Joey Hishon takes over as top Colorado Avalanche prospect

By John Canario
Photo: Stefan Elliot has emerged as an elite defensive talent at the Canadian Junior level. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

The Colorado Avalanche continue to boast a plethora of offensive talent along the blueline despite recently trading a pair of highly-touted young prospects in Kevin Shattenkirk and Colby Cohen. The Avalanche are also strong in goal but are weak on the offensive front, particularly on the wings.

1. (3) Joey Hishon, C, 7.5C
Acquired: 1st round, 17th overall, 2010

With Kevin Shattenkirk‘s recent trade to the St. Louis Blues, Joey Hishon takes over as the Avalanche’s most intriguing prospect. Despite missing 12 games this season to both a hand injury and more recently a suspension for punching Ryan Strome, Hishon ranks 10th in the OHL in goals with 34, ninth in assists with 45, and eighth in points with 79 through just 46 games.

While Hishon’s game is fairly polished on the offensive end, Hishon’s defensive zone play is an area of concern as the sniper needs to become a more consistent presence on the backcheck. However, it is worth noting that his plus-12 rating this season is his best as an OHLer. His Owen Sound Attack, currently seated atop the Western Conference, are on pace for their first season ranked higher than eighth in the conference since the 2005-06 season. Much of the Attack’s new found success this season can be attributed to Hishon’s elevated play.

The undersized center has also had trouble eluding the injury bug the past few seasons, and putting on some weight might increase his durability. With little more to prove in the OHL, Hishon will likely make the jump to either the AHL or NHL next year. Which league he plays in could be determined by his performance at the Avalanche’s training camp prior to next season, though the Avalanche are deep up the middle with Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly.

2. (4) Calvin Pickard, G, 7.5C
Acquired: 2nd round, 49th overall, 2010

Eight months removed from the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Calvin Pickard is right on track in his development. Playing for the second straight year on a less than stellar Seattle Thunderbirds’ squad, Pickard currently ranks third in the WHL with a tidy .915 save percentage. His less impressive 3.39 goals against and 22-27-8 record can be largely attributed to having to backstop a struggling team, but could also be due to too heavy a workload. Pickard has played in 56 of the Thunderbirds’ 60 games, and the 2212 shots he has faced so far this season put him more than 500 shots ahead of the next most peppered-goaltender in the league.

With no young goaltending prospects at the AHL level, the fundamentally-sound netminder has the potential to crack the Lake Erie Monsters next season, though one more year of WHL seasoning is the most likely scenario.

3. (2) Stefan Elliott, D, 7.5C
Acquired: 2nd round, 49th overall, 2009

The emergence of Stefan Elliott, Cameron Gaunce, Tyson Barrie and Joel Chouinard over the last couple years is likely why general manager Greg Sherman viewed former top prospects Kevin Shattenkirk and Colby Cohen as expendable this season. With a logjam of young talent playing on the blueline for the Monsters this year, Elliott has made the most of his fifth and final campaign with the Saskatoon Blades, amassing 70 points in 60 games, currently good for tops among WHL rearguards. His 25 goals also lead the league, while his plus-44 rating ranks second.

Though he will never be an especially physical defender, he is rarely caught out of position in his own end and boasts an offensive game among the best in the Canadian Hockey League. The thought of Elliott and Tyson Barrie pairing up as linemates in the AHL, or perhaps even NHL, next season is enough to strike fear into the minds of opposing goaltenders.

4. (8) Cameron Gaunce, D, 7.0B
Acquired: 2nd round, 50th overall 2008

As an AHL rookie with the Lake Erie Monsters this season, Cameron Gaunce impressed Avalanche management enough to earn a call-up to the parent club, where he continues to hone his skills. In 54 games with Lake Erie this season, Gaunce registered one goal, 14 assists, a plus-nine rating and 69 penalty minutes. With Colorado, the 20-year-old has contributed one goal through four games thus far playing limited minutes.

