaller frame, but that also means there’s a greater emphasis on positioning and he will have a lot to learn before playing against NHL-caliber players.

This product of the USNTDP U-18 team showed good progress in his first season with Boston University, collecting four goals, 16 assists and finishing with a +6 rating in 38 games.

Shattenkirk is a strong skater with a high hockey IQ with great passing awareness. He lacks the stereotypical size of a defender, at 5’11 and 193 lbs, but he makes up for it with heart and great leadership skills.

3. (5) Nigel Williams, D, 19  

Acquired: 2nd round, 51st overall, 2006

Williams is showing a strong defensive presence since being traded to the Belleville Bulls in mid-January.  The hulking defender was +16 in 38 games, adding 10 goals and 12 assists to close out the regular season with his new team. 

While his offensive production was stronger earlier in the year with the Saginaw Spirit (five goals, 19 assists in 29 games) part of the decline can be attributed to sharing the blueline in Belleville with Canada’s world junior defender, P.K. Subban.

At 6’5, 225 lbs, Williams has the size to be a dominant player at the NHL level.

4. (3) Chris Stewart, RW, 20

Acquired: 1st round, 18th overall, 2006

Stewart continues to prove his worth. With 62 games played he leads the Lake Erie Monsters in goals with 19 and is third in scoring with 35 points.  He’s also tied for 12th in rookie scoring league-wide.

He has a solid stride with decent skill and a work ethic that will carry him a long way.

This 6’1, 225-pound power forward is always improving and will continue to develop in the AHL.  What he needs to work on most is his play without the puck. 

5. (6) Kyle Cumiskey, D, 21

Acquired: 7th round, 222nd overall, 2005

A late-round surprise, Cumiskey is developing into a solid defender with an intriguing offensive upside.  He has the speed and puck control to turn into an offensive specialist, but his game lacks polish just yet.

After being cut in training camp, he managed a call-up and earned a spot with the big club, but a groin injury has limited his development to just 38 games.  His numbers are lackluster, just 5 assists and -3, despite some power-play time.

Cumiskey is slight in frame, just 5’10, 185 lbs and needs to produce offensively in order to make a long-term impact, but his speed will give him a lot of chances.

6. (13) T.J. Galiardi, C, 19

Acquired: 2nd round, 55th overall, 2007

Galiardi’s game is flourishing after making the move from the NCAA to the WHL this year.  He cruised along at almost a point-per-game clip all season long with 18 goals and 50 assists in 78 games.

Galiardi continues to show the great playmaking skills and vision that helped him lead all rookies in scoring at Dartmouth College last year.  One of his strengths is an ability to read the play and outsmart defenders.  He has been playing lately on a line with Brandon Kozun and Kyle Bortis.

With a 6’2 frame and weighing only 172 lbs, he will need to fill out to play at the pro level.  Galiardi will be 20 in April.

7. (8) Colby Cohen, D, 18

Acquired: 2nd round, 45th overall, 2007

Cohen played his freshman year with Boston University alongside Shattenkirk.  The highlight of the season was a six-game point streak in which he picked up two goals and five assists.

Cohen is a puck-moving defenseman with good vision and he always seems to make a smart play.  In 37 games, he recorded three goals and 12 assists, breaking even in the plus/minus category.

In the past, the 6’2, 200-pound defender has been knocked for a bad work ethic.

8. (9) David Jones, RW, 23

Acquired: 9th round, 288th overall, 2003

Jones’ strong play in the AHL earned him two auditions with the Avalanche this season, most recently replacing fellow right-winger Brad Richardson on the main roster.  He scored his first career NHL goal against the Atlanta Thrashers on March 11, playing on the top line with Joe Sakic and Andrew Brunette. 

In 45 games with Lake Erie, he’s -10 with 14 goals and 16 assists; however, he’s only managed two goals and three assists in 18 games with the big club.

Jones has good size at 6’2, 220 lbs and possesses great strength.  His skating is above average and he drives to the net.

9. (10) Raymond Macias, D, 21

Acquired: 4th round, 124th overall, 2005

After lighting it up in his last year of junior hockey in the WHL, the offensive production of this young blue-liner has come back down to earth.  Macias is -3 and has managed just four goals and seven assists in 33 games with Lake Erie, even being sent down for a two-game stint with the Johnstown Chiefs of the ECHL in mid February.

Macias is an incredibly smooth skater with good offensive talent and a nose for the net, but has been dogged by inconsistency and his unwillingness to partake in the physical aspects of the game, despite decent size at 6’1, 198 lbs.

His defensive game is suspect and will hamper him in the near term.

10. (4) Ryan Stoa, C, 20

Acquired: 2nd round, 34th overall, 2005

Injury has caused this promising forward to slip out of Colorado’s top five.  Looking to improve on strong sophomore numbers with the University of Minnesota, he was limited to just two games after blowing out his knee. The injury came in the first period of the Icebreaker Tournament championship game versus Michigan on Oct. 13. Stoa underwent successful knee surgery in November.

Colorado expects Stoa to be back in Minnesota this fall where they will closely monitor his progress.

The 6’3, 213-pound power forward has always been a good skater with deceptive speed, so a knee injury is concerning.

11. (NR) Justin Mercier, C, 20

Acquired: 6th round, 168th overall, 2005

Mercier continues to turn heads, improving his numbers, in his third season with Miami University.  Despite a small frame, 5’11, 175 lbs, he has a nose for the net, finishing with 24 goals and 15 assists in 38 games. 

