Goaltending anchors Colorado Avalanche Top 20 prospects ranking

By Chau Vo

Nathan MacKinnon - Colorado Avalanche

Photo: First overall pick Nathan MacKinnon debuts as the Colorado Avalanche’s top prospect (courtesy of Aaron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

First overall draft pick Nathan MacKinnon may be getting all of the attention in Denver these days but Winnipeg native Calvin Pickard is silently working hard in the background and is looked to as the future of Avalanche goaltending.

Pickard, Kieran Millan, Sami Aittokallio, and recently-drafted Spencer Martin are all highly touted prospects who could one day take over the starting job in Colorado. The future is here.

1. (NR) Nathan MacKinnon, C, 9.0C
Drafted 1st round, 1st overall, 2013

Nathan MacKinnon has nothing left to prove at the junior level after winning the Memorial Cup with the Halifax Mooseheads and is expected to make the opening night roster for the Colorado Avalanche. Head coach Patrick Roy has already stated MacKinnon will center the third line with rough and tumble wingers Steve Downie and Jamie McGinn. By playing on the third line with veteran NHL players MacKinnon will be slowly eased into an eventual top-six role.

Hailing from the same hometown as Sidney Crosby, MacKinnon has garnered comparisons to the Pittsburgh Penguins captain. MacKinnon followed the same route as Crosby including playing for the legendary prep school Shattuck-St. Mary’s before being selected first overall in the QMJHL draft in 2011 by Baie-Comeau Drakkar, who later traded him to the Mooseheads for three first round draft picks.

The 18-year-old center boasts elite skill levels to go along with excellent hockey IQ. What sets him apart from the rest of his draft class is his ability to perform in big games, highlighted by his three goals and two assists in the final game of the Memorial Cup tournament; the same tournament in which he brought home MVP honors.

2. (1) Tyson Barrie, D, 7.5B
Drafted 3rd round, 64th overall, 2009

After excelling in the WHL for the Kelowna Rockets for four years, Tyson Barrie made his professional debut for the Lake Erie Monsters in the 2011-12 season where he led all defensemen in points before being called up to the Colorado Avalanche for the last 10 games. His 2012-13 season kicked off with Barrie once again finding himself in Lake Erie due to the NHL lockout. In 38 games Barrie scored seven goals and assisted on 22 others to lead all Monster defensemen in points. When NHL play resumed Barrie was assigned top pairing minutes and proved he was capable of scoring at the NHL level with 13 points in 32 games, again leading all defensemen in points.

Barrie is a naturally gifted skater with great hands and combined with his excellent vision he has shown he can quarterback a powerplay. He will enter training camp competing for one of the top-four defensive positions.

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

Another product of the Avalanche’s fruitful 2009 draft class, Stefan Elliott ended his junior career as the Saskatoon Blades’ all-time leader in points by a defenseman. After signing an entry-level contract with the Colorado Avalanche in 2011, Elliott was able to join the Lake Erie Monsters as they embarked on their playoff campaign. In five games he contributed two assists in his first taste of professional play. The next year saw him getting even more acclimated to the faster pace of the AHL in Lake Erie where he produced points while playing in the top four. His play earned him a call-up where he accumulated 13 points in 39 games for the Avalanche including scoring a goal in his first NHL game. His sophomore year saw him struggling to regain his form and he was limited to only 18 games for the Avalanche and was frequently scratched from the lineup or sent down to Lake Erie.

Elliott is still a young defenseman and possesses elite puck-moving skills. His smooth skating style, fast hands, and great on-ice vision allows him to blossom in a more run-and-gun system. He has the ability to make that first pass out of the zone to quickly set up scoring opportunities. Elliott is expected to compete for a spot on the third pairing.