With Gaunce, what you see is what you get. The 6-foot-1 defender has good size, and knows how to use it effectively. Despite lacking the flashiness that Elliott and Barrie boast, Gaunce makes a good first pass, has a good shot and is fully capable of contributing on the offensive end. What Gaunce offers that the others lack is a gritty, physical element to his game.

While Gaunce has not looked out of place in his current, brief NHL stint, he could benefit from increased ice-time in the AHL.

5. (11) Joel Chouinard, D, 7.5C
Acquired: 6th round, 167th overall, 2008

Like Gaunce, Joel Chouinard has leapt up the Avalanche prospect depth chart due to trades but also for his inspiring play as an AHL rookie. Out most of the year with a broken collarbone, Chouinard has been the catalyst to the Monsters’ offensive success when he has played. With a blistering slapshot and the ability to find teammates for tap-in goals, Chouinard has accumulated six goals and six assists in just 17 games this season.

Not especially known for his physical play, Chouinard is a dangerous puck-moving rearguard and could soon challenge for an NHL roster spot based on his offensive merits, especially with Greg Sherman reported to be shopping current powerplay-quarterback John-Michael Liles. His cheap contract which runs through the 2012-13 season also makes him an attractive option for the Avalanche.

6. (5) Ryan Stoa, C, 7.0C
Acquired: 2nd round, 34th overall, 2005

Drafted nearly six years ago, Ryan Stoa has yet to put his prototypical size and natural scoring touch together consistently enough to warrant permanent NHL duty. Starting the 2010-11 season with the Monsters, the 6-foot-3, 23-year-old posted no goals in his first 16 games, giving Avalanche management little to be excited about. He has responded well by tallying 16 goals in his last 32 games, and has been rewarded with several call-ups to Colorado. He has a pair of goals in eight NHL games so far this season.

The primary reason Stoa is currently playing for the Avalanche may be because of long-term injuries to Peter Mueller, Tomas Fleischmann, and T.J. Galiardi, but the promotion will also serve as a measuring stick to what kind of contract offer the Avalanche will extend to the power forward when he becomes a restricted free agent this summer.

7. (7) Tyson Barrie, D, 7.0C
Acquired: 3rd round, 64th overall, 2009

Had it not been for a partially-torn hamstring suffered in training camp and time spent with the Canadian team at the Under-20 WJC in Buffalo, Barrie would likely be challenging fellow Avalanche prospect Stefan Elliott for statistical supremacy among WHL rearguards. Last season’s winner of the WHL’s Best Defenseman award has been equally as impressive this season, leading the Kelowna Rockets to a current lead in the BC Division. Barrie has eight goals and 39 assists for 47 points in 43 games this season.

A smooth-skater and a born-leader, Barrie will surely command the attention of Avalanche management at training camp next season, as they decide whether the 19-year-old will start the year in Colorado or Lake Erie.

8. (20) Kent Patterson, G, 7.0C
Acquired: 4th round, 113th overall, 2007

A bit of an unknown due to extended time as a backup goaltender the past few years, Kent Patterson has excelled in his first season as a starter for the NCAA‘s Minnesota Golden Gophers. The 21-year-old junior at the University of Minnesota has stifled opponents with a .920 save percentage, a 2.55 goals against and an 11-7-5 record this season, en route to stealing the starting job from Atlanta Thrashers‘ prospect, senior Alex Kangas.

With the increased playing time, Patterson’s confidence appears to be at an all-time high though he would still benefit from improved rebound control. While he might be able to snag a spot on the Monsters’ roster next season, Patterson has played just 39 games for the Gophers in three years and might be better served by a fourth year of college hockey.

9. (17) Mark Olver, C, 7.0C
Acquired: 5th round, 140th overall, 2008

Capable of promptly finding offensive success at every level he has played at thus far, Mark Olver‘s stock is trending upwards. In his first full AHL season, Olver has tallied 21 goals and 15 assists in 52 games. His 75 penalty minutes also show that he has not shied away from playing physically, despite his diminutive stature.