More impressive than his offensive production is his nomination for the CCHA Defensive Forward of the Year.  His +25 was good for fourth best on the team and a defensively responsible forward is usually ready to play quality minutes at the pro level.

Mercier is a high-energy player with great anticipation and has the tools to make a difference wherever he plays.

12. (NR) Cody McLeod, LW, 23

Acquired: Signed as a free agent by Colorado in 2006

McLeod is making his first appearance in Colorado’s top 20, something that might have seemed unlikely when the team signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2006. 

The tough forward has taken advantage of massive injuries incurred by the Avalanche this year to find a role as the team’s sandpaper.  He’s collected 10 fighting majors in just 40 games and is the first Colorado rookie to surpass 100 penalty minutes in one season, with 111 on the board so far.  He’s also made it onto the score sheet on several occasions, with three goals, five assists and a -3 rating.

13. (18) Brad Malone, RW, 18

Acquired: 4th round, 105th overall, 2007

Malone had a disappointing rookie season playing for the University of North Dakota this year.  The 18-year-old had just two points in 29 games, as he spent most of the season on the bottom two lines.  He is still young with a lot of untapped offensive potential.  He has a similar style of play as his cousin, Pittsburgh Penguins forward Ryan Malone.

The 6’1, 207-pound power forward will need to make a big impact next year when spots open up in the North Dakota line-up.

14. (NR) Paul Carey, LW, 19

Acquired: 5th round, 135th overall, 2007

Carey is having a stellar rookie year with the Indiana Ice of the USHL.  His 32 goals lead the league and his 60 points tie him for fourth overall.  He’s been a strong presence on the power play as 25 of his points have come with the extra man and his five game-winning-goals are a league best.

He has strong goal-scoring abilities, but will need to continue developing his defensive presence on the ice in order to become a complete player.

15. (NR) Billy Sauer, G, 20

Acquired: 7th round, 201st overall, 2006

Another newcomer to the top 20, Sauer was very strong in the NCAA this year, backstopping the University of Michigan to their 10th CCHA regular season title in 17 years.  His 26-4-3 record, 1.94 GAA and .926 save percentage was good enough to garner him an honorable mention for the all-league CCHA team.

He has just carried Michigan into the CCHA semi-finals, after allowing only two goals in their two-game sweep over Nebraska-Omaha in the first round of the playoffs.

He has an above average frame, 6’2, 180 lbs, that allows him to take up space in the net.  Just a seventh-round choice in 2006, Sauer was a value for the Avs.

16. (11) Codey Burki, C, 20

Acquired: 2nd round, 59th overall, 2006

Burki dropped in the rankings for the second time in a row, as he struggled to find his game this year playing for the Lake Erie Monsters.  A player expected to demonstrate strong offensive skills managed only two goals and seven assists in 32 games with the Monsters. He also had a 10-game stint in the ECHL with the Johnstown Chiefs in which he picked up one goal and three assists.  If it weren’t for the high volume of players being called up to Colorado because of injuries, Burki probably would’ve spent most of the season in the ECHL.

Burki doesn’t get involved much in physical play, despite decent size at 6’1, 195 lbs.  He will be hard-pressed to repeat the offensive performances he strung together during his junior hockey days with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the OHL.

17. (7) Denis Parshin, RW, 21

Acquired: 3rd round, 72nd overall, 2004

Once a top five prospect in the Colorado system, the uncertainty of his future in North American hockey has forced his stock to plummet, pushing him down into the bottom five of this spring’s top 20.  However, despite all this, he continues to produce in the Russian Super League, with 12 goals, 23 assists and a +6 in 56 games for CSKA (Moscow) this season.

He is a very small forward, 5’8, 154 lbs and is not physical.  He has great speed and a deceptive wrist shot.  It’s unknown when, if ever, he will move to North American ice.

18. (15) Johnny Boychuk, D, 24

Acquired: 2nd round, 61st overall, 2002

Known mostly for his physical presence and devastating hits, Boychuk, who turned 24 in January, is running out of time.  He’s in his fourth straight season in the AHL and has managed only four games in the NHL during that span, in which he recorded zero points with a +1 rating.  His production has been decent with the Lake Erie Monsters, recording eight goals and 14 assists in 45 games this season, with one of the better plus/minus ratings on the team at -2.

He has good size, 6’2, 205 lbs and a slap-shot in the mid-90’s, but that won’t be enough to win him at job in the NHL.

19. (12) Trevor Cann, G, 18

Acquired: 2nd round, 49th overall, 2007

Cann has slipped behind Sauer as the team’s top goaltending prospect, but he still has a lot of positive upside. There’s a certain amount of hype surrounding himj as he’s one of the favorites to suit up for Canada at the 2009 World Junior Hockey Championship.

Cann lead a weak Peterborough Petes squad to an eighth-place finish in OHL Eastern Conference this year, clinching a berth in the playoffs.  He compiled a record of 20-28-3, 3.59 GAA and a .909 save percentage.  He will be back with Peterborough to close out his junior career next season.

20. (14) Tom Fritsche, LW, 21

Acquired: 2nd round, 47th overall, 2005

Fritsche is currently testing his abilities in the pros after signing on for an amateur tryout with the Lake Erie Monsters.  The tryout comes on the heels of a poor season in the NCAA with Ohio State University, where he managed to pick up just five goals and 14 assists in 39 games.  After averaging almost a point per game in his first two years of college hockey, his numbers have been on a continuous downward spiral.

Fritsche is a gifted playmaker, but his mediocre performance is reflected in his drop to the bottom of Colorado’s top 20.

At just 5’11, 183 lbs, he has a lot to prove in order to show he belongs in the pro game.