Colorado Avalanche’s minor-league affiliate led by offensive defensemen

By John Canario
Photo: Former first-rounder Joey Hishon is still suffering post-concussion syndrome and has yet to suit up for a game in the 2011-12 season. Having been out for eight months already, there is growing concern regarding Hishon's hockey career. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The Lake Erie Monsters are in their fifth year as the AHL affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche. They currently stand at third in the North Division of the Western Conference with a 16-15-1-1 record. Like many teams in the AHL this season, the Monsters have seen a great deal of players shuttle back and forth between the AHL and NHL, the most notable being Stefan Elliot, who looks as though he may be staying in the NHL for the remainder of the season.

Tyson Barrie, D, 20

During the first half of his rookie AHL season, Tyson Barrie has been the top offensive rearguard for the Lake Erie Monsters, notching four goals and 16 assists in 33 contests. He is an intelligent puck mover whose only glaring obstacle in the way of eventually cracking an NHL roster is his slightly modest stature. While he has yet to match the same lofty statistical totals that he tallied during his major junior days, he is starting to heat up with six points in his last seven games.

Despite it being just his first season with the club, the Monsters confidently depend on the 20-year-old to quarterback their top power play unit and he has performed admirably. He currently leads all AHL rookies with 12 power play assists. A trade or injury in Colorado could mean an opportunity for Barrie to display his offensive talents at the NHL level this year. He has the potential to be a top four defender who can run the power play at the NHL ranks.

Trevor Cann, G, 22

Trevor Cann is in his first season as the Lake Erie Monsters' starting netminder, but that "starting" title could be stripped away in the near future. While the athletic, Oakville, Ontario-native has shown improved play compared to brief AHL stints of previous seasons, he has been grossly outplayed by 26-year-old, six-year AHLer Cedrick Desjardins and is probably second in line should the Avalanche need to call up a goaltender from the minors. Cann has compiled a 2.82 goals against average and a .905 save percentage en route to a 8-10-0 record.

The undersized backstopper, who has allowed just 12 goals over his past six starts, will need to continue to put together a string of consistent efforts before he is even considered for NHL duty. He currently projects as a depth back-up goaltender.

Michael Carman, C, 23

Michael Carman does a lot of the little things right on the ice surface: he plays a physical game, is a strong skater and is superb in the faceoff circle. It's just some of the more primary hockey things that he is struggling with. Carman, in his second full season with Lake Erie, has just two goals and zero assists through 20 games thus far, and has played primarily on the Monsters' fourth line in 2011-12. A defense-first forward, having converted from defense to center in his teens, Carman isn't a liability in his own end but he isn't likely to help his team substantially in the offensive zone. He also plays on one of the Monsters' penalty killing units.

The 23-year-old is likely to spend his career as a depth minor-leaguer if his production does not improve.

Joel Chouinard, D, 21

Joel Chouinard has been the casualty of the strong play of fellow young rearguards Tyson Barrie, Stefan Elliott and Cameron Gaunce. The 21-year old has been forced to take the back seat while Barrie runs the power play, and has totaled just five points through 29 games this season. He hasn't played particularly poorly, but he has just been utilized less frequently in an offensive role.

Chouinard will be in tough to make an NHL push with the stiff competition the Avalanche have in their system, but consistent efforts at both ends of the rink will accelerate his progression. He projects to be a bottom four defender with the ability to chip in on the power play with his cannon-like slapshot.

Zach Cohen, LW, 24

Like Carman, Zach Cohen is having a less than stellar second full season as a member of the Lake Erie Monsters, and has been reduced to playing fourth-line minutes. He has only recorded three points through 21 games this year. A decent skater for his 6'3 stature, Cohen lacks the physicality and natural finishing touch of a true power forward.

Given Cohen's somewhat limited skill-set, he is likely to spend his career in the minor leagues as a checking-line player.

