Avalanche Top 20 prospects, Fall 2009

By Adam Grossi

Top 20 at a glance

1. Matt Duchene, C
2. Kevin Shattenkirk, D
3. Chris Stewart, RW
4. Ryan Stoa, C
5. Ryan O’Reilly, C
6. Colby Cohen, D
7. T.J. Galiardi, C
8. Stefan Elliott, D
9. Cameron Gaunce, D
10. Tyson Barrie, D
11. Kyle Cumiskey, D
12. Trevor Cann, G
13. Justin Mercier, C
14. Kelsey Tessier, C
15. Peter Delmas, G
16. Brad Malone, RW
17. Michael Carman, C
18. Paul Carey, LW
19. Jens Hellgren, D
20. Tom Fritsche, LW

1. (NR) Matt Duchene, Center, 18, 8.5 C
Acquired: 1st Round, 3rd Overall, 2009 Entry Draft

With the organization’s highest ever selection in the draft, the Avalanche brought in the player they hope will lead the revitalization of a franchise. This past season with the Brampton Battalion of the OHL, Duchene netted 31 goals to go along with 48 assists in 57 games as well as another 26 points in 21 playoff games.

Duchene was voted the best stick handler and playmaker by the OHL’s Eastern Conference coaches in 2008-09. These along with above average NHL skating and showing strong defensive tendencies, mean Duchene has the skills to be a dominant, complete player at the next level.

Look for Duchene to be given every opportunity to compete for the second or third line center spot on Colorado’s roster this fall. With significant off-season losses, the Avalanche will be starved for offense and looking for the club’s youth to begin contributing. If Duchene struggles during camp or in his first nine games, he can and likely will be sent back to Brampton. 

2. (1) Kevin Shattenkirk, Defense, 20, 8 B

Acquired: 1st Round, 14th Overall, 2007 Entry Draft

2008-09 will certainly be a year to remember for Colorado’s top defensive prospect. After a strong showing for the USA during the World Junior Championship, Shattenkirk played a pivotal role in the Boston University Terriers national championship win, leading the team in plus/minus and quarterbacking their second-ranked power play.

Shattenkirk is an excellent leader, whose greatest strengths are his smooth skating, vision and strong point shot. Drawbacks thus far have been his size and defensive play, and at 5’11 and weighing in less than 200 lbs, Shattenkirk does not match up well with larger NHL forwards. That being said, he will have to get stronger physically and improve his defensive zone awareness to reach his full potential. 

Shattenkirk returns to BU this season to serve as captain. It is expected that he will begin his professional career as early as the 2010-11 season.

3. (2) Chris Stewart, Right Wing, 21, 7.5 B

Acquired: 1st Round, 18th Overall, 2006 Entry Draft

Expectations were high for Stewart in 2008-09. After scoring 11 points in 19 games for the Monsters, numerous injuries to the Avalanche earned Stewart his first NHL opportunity. With 13 points in his first 26 NHL games, and a willingness to be physical and stand up for teammates, it appeared as though Stewart was NHL ready. However, after a decrease in his level of play, his ice time dropped and he scored just six points in his final 27 games.

Despite his drop-off at the end of last season, Stewart still factors to be a big part of the Avalanche’s future. He is a strong skater for a man standing 6’2 and weighing over 225 lbs, and has soft hands in front of the net, making him a dangerous goal scorer. Despite the concerns about his levels of focus and consistency, as well as his conditioning, he should be able to solidify his position as a top-six NHL forward with a strong showing in 2009-10.

4. (3) Ryan Stoa, Center, 22, 7.5 C
Acquired: 2nd Round, 34th Overall, 2005 Entry Draft

After a disastrous 2007-08 that was ended with a knee injury in his second game, Stoa came back with an up and down 2008-09. He led the Golden Gophers as their captain, in points with 46 in 36 games. However the team did not perform well as a whole and failed to make the NCAA tournament.

Much like Stewart, Stoa has the prototypical power forward body, standing 6’3 and weighing 200 lbs. While not as strong a skater as Stewart, Stoa does have a knack for getting the puck in the net, and making the right pass at the right time. Moving forward, Stoa will have to improve his mobility, while adding strength to his tall frame.

After deciding to forgo his final year of NCAA eligibility and sign an entry-level contract with the Avalanche, Stoa will likely spend most of the year in the AHL as he adjusts to the pro game.