4. (2) Michael Sgarbossa, C, 7.5C
Acquired via trade with San Jose in February, 2012

Michael Sgarbossa’s rights were acquired in a five player trade in 2012 with the San Jose Sharks. Sgarbossa was signed by the Sharks after going undrafted in the 2010 draft. The Sharks would send him back to the Sudbury Wolves to finish his junior career and in his last year he led all OHL players in scoring with 102 points in 66 games.

The 2012-13 season was Sgarbossa’s first year as a professional and he showed he can continue to score by leading the Lake Erie Monsters with 36 points in 38 games earning him a selection to the AHL All-Star game. Two nights after playing in the all star game, Sgarbossa was called up by the Avalanche where he made his NHL debut against the Vancouver Canucks. With limited playing time on the fourth line Sgarbossa would earn no points in six games. He finished the season with the Monsters and was second in team scoring with 44 points, including 19 goals.

Sgarbossa is a gifted scorer with good hands and his small size allows him to maneuver in tight spaces. With his fast shot and finishing abilities, Sgarbossa will be able to provide secondary scoring on the third line at the NHL level.

5. (5) Calvin Pickard, G, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 49th overall, 2010

For four years, Calvin Pickard was the backbone of the Seattle Thunderbirds and left as the WHL’s all-time leader in saves. Appearing in 241 games over the span of four seasons, he proved he could be depended on night in and night out. Despite his lack of size, Pickard plays a big game. His ability to read the play and his calm and relaxed demeanor earned him the starting job for the Thunderbirds as a 16-year-old rookie.

In his first professional season with the Lake Erie Monsters, Pickard posted five shutouts and 20 wins with a save percentage of 0.918 and a goals against average of 2.47. Pickard also saw time in the NHL as backup to Semyon Varlamov when goaltender J.S. Giguere had to leave the team for personal reasons.

6. (NR) Chris Bigras, D, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2013

Even keeled and steady in his own zone, Chris Bigras provides the Colorado Avalanche with a valuable shutdown defenseman who could be a future staple of the Avalanche’s second pairing. Bigras made his presence known in the OHL playing for the Owen Sound Attack where he was lauded for his great all-around play. While Bigras is not known for his offensive talents he was able to contribute 38 points in 68 games for the Attack in his draft season.

Bigras is not expected to make the Avalanche roster this year but do not be surprised if head coach Patrick Roy lets him play a few games before sending him back to Owen Sound for further development. The Elmvale, Ontario native is a very dependable defenseman who can be used in all situations. His transition to the NHL should be a quick one.

7. (4) Duncan Siemens, D, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 11th overall, 2011

While his stock may have dropped after going 11th overall in the 2011 draft, including a snub from Hockey Canada for the WJC tournament, Duncan Siemens is still a very valuable prospect. Siemens exploded for 43 points in his draft year while playing defense for the Saskatoon Blades but failed to match that total in his last two years of junior hockey. Upon the conclusion of his junior career, Siemens joined the Lake Erie Monsters where he put up no points in three games and was a minus-one.

Siemens is a very tough player to play against and can play both the powerplay and penalty kill. He is known for his bruising hits and ability to clear the front of the net. Siemens is expected to start the year in Lake Erie where he could be reunited with former teammate and defensive partner Stefan Elliott.

8. (7) Kieran Millan, G, 7.0C
Drafted 5th round, 124th overall, 2009

Kieran Millan is a decorated collegiate goalie who backstopped the Boston University Terriers to a national championship in 2009. That same year he earned Hockey East Rookie of the Year honors in addition to being named to the Hockey East Second All-Star Team. Millan is the Terriers’ all time leader in wins, games played, and saves. His final year in Boston he posted 20 wins with a save percentage of .923 and a goals against average of 2.60.

The 2012-13 season was his first year as a professional and he saw time playing for the Lake Erie Monsters and Denver Cutthroats of the CHL. With 15 wins and a save percentage of .913 and a goals against average of 2.91, Millan was twice named CHL goaltender of the week.

Millan is an excellent positional goaltender with a good glove hand and good rebound control. His confidence allows him to challenge the shooter and makes him hard to play against. Millan will be expected to continue his development playing for the Cutthroats in the upcoming season but provides excellent depth for the Avalanche at the goaltender position.

9. (8) Sami Aittokallio, G, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 107th overall, 2010

A very raw goalie, Sami Aittokallio has quick hands, fast feet, and moves fluidly in the crease and his natural skill level is the highest of any goaltending prospect in the Colorado Avalanche system. At 6'1 and 179 pounds he is lanky in stature but plays as if he is a much bigger goalie. His wide range of movement and flexibility allows him to quickly drop into the butterfly and recover. His speed and agility will help him stop the faster shots at the AHL and NHL level.

Aitokallio shared playing time with Calvin Pickard for the Lake Erie Monsters and even saw NHL playing time in one game for the Avalanche in the 2012-13 season. While his AHL numbers were not great, Aitokallio is proving that his adjustment time to the North American style of play will be shorter than expected.

10. (NR) Spencer Martin, G, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 63rd overall, 2013

Spencer Martin was a top five ranked goaltender in a very deep draft class. He comes into the Avalanche system with great size and skills and will push the other goaltending prospects for position on the depth chart. As a 17-year-old, Martin helped a below average Mississauga Steelheads team capture the eighth and final playoff spot in the OHL’s Eastern Conference.

Martin likes to challenge shooters and his big size helps cover more angles and allows fewer rebound chances. Martin is expected to return to the Steelheads for the 2013-14 season.

11. (17) Joey Hishon, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 17th overall, 2010

A highly drafted center out of the Ontario Hockey League, Hishon’s hockey career has been plagued with injuries. While with the Owen Sound Attack, Hishon led the team in scoring in two of the four years he spent there and twice topped 80 points. In 2011 during the Memorial Cup Playoffs, Hishon’s junior hockey career was ended with an illegal play by Brayden McNabb (BUF) of the Kootenay Ice. At the time, Hishon was leading all Attack players in scoring with 24 points in 22 games. McNabb would be suspended for one game but Hishon would continue to be sidelined with concussion symptoms for the entire 2011-12 season.

After being cleared for full contact practice in early 2013, Hishon made his professional debut for the Lake Erie Monsters on March 19th, 2013 against the Toronto Marlies. In nine games for the Monsters Hishon contributed six points including one goal. On April 12th, on his first shift of the game, Hishon was hit from behind by Hamilton Bulldogs forward Joey Tenute. The hit would result in Hishon being sidelined with a head injury.

Hishon is expected to recover fully from his latest setback and attend the Colorado Avalanche training camp in 2013.

12. (6) Kent Patterson, G, 7.0D
Drafted 4th round, 113th overall, 2007

Kent Patterson busted into the scene as a 17-year-old playing for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL. He posted a stellar 20-5-3 record that same year and his play resulted in a fourth round selection by the Colorado Avalanche. After playing one more year of junior hockey, Patterson would join the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers where he served as back-up for two years before earning the starting spot his junior season. His senior season saw him posting 28 wins en route to winning the WCHA Goaltending Champion award and being selected to the All-WCHA First Team. After college, Patterson would join the Denver Cutthroats of the CHL and was selected as the CHL Goaltender and Rookie of the Month for November. Patterson would see limited playing time in the AHL with the Lake Erie Monsters as a call-up.

Patterson may have fallen on the depth chart but he has the size and skills to succeed in professional hockey. Patterson is expected to continue playing for the Denver Cutthroats and compete with Kieran Millan for playing time.

13. (20) Gus Young, D, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 184th overall, 2009

While he may not put up points, Gus Young is a self-described defensive mainstay and a valuable part of Yale’s hockey team. Fresh off of winning the National Championship, Young showed in the NCAA tournament that he is capable of shutting down the opposition’s top players. After getting sparse playing time on the Yale blue line his freshman year, Young proved himself worthy of regular duty his sophomore season. Young will look to return to the Bulldogs