Stefan Elliott, D, 20

Not to be outdone by Barrie, smooth-skating, offensive juggernaut Stefan Elliott accumulated nine points during a string of impressive early season performances that warranted a call-up to Colorado after just 18 games with the Monsters. The Vancouver-native promptly showed that he was comfortable playing hockey at the most elite level by scoring a goal in his first NHL game, and recording his first assist in his second big-league contest. With nine points in 18 games for the Avalanche, it appears that the prolific scoring rookie is here to stay.

A reliable defender in his own end, Elliott won't blow anyone away with jarring body-checks but he is dependable at breaking up opposing rushes and is rarely caught out of position. He has all of the skills and smarts to be a top pairing defender capable of logging heavy minutes, and in all game scenarios.

Cameron Gaunce, D, 21

A hard-nosed defender whose presence is valued at both ends of the rink, Cameron Gaunce is turning in another strong season with Lake Erie. The punishing blueliner has tallied two goals and 10 assists through 32 games, but his most telling statistic is his team-leading plus-six rating. Gaunce's sound decision making ability and high hockey IQ are what will propel him forward as he strives to return to the NHL where he spent 11 games at the end of last season.

Gaunce may not have the nifty hands and knack for scoring that Barrie and Elliott possess, but he is more reliable in his own end. If he continues to progress he has the ability to play a top-four role at the NHL level in the not so distant future, and has all of the necessary skills to play on both special teams units.

Joey Hishon, C, 20

Once a prolific playmaker with the ability to create scoring chances out of seemingly harmless plays, Joey Hishon's promising NHL prospects were derailed back in May at the Memorial Cup when he sustained a severe concussion from an illegal hit to the head. Eight months later, he continues to sit out with concussion-like symptoms. Until he has returned to the ice symptom free, the outlook is bleak.

Brad Malone, C, 22

Brad Malone has progressed from the NCAA, to the AHL, to the NHL – all in approximately seven months. The agitator has quickly caught up to and surpassed the Avs' other power forward in their system, Ryan Stoa. While he might not have the same polished offensive skills and quick release that Stoa has, Malone more than makes up for it with his hard-hitting physical style and fearlessness to engage in puck battles with any opposing player. With Lake Erie, the 22-year-old scored four times and added nine assists in 24 contests, earning himself a call up to Colorado. Currently still with the Avalanche, Malone has notched a pair of assists through nine games, despite averaging less than 10 minutes of ice-time per game.

Malone projects to be a third line NHLer who can hit, fight, and score the occasional goal.

Justin Mercier, LW, 24

Justin Mercier, in his third season with the Monsters, has seven goals, seven assists and 49 penalty minutes in 33 games. He has settled into a third-line energy role, throwing hits, creating turnovers and chipping in on offense every now and then. Blessed with sound fundamental skills and good hockey sense, Lake Erie also utilizes Mercier on their penalty kill.

The hard-working winger spent nine games in the NHL in 2009-10, and could be due for another call-up if the Avalanche experience injuries among their bottom six forwards.

Jake Newton, D, 23

Jake Newton, who in the past earned himself a reputation as a scoring blueliner, has been forced to take on a more defensive role this season, with the Monsters plethora of young, offensive-minded rearguards. The San Jacinto, California-native has notched one goal and a pair of assists in 21 games this season playing on Lake Erie's third defensive pairing.

Despite decent puck skills and above average skating for a player of Newton's 6'3 stature, Newton will be in tough to make it to the NHL ranks as an offensive blueliner. His defensive game has shown improvement though, and if he continues to develop, he has the potential to be a fifth or sixth defender at the NHL level.

Ryan Stoa, C/LW, 24

Once considered a blue chip prospect, Ryan Stoa just hasn't developed as the scouts had predicted. The 24-year-old is in his third season with the Lake Erie Monsters and is on pace for his lowest offensive totals thus far. He currently has seven goals and 10 assists through 33 games.

Re-signed to just a one-year contract this past offseason, this could be Stoa's last with the organization if his play does not drastically improve during the Monsters' second half. He has the skill-set to be a top six forward at the professional level, but hasn't shown the drive.