5. (NR) Ryan O’Reilly, Center, 18, 7 C
Acquired: 2nd Round, 33rd Overall, 2009 Entry Draft

Despite playing for a poor Erie Otters team, O’Reilly showed significant growth during his second year in junior. With 66 points in 68 games, he finished second in team scoring and showed improvements in the defensive aspects of his game as he was excellent on face-offs and in penalty-killing situations.

O’Reilly’s value is both in skill and intangibles; he is a tireless worker and a determined, coachable player who leads by example. This mindset is seen on the ice in his ability to adapt and play smart, two-way hockey. There is significant room for improvement, however, with his skating and mobility.

O’Reilly will return to Erie this season.

6. (5) Colby Cohen, Defense, 20, 7 C

Acquired: 2nd Round, 45th Overall, 2007 Entry Draft

Another BU Terrier, Cohen’s 2008-09 campaign was for the most part a successful one. After doubling his regular-season point total (32) from the previous season and finishing second in defensemen scoring, Cohen would go on to have a very successful Frozen Four Tournament, scoring the game-winning goal in the final game and being named Tournament MVP.

Like Terrier teammate Shattenkirk, Cohen is at his best playing an offensive role from the back end, with his biggest strength being a booming right-handed shot. His defensive game, however, leaves much to be desired as was the case during the Terriers regular season which saw Cohen benched on more than one occasion after sub-par defensive play.

Cohen returns to BU for his junior season and will have to work hard on improving his defensive game, before beginning his professional career. 

7. (6) T.J. Galiardi, Center, 21, 7.5 D

Acquired: 2nd Round, 55th Overall, 2007 Entry Draft

During his time with Lake Erie, Galiardi showed some flashes of brilliance but at times appeared overmatched. After registering 27 points in 66 games for the Monsters, Galiardi got his shot with the Avalanche and in his 11 games, he appeared to pick up his play, registering four points, three of which were goals.

The biggest strength in his game is an incredible amount of creativity and patience with the puck, as well as an ability to move around the ice effortlessly. There have been times, however, that Galiardi has been guilty of holding onto the puck too long and trying to do too much with it. He will need to make faster decisions with the puck, and rely on his teammates more to be effective at the next level. 

Galiardi will begin the upcoming season with Lake Erie. If he can add some strength and continue his strong offensive play, there is a very good chance he will spend some time in the NHL.

8. (NR) Stefan Elliott, Defense, 18, 7 C
Acquired: 2nd Round, 49th Overall, 2009 Entry Draft

The Avalanche may have pulled off the steal of the 2009 draft when they selected Elliott with the 49th pick. With Saskatoon this past season, Elliott posted 16 goals and 39 assists in 71 games while developing into a reliable player who could be used in all game scenarios.

Elliott is an all-around defenseman. While he excels in the offensive aspects of the game, there are no glaring weaknesses in his defensive play and he has shown the ability to adapt his game in different situations. Offensively he is an excellent passer and under-rated shooter, making him dangerous leading the rush, and on the power play. Defensively, Elliott makes up for a lack of strength and physicality with good mobility and very good positioning and defensive intelligence.

Elliott will continue his junior career with Saskatoon in 2009-10 and will be expected to continue his strong play at both ends of the ice. He will also need to continue filling out his frame before turning pro.

9. (7) Cameron Gaunce, Defense, 19, 7 C
Acquired: 2nd Round, 50th Overall, 2008 Entry Draft

After finishing the season with 64 points – fifth among OHL defensemen – in 67 games and then another 10 in 11 games during the OHL playoffs, Gaunce was rewarded for a successful 2008-09. He was named to the OHL Second All-Star team, finished third in OHL Defenseman of the Year voting, and was named best defensive defenseman and second best offensive defenseman by OHL Eastern Conference coaches.

With the ability to find the open man and a hard shot from the point, Gaunce is at his best when contributing offensively. Defensively, he has been able to use his strength from a 6’1, 203 lbs frame to physically overmatch opposing players, however, this approach will not work against stronger, faster players at the professional level. In order to be successful at the next level, Gaunce will have to work on his skating and his defensive positioning, while still making offensive contributions.

Although Gaunce signed an entry-level deal with the Avalanche this summer, he must return to junior.

