When Patrick Roy took over as the head coach of the Colorado Avalanche, the team was presented with an opportunity for a new start. Together, the team and coach took the NHL by surprise and captured the Central Division title with 112 points in the regular season. It followed up that performance by taking the Minnesota Wild to seven games in the 2014 playoffs but ultimately lost in overtime of the final game.
Still, the team walked away with a new sense of pride along with several pieces of hardware from the year-end NHL awards ceremony in Las Vegas. Rookie phenom Nathan MacKinnon took home the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie, Ryan O’Reilly won the Lady Byng for sportsmanship combined with a high level of play, and Roy won the Jack Adams award as the best coach of the season.
However, that success was not shared by all in the organization. The Lake Erie Monsters suffered from a rash of injuries to notable Avalanche prospects and failed to make the playoffs. Among those befallen with injury was first year defenseman Duncan Siemens. Siemens, one of several stay-at-home defensive prospects for the Avalanche, has the distinction of being picked 11th overall in the 2011 draft. There are big expectations for him to show that he is close to being ready to play in the NHL in the near future.
In addition to Siemens and several other prospects looking to have rebound seasons, many other prospects are looking to add to their previous season’s success. Joey Hishon will try to remain on the Avalanche roster and Chris Bigras would like to help Team Canada capture World Junior Championship Gold in this year’s tournament after falling short last year.
Top Pro Prospect
Joey Hishon, C, Colorado Avalanche (NHL)/Lake Erie Monsters (AHL)
Joey Hishon got his first taste of NHL action last season when he suited up for the Colorado Avalanche in their first-round playoff matchup against the Minnesota Wild. In three games, Hishon tallied one assist while spending time on both the third and fourth lines. In the final game of the series, Hishon centered the third line with wingers Max Talbot and Jamie McGinn. Hishon’s lone assist was on McGinn’s first period goal.
Prior to being called up to the Avalanche, Hishon played 50 games for the Lake Erie Monsters in what was his first full season of professional hockey. In those 50 games, Hishon scored 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points. Patrick Bordeleau, Jamie McGinn, and John Mitchell are all out with injuries before the start of the season, giving Hishon a good chance to make the opening night roster for the Avalanche.
Duncan Siemens, D, Lake Erie Monsters (AHL)
Duncan Siemens missed a big chunk of the 2013-14 AHL season due to a lower body injury. In the 46 games he was able to suit up for, Siemens had one goal and three assists. His four points in his first AHL season is a far cry from his 43 in 72 games during his draft year for the Saskatoon Blades but the Lake Erie Monsters ran into a roster-wide injury epidemic that contributed to multiple players’ subpar seasons.
Siemens is not a flashy player by any means and his main points of contribution are not on the scoresheet. Instead, he relies on his excellent footwork and physical play to become a steady and reliable force in his own end. In the games that he was healthy for last season, Siemens showed flashes of why he was the 11th overall pick of the 2011 NHL Draft.
Unsigned for 2015-16
Stefan Elliott, D, Lake Erie Monsters (AHL)
Once considered the Avalanche’s premier puck moving defensive prospect, Stefan Elliott will have to use the 2014-15 season to show the Avalanche why they should still consider him a part of the franchise’s long-term future. Elliott signed a one-year extension last summer and upon expiration Elliott will become a restricted free agent. In addition, Elliott is no longer waiver exempt, meaning there is a chance the Avalanche could lose him to another team if they choose to send him down to the Lake Erie Monsters.
The Monsters could be in trouble if they lose both Elliott and Matt Hunwick, as both were big contributors points-wise for their blueline.
Hunwick signed a one-year, one-way deal with the New York Rangers this summer.
Top Junior Prospect
Chris Bigras, D, Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
Arguably the Avalanche’s top overall prospect, Chris Bigras will return to the Owen Sound Attack for his final season of junior hockey. Bigras already signed his entry-level contract at the end of last training camp and will try to lead the Attack back to OHL prominence.
Bigras was voted as the best defensive defenseman in the 2013-14 OHL season by the OHL Western Conference’s coaches and his play earned him a spot on Team Canada’s World Junior Championship squad. He was also invited to this year’s World Junior Championship summer camp and will likely play in the international tournament again.
Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy did not have good things to say about Bigras’ performance in this year’s camp, which should serve as a wake-up call for Bigras. Bigras is one of the prospects fans are most excited for because of his on-ice intelligence and the need for someone to play on the top pairing with Erik Johnson.
Spencer Martin, G, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
Statistically, Spencer Martin had a down year in net last season for his Mississauga Steelheads, but with a lighter expected workload and a more experienced defense in front of him Martin should have a bounceback year.
Due to a heavy drop-off in talent at the goalie position, the Steelheads were forced to rely on Martin to play in 64 games as opposed to 46 the year before. Martin was their workhorse for the whole season, and without him the Steelheads would not have made the OHL playoffs.
Martin was a part of the first round of cuts by the Avalanche during their main training camp and was sent back to Mississauga on September 21st.
Nick Magyar, RW, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Last year, Nick Magyar shared the Rangers’ year-end rookie of the year award with teammate Ryan MacInnis while leading the rebuilding Rangers in scoring. He is expected to be a top line player for the Rangers again this season and a leader in the locker room as well.
Magyar had a quiet camp for the Avalanche and was part of the first round of cuts.
Top Amateur Prospect
Will Butcher, D, University of Denver (NCAA)
Will Butcher was an important part of the Denver Pioneers’ blue line last year, providing both offense and stellar defense. Despite his small stature, Butcher does not shy away from contact. It was these qualities that earned him a spot on Team USA’s World Junior Championship squad last year and he is likely to return to this year’s tournament as a top-four defenseman.
This is an important year for Butcher as he will try to step into a leadership role with the Pioneers. With five underclassmen and two graduating seniors on the blue line, Butcher’s role on the team will surely increase.
Top European Prospect
Anton Lindholm, D, Skelleftea AIK (SHL)
Anton Lindholm made his professional debut for Skelleftea AIK last season as a 19 year old. His performance made it hard for the team to send him down, and he cemented himself as a top-four defenseman for the club with his playoff performance. It was that same performance that caught the attention of the Avalanche who would later make him the 144th pick of the 2014 Draft.
Lindholm is only average in size but he is known for his physical style of play. He should not be counted on to chip in points or play on the power play but instead he helps clear the front of the net, making him a goaltender’s favorite type of player.
In four games in the recent European Champions Hockey League tournament, Lindholm played on the second and third pairing for Sekelleftea, posting zero points in those games.
Wilhelm Westlund, D, Vita Hasten (Allsvenskan)
Just like Anton Lindholm, Wilhelm Westlund made his SEL debut at a very early age. At the age of 18, Westlund suited up for Farjestad BK for 26 regular season games and six playoff games in 2013. The next year, he had a short 11 game stint for Farjestad and spent most of the season playing for Farjestad’s junior team. In the J20 league playoffs, he had seven points in six games.
Westlund is on a season loan to HC Vita Hasten, who plays in Sweden’s Tier 2 league, Allsvenskan. Farjestad wants Westlund to spend a season in the Allsvenskan to further develop his game before he is ready to play in the SHL full-time.