Minor pro players lead the Colorado Avalanche prospect awards

By Blake Benzel

Stefan Elliott - Colorado Avalanche

Photo: After a long stint in Colorado in 2011-12, defenseman Stefan Elliott underachieved at the AHL level for most of his season with Lake Erie in 2012-13 (courtesy of Jimmy Simmons/Icon SMI)

Despite making the playoffs a few seasons ago, the Colorado Avalanche have been languishing the last few seasons, not fully able to cash in on the promise of their young players. Not only have they struggled on the ice, but they have struggled in the draft as well, lacking the organizational depth that makes the great teams truly great. All that aside, there are players in their system that have stood out a bit above the rest.

Hardest Worker: Troy Bourke, LW, Prince George Cougars (WHL)

Bourke has quickly become known throughout the Avalanche organization as a tireless worker, and his consistent improvement in his three years with a relatively sub-par Prince George team has shown that. This season found Bourke six points off his career high of 56 for the Cougars in eight fewer games than it took him last season. What is most impressive about Bourke, however, is the edge that he plays the game with despite his small stature. He is hard to play against and he has a motor that does not stop, all of which equates to this honor for him.

Hardest Shot: Joel Chouinard, D, Denver Cutthroats (CHL)

Chouinard has an absolute rocket for a shot, and he is not afraid to use it either – his 93 shots was top among all Cutthroats blueliners this season, and he amassed that number in only 42 games. He also tallied six goals this season, good for second on Denver’s squad among defensemen, while playing nine fewer games than the leader. All of this points to how good Chouinard’s shot really is. The question now is whether he will ever get to showcase it at a higher level.

Best Defensive Prospect: Tyson Barrie, D, Lake Erie Monsters (AHL)

It is almost unfair to count Barrie as a prospect, here, given that he likely would have graduated from the prospect list in a full season but, despite playing just 32 NHL games in 2012-13, Barrie led Colorado’s back-end in scoring with 13 points. What is even more interesting for Barrie, however, is that he was bounced between the NHL and AHL for most of the season, but he did not allow that to affect his play. When he was sent down to the AHL, he was a force on Lake Erie’s blue line, tallying 29 points in his 38 games in the AHL over the season. Barrie could have easily let this affect him but, instead, he took the opportunity to hone his game which speaks volumes about his maturity level.

Fastest Skater: Nate Condon, C, University of Minnesota (WCHA)

There are a few skaters that can go from 0-to-60 in the blink of an eye, but Condon is certainly one of them. He possesses a tremendous first step, which allows him to get separation from the defender and create scoring chances. He used this to his advantage in a career season for the Golden Gophers and his skating benefits him all over the ice, making him a valuable member of the team’s penalty kill as well as their power play.

Prospect of the Year: Michael Sgarbossa, C, Lake Erie Monsters (AHL)

Michael Sgarbossa could easily be the prize of the late season trade the Avalanche made last year that also saw them acquire Mike Connolly. In his first pro season, Sgarbossa surprised many by tallying 44 points in 57 games and earning a brief call up to the big club, as well. Over the course of the season, you could see him mature into his role on the Monsters’ squad and consistency followed that maturation. He ended the season on a bit of a skid, going eight games without a point, but the fact that this was the only stretch of more than three games without a point that he had is certainly cause for optimism.

Breakout Player for 2013-14: Kent Patterson, G, Denver Cutthroats (CHL)

If you look at Patterson’s history, it is easy to see why the St. Louis Park native could be on track for a breakout year for the Avs next season. After a slow start to his career with the University of Minnesota, Patterson grabbed the reins and took control of the crease. Now that he is acclimated to the pro game, Patterson will be looking to do just that next season and try to take those flashes of brilliance he showed in the crease for Denver this year and extend them into season-long success.

Most Improved Prospect: Garrett Meurs, RW, Plymouth Whalers (OHL)

Meurs had a distinct jump in his production this season, as he did the season prior, but the most telling improvement for the young winger is that his 12 point improvement came in the form of 12 more goals, giving him the first 30-plus goal campaign of his career. He topped that performance off with a seven goal, 14 point playoff campaign in 15 games – a marked improvement for a player who had scored just two goals and six points in his previous 20 playoff games.

Overachiever: Colin Smith, C, Kamloops Blazers (WHL)

Honestly, the jury is still out on whether or not Smith overachieved this season. He has improved each of his seasons with Kamloops, so this could have just been a natural progression. It could also be the product of playing with the likes of Tim Bozon (MTL) and J.C. Lipon. Either way, Smith had a terrific season leading the Blazers in scoring over the regular season and has 14 points in 12 playoff games for the Blazers so far in the postseason. The next step is going to be seeing if the diminutive forward’s game can translate to the pros.

Underachiever: Stefan Elliott, D, Lake Erie Monsters (AHL)

Elliott might have been the single most disappointing player in the Avalanche system this season, not just prospect. After bursting on the scene for 13 points in 39 games for Colorado last season, Elliott followed it up by not making the team out of training camp this season, then floundering in the AHL. His four points in 18 games this season for the Avs was certainly not what was expected from him, nor was his inability to stick with the big club. Elliott came on strong at the end of the season, tallying all of his points in the last eight games, so there is certainly hope that this is just a sophomore slump and that he will report to camp next season ready to go. If that happens, then this season will all just be a distant memory.

Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Joey Hishon, C, Lake Erie Monsters (AHL)

After recovering from a concussion that kept him out the better part of two seasons, Hishon made an impression in the AHL, tallying six points in nine games for Lake Erie. There is certainly a risk attached to him, as there is with anyone who has suffered a concussion, and the fact that he was out for the better part of two seasons means that the risk for injury that comes along with him could be increased. That said, if Hishon has recovered – and I mean, fully recovered – he could just be one more addition to the young stable of players that Colorado has amassed and makes them a very dangerous team.