10. (NR) Tyson Barrie, Defense, 18, 7 D
Acquired: 3rd Round, 64th Overall, 2009 Entry Draft

In three seasons with the Kelowna Rockets, Barrie has seen steady improvement in his offensive outputs and his game as a whole. In 2008-09, Barrie put up 12 goals and 40 assists in 68 regular season games, and four goals and 18 assists in 22 playoff games, as the Rockets went to the Memorial Cup Championship game before losing to Windsor.

An undersized offensive defenseman, Barrie uses superb skating to carry the puck and lead the rush from the defensive zone. He shows offensive flair, particularly on the power play, with creative passing and a good shot. There are concerns with Barrie in terms of his awareness and abilities in his own zone, as well as a level of cockiness with the puck. He will have to improve on these issues while in junior and ensure that he learns how to play smart positional defense to be better suited to professional game.

11. (4) Kyle Cumiskey, Defense, 22, 6 B
Acquired: 7th Round, 222nd Overall, 2005 Entry Draft

Prior to a season-ending shoulder injury suffered in January, Cumiskey was shuttled between Lake Erie and Colorado four different times. To make matters worse, he was a healthy scratch for the Avalanche in 15 of the 21 games that he was on the roster for. This led to 2008-09 being a write off, when it should have been a time for Cumiskey to work towards becoming an everyday NHL defenseman.

As a diminutive player at 5’10, Cumiskey will never be a physical, shutdown defenseman, however, he does show promise as a fleet-footed puckmover and power-play specialist. If he can translate his speed to the NHL game and find the offense he displayed with Lake Erie, he should be able to carve out a niche in the NHL.

With a glut of defensemen on the NHL roster, Cumiskey will need to display all of his offensive talents in training camp if he is to have any chance of sticking with the Avalanche.

12. (9) Trevor Cann, Goalie, 20, 7 D

Acquired: 2nd Round, 49th Overall, 2007 Entry Draft

The top-rated goalie prospect in the Avalanche system, Cann began the 2008-09 season with the Peterborough Petes. A trade early in the season sent him to the OHL powerhouse London Knights were he posted a record of 30-10-0-1 and a goals against average of 2.51 (fourth in the OHL). 

A strong butterfly goalie, Cann plays an aggressive game in the net, setting himself quickly to shooters and never shying away from going after loose pucks. He controls shots well and limits his rebounds. He must learn to be more consistent in the net, and while he displays a strong sense of focus he tends to have hot and cold streaks.

Cann signed an entry-level deal with the Avalanche earlier in the summer and while he still holds a year of junior eligibility, he’ll likely be in the AHL with Lake Erie.

13. (10) Justin Mercier, Center, 22, 6.5 C
Acquired: 6th Round, 168th Overall, 2005 Entry Draft

For Mercier, 2008-09 will forever be defined by the vision of four fellow Avalanche draft picks winning the 2009 NCAA Championship while he sat on the opposing bench. Nevertheless, Mercier had a memorable four-year career at Miami and while his goal total slipped from his junior to senior season (25 to 14) he was a key component of the team that made their first Frozen Four appearance in school history.

An almost frantic competitor on the ice, Mercier is most noted for his strong two-way play and willingness to be physical despite being smaller (5’11, 190 lbs). Never taking a shift off, he works extremely hard around the net, on the forecheck and in the defensive zone, skills that will serve him well as he adjusts to the professional game.

After signing an entry-level contract this summer, Mercier will have to compete hard for a full-time spot in Lake Erie and may see some time with ECHL affiliate Charlotte Checkers.

14. (8) Kelsey Tessier, Center, 19, 7 D

Acquired: 4th Round, 110th Overall, 2008 Entry Draft

After a 2007-08 campaign were Tessier lead the Quebec Remparts in scoring with 81 points in 68 games and a strong showing at the Avalanche training camp, big things were expected in 2008-09. However, Tessier struggled last season as his point totals dropped and as the season wore on, he was shifted around the line-up with the hopes that it would spark his production.

Standing at just 5’9, 168 lbs, Tessier makes up for this lack of stature with a sense of determination not seen in most players. He is also an excellent heads-up player who is able to see plays develop, making him an astute playmaker. There are concerns with his size and how the physical, competitive game that he plays will take a toll on his body, especially during a long NHL season. 

Tessier will be expected to pick up his play significantly for the Remparts this season, but is still a few of years away from the NHL.