The 5-foot-10 pivot has played two separate stints with Colorado this season, notching a pair of assists in six contests despite averaging just six minutes of ice-time per game. A creative player, Olver fits a similar mould as fellow prospect Joey Hishon, so the 23-year-old will have to establish himself as an NHL mainstay in the near future if he is to avoid a position battle during training camp next season.

10. (18) Jonas Holos
, D, 7.0C
Acquired: 6th round, 170th overall, 2008

With nearly half a dozen promotions and demotions between Lake Erie and Colorado this season, Jonas Holos has not yet found his groove in his first year of hockey on North American soil. The Norwegian defender has contributed just three assists in 19 NHL games so far but his team-best plus-seven rating is particularly noteworthy, considering he has not had the extended opportunity to develop consistent chemistry with his Colorado teammates. Holos also posted six assists in 17 AHL games with the Monsters.

The 23-year-old makes up for his lack of size with strong skating abilities and by playing a reliable game at both ends of the ice. Currently a depth defender for the Avalanche, Holos is just an injury away from suiting up as a regular.

11. (10) Sami Aittokallio, G, 7.0D
Acquired: 4th round, 107th overall, 2010

Sami Aittokallio has fared well with increased duty in the SM-liiga this season. In 13 games, he has posted a .903 save percentage and a 2.85 goals against. The quick, athletic, Finnish netminder also saw a period of action at the Under-20 WJC in Buffalo, allowing no goals in a 6-0 victory over the Slovakian team. He has also seen time this season playing in the Junior SM-liiga and the Mestis league, though it is notable that he was less successful in these stints.

While the Avalanche remain hopeful that their 6-foot-1 backstopper can follow in the footsteps of former Ilves Tampere standout Tuuka Rask, Aittokallio still appears to be a ways away from the NHL. The Avalanche do not appear eager to rush his development, and will likely allow the 18-year-old to hone his craft in the SM-liiga for a few years.

12. (NR) Kevin Montgomery, D, 6.0B
Acquired: 4th round, 110th overall, 2006

Solid but unspectacular, Kevin Montgomery has been a pleasant surprise for the Lake Erie Monsters this season. The 22-year-old has already posted AHL career highs in all offensive statistical categories. Through 49 games so far, Montgomery has scored twice and added 17 assists. Though he was first in the pecking order for a call-up to the parent club at one point this season, he was recently surpassed by Cameron Gaunce.

A restricted free agent this coming offseason, Montgomery could be a cheap option for the Avalanche if they decide they need a young player capable of filling in as a fifth or sixth defensman at the NHL level, albeit with limited upside.

13. (NR) Kieran Millan, G, 6.5C
Acquired: 5th round, 124th overall, 2009

After a disappointing 2009-10 campaign, Kieran Millan has rediscovered his stingy play between the pipes for the Boston University Terriers. The resurgent junior is sporting a .920 save percentage and 2.63 goals against en route to a 13-7-7 record this year. Millan has also been named the Hockey East’s Defensive Player of the Week twice this season.

Somewhat undersized at 6’0, Millan makes up for his lack of size with athleticism and quickness, but he needs to play more consistently from start to start. He can also stand to improve his rebound control. He will likely return for his senior year in 2011-12, though having already won a Frozen Four Championship, Millan has little left to prove at the college level.

14. (19) Troy Rutkowski, D, 6.5C
Acquired: 5th round, 137th overall, 2010

One of the more raw prospects in Colorado’s system, Troy Rutkowski fills the role of an offensive-defenseman for the powerhouse Portland Winterhawks. Lacking the flare of the prototypical scoring-rearguard, Rutkowski contributes with a hard shot and good puck-moving skills. The 18-year-old has accumulated eight goals and 31 assists in 60 games so far in 2010-11, with nine points coming in his last eight games.

