In just 24 hours, the Colorado Avalanche dramatically changed the college and European pipelines from bleak to optimistic. On June 26th, 2015, the team sent forwards Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn to the Buffalo Sabres and in return received JT Compher as part of a four-piece package. One day later at the 2015 NHL Draft, the team selected 21-year old Andrei Mironov from the KHL. Mironov’s age and extensive international and professional experience made it easier for the Avalanche to see what they have in him as a prospect.
JT Compher, C, University of Michigan Wolverines (Big Ten)
Acquired via trade from Buffalo, June 2015
Compher was a big part of the Ryan O’Reilly megatrade last summer. Buffalo was quick to let him go after seeing him score just 24 points in 34 games his sophomore season for the Wolverines but after being named captain for the 2015-16 season, he exploded for 63 points in 38 games. He was an important part of the most lethal line in college hockey, one that also featured Kyle Connor and Tyler Motte. It was a dominant campaign, with the three forwards collectively outscoring entire NCAA squads this season. Unfortunately for fans of the Michigan Wolverines – but unsurprisingly – all three have now inked entry-level deals with the clubs that hold their rights.
Coming off of a breakout season where he was also one of the top ten Hobey Baker finalists, Compher was smart to take advantage of the need for forwards on the NHL club where he has a good chance of playing next October. A defensively responsible playmaker, Compher may see some AHL time as well, but could have a big role to play for a reloaded Avalanche next season.
Will Butcher, D, University of Denver Pioneers (NCHC)
Drafted 5th round, 123rd overall, 2013
The Pioneers needed Butcher to step up this season when he assumed the role of the team’s top defenseman. He met expectations with 32 points in 39 games as the top scorer from the blueline and was one the finalists for the NCHC’s Defenseman of the Year as well as Offensive Defenseman of the Year awards.
Butcher told Hockey’s Future’s DJ Powers at the Frozen Four – where Denver came up just short against eventual national champions North Dakota – that the Avalanche maintain constant contact with him using their close proximity to each other as an advantage. Butcher is expected to return for his senior season.
Ben Storm, LW, St. Cloud State Huskies (NCHC)
Drafted 6th round, 153rd overall, 2013
Storm spent the prior season splitting time between defense and offense but was a forward the entire 2015-16 season. He totaled seven points with two goals and five assists with a +4 rating in 29 games. Playing forward is not new for Storm as he had prior experience at the position in youth hockey before making the transition to defense. He has one more year of NCAA eligibility left before he will see what professional hockey has in store for him.
Andrei Mironov, D, Dynamo Moscow (KHL)
Drafted 4th round, 101st overall, 2015
Mironov’s time in the KHL is coming to an end and the 21-year old defenseman is more than ready for the North American hockey with his big hits and love for physical play. He has one more year remaining on his KHL contract with Dynamo Moscow and so far has not indicated he will seek early termination to sign with the Avalanche for next season. Once that contract expires, expect the Avalanche to make a hard push to get him to Colorado before he tests the water in KHL free agency.
Anton Lindholm, D, Skellefteå AIK (SHL)
Drafted 5th round, 144th overall, 2014
With three deep playoff runs in three years and an SHL contract expiring this spring, Lindholm’s agent was spotted in Denver presumably talking with the Avalanche front office about bringing the young defenseman overseas for the 2016-17 season.
The Avalanche need new players for their minor league team and Lindholm has had a lot of success playing in Sweden’s top professional league. Lindholm is an undersized stay-at-home defenseman who thinks the game at a high level. He is not known for his scoring or special teams play but he is a good player to have because he can eat big minutes. His reliability earned the trust of his coaching staff despite his young age.
Sami Aittokallio, G, Karpat Oulu (Liiga)
Drafted 4th round, 107th overall, 2010
Aittokallio put on a stellar performance for Karpat in his native Finland posting a save percentage of .920 and goals against average of 1.97 but only played in three playoff games. His team lost to Tappara in the semi-finals and defeated JYP in the bronze matchup to claim third place for the 2015-16 season. Aittokallio’s contract with the Avalanche expires this summer.
Wilhelm Westlund, D, Vita Hästen HC (Allsvenskan)
Drafted 7th round, 183rd overall, 2013
It does not look good for Westlund that it took almost the entire season for him to make his way to Djurgardens after being on loan to Vita Hasten HC in the Swedish tier-two league. The 21-year old has spent the majority of his last two professional seasons playing in the Allsvenskan where he has totaled 26 points in 91 games. He is still scoreless in 25 SHL games including three playoff games this spring.
Maximilian Pajpach, G, Tappara U20 (Jr. A SM-Liiga)
Drafted 6th round, 174th overall, 2014
Pajpach was part two of a two-goaltender duo for Tappara’s top junior club this season. In 22 games, he had a save percentage of .874 and GAA of 3.77. Although he saw practice time with the top club, he did not play in any games. Returning to Slovakia remains a possible option for this longer-range prospect.
Prospect of the Month
The top Colorado Avalanche prospect, Mikko Rantanen finished out his rookie season with the San Antonio Rampage with seven points in seven games this month giving him 60 points in 52 games the whole year. The total does not include the nine NHL games where he failed to register a point. The Rampage failed to capitalize on Rantanen’s success and did not make the 2016 AHL post-season. A member of the AHL All-Rookie Team, a Second Team AHL All-Star, and co-winner of the AHL Rookie of the Year Award (with Frank Vatrano), Rantanen will get a good look on the Avalanche roster next season and is unlikely to return to the Rampage.