15. (11) Peter Delmas, Goalie, 19, 7 D

Acquired: 2nd Round, 61st Overall, 2008 Entry Draft

When the Avalanche drafted Delmas in 2008, few would have thought that the season to follow would be such a disaster. Delmas saw a significant drop in almost all statistical categories from 2007-08 to 2008-09. He won nine games, had a goals against average of 4.11 and a save percentage of .867, hardly the statistics expected from a second-round draft pick. There is still lots to be hopeful for, as the Avalanche wait to see if Delmas can regain his form of 2007-08 when he joins the Quebec Remparts in the coming season. 

At 6’2 and 169 lbs, Delmas relies on a calm demeanor and solid positional play in the net. He focuses very hard on the location of shooters and never seems to give up on the puck. He has to work on his quickness and learn not to gamble on so many plays.

Delmas will likely be the starter in Quebec this season.

16. (12) Brad Malone, Right Wing, 20, 6.5 C

Acquired: 4th Round, 105th Overall, 2007 Entry Draft

Playing on the fourth line for the Fighting Sioux, Malone was still able to put up decent numbers in 2008, scoring 17 points in 41 games. The big power forward, while possessing ideal size and some raw skill, particularly a set of soft hands around the net, is limited by his deficiencies in terms of hockey sense and awareness.

With an increase in playing time this coming season, Malone will have to take on a bigger role for the Fighting Sioux and continue to work on sharpening his overall abilities in all facets of the game.

17. (13) Michael Carman, Center, 21, 6.5 C

Acquired: 3rd Round, 81st Overall, 2006 Entry Draft

While centering the second line for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, Carman struggled this season to find his game. Being counted on to provide secondary scoring, Carman and his linemates were unable to do so and were a disappointment during the Gophers sub-par season.

Carman is a very versatile player who grew up playing defense, and was only converted into a center during high school. This has given him an appreciation for the defensive responsibilities that come with the center position and allows him to play an effective two-way game. Since his transition, Carman has grown his offensive skill set considerably and uses the vision developed as a defenseman to be a sharp playmaker, but also drives the net well and is strong on the forecheck.

With Stoa joining the professional ranks in 2009, Carman will be counted on by the Golden Gophers to find his offensive game and continue his strong two-way play.

18. (14) Paul Carey, Left Wing, 20, 7.0F

Acquired: 5th Round, 135th Overall, 2007 Entry Draft

After a very successful career in the USHL, Carey began his collegiate career in 2008-09 with Boston College, and the expectation that he would provide reliable secondary scoring for the Eagles. This proved not to be the case, as Carey struggled to find his place, scoring only nine points. As the season wore on, the ice time and opportunities dwindled and he even found himself a healthy scratch late in the season.

Carey can best be described as a pure goal scorer, and while he certainly does possess a number of offensive talents, he will need to make considerable improvements to his game outside of the offensive zone to have any chance of success as a pro.

Carey will return for his sophomore season and with a year under his belt, he should see an improvement in output. 

19. (15) Jens Hellgren, Defense, 20, 6.5 C

Acquired: 6th Round, 155th Overall, 2007 Entry Draft

Playing in his first season of Second Division in Sweden, lanky defender Hellgren suffered the inevitable fate of a young player on a veteran team. Having limited ice time, Hellgren was only able to produce two goals and six assists for eight points for Boras.

While Hellgren possesses ideal height for an NHL defenseman at 6’3, it will be imperative for him to add some bulk to an otherwise thin frame. It will also be important for Hellgren to work on his consistency and game-to-game focus as this problem has plagued him since he was drafted in 2007.

With the understanding that Hellgren is a long-term prospect, expect the Avalanche to show considerable patience with him as he develops in Europe. 

20. (16) Tom Fritsche, Left Wing, 22, 6 C
Acquired: 2nd Round, 47th Overall, 2005 Entry Draft

The speedy Fritsche was limited to 48 games this past season after suffering a concussion in February. Prior to his injury he was able to net 20 points for the Monsters (10 goals, 10 assists) however, this promising season was shut down for precautionary reasons. 

The shifty winger is very agile with and without the puck; this combined with his excellent smarts and hockey sense give him the ability to be an effective playmaker as well a reliable scoring threat.

Fritsche will be back with the Monsters for the upcoming season, but will likely not see time with Avalanche, barring a rash of injuries.