Despite improved play, Rutkowski projects to be a third-pairing defensman. Unlike many of the Avalanche prospects, Rutkowski plays with an edge and is not afraid to drop the gloves. He will probably spend another season or two playing junior, working on his defensive-zone play.

15. (13) Justin Mercier, LW, 6.0C
Acquired: 6th round, 168th overall, 2005

With nine goals and 13 assists in 60 games this year with Lake Erie, Justin Mercier is on pace to just barely eclipse last season’s AHL totals, though he is unlikely to receive the same nine-game NHL call-up he was rewarded with in 2009-10. Like Ryan Stoa, Mercier struggled through the first half of the season, notching just ten points and a minus-seven rating through his first 36 games. Since the start of the new year he has picked up his play considerably, contributing 12 points and a plus-two rating through 24 games.

An unflashy, but valuable shutdown winger, Mercier appeared to be a virtual lock for eventual NHL duty in a checking and penalty-killing role, but his inconsistency this year has somewhat derailed his positive outlook. How Mercier plays the rest of the season and playoffs could have a large impact on whether or not the Avalanche re-sign the 23-year-old when he becomes a restricted free agent this offseason.

16. (NR) Brad Malone, C, 6.0C
Acquired: 4th round, 105th overall, 2007

The only true agitator among Colorado’s prospects, Brad Malone has taken a giant step forward in his progression this season. The University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux senior is on pace for the best single-season totals of his college career with nine goals, 18 assists and 96 minutes in penalties thus far.

The 6-foot-2 power forward has dramatically improved his defensive play this season and is learning to use his size and strength to his advantage. Malone has one more year of NCAA eligibility remaining, but has shown the ability to warrant the option of joining the Lake Erie Monsters in 2011-12.

17. (16) Stephen Silas, D, 6.0C
Acquired: 4th round, 95th overall, 2010

For the most part, the 2010-11 campaign has been a disappointing one for Stephen Silas and his Belleville Bulls. After amassing 49 points last season, the puck-moving defensman has just 24 points in 56 games this year. On a brighter note, six of those points have come in Silas’ past eight games, so the 18-year-old might be turning the corner.

Though adept offensively, Silas has just average skating ability, and is occasionally caught out of place in his own end. He also has a minus-41 rating during a three-year OHL career, however he has played on basement-dwelling Bulls’ teams the past two seasons. He is likely to play out his OHL eligibility.

18. (NR) Michael Carman, C, 6.0C
Acquired: 3rd round, 81st overall, 2006

Michael Carman has come a long way since the 2006 draft. The former defenseman-turned-center has done a little bit of everything in his first full season as a member of the Lake Erie Monsters, contributing offensively, defensively, in the faceoff circle and on the penalty-kill. The gritty pivot has nine goals and seven assists in 59 games for the Monsters in 2010-11.

The former Minnesota Golden Gopher is not a threat to crack a healthy Avalanche lineup any time soon, though he has value as a depth, checking-line center.

19. (NR) Paul Carey, LW, 6.5D
Acquired: 5th round, 135th overall 2007

Though it took him a couple years, Paul Carey appears to have finally found his scoring touch at the NCAA level. The junior at Boston College has compiled 11 goals and 12 assists for 23 points in 30 games this season.

A creative left winger, Carey has been knocked for his defensive-zone play, an area that could still use improvement. Though he has improved statistically with each year of college hockey, Carey has not yet shown that he can dominate offensively at the college level and will probably spend another season or two playing for the Eagles.

20. (NR) Luke Walker, RW, 6.0C
Acquired: 5th round, 139th overall, 2010

Luke Walker looked a little out of place to start the season in Lake Erie, as the rookie was held pointless in his first 12 games. Since then, however, the 21-year-old has found the net nine times and notched three assists for a total of 12 points in 43 games. In limited ice-time Walker is beginning to show signs, though he has yet exhibited the same level of physicality he played with in junior.

Walker is a bit of a project, with the ceiling of an NHL-checking line player. He will be given ample time with the Monsters over the next couple seasons to acclimate himself to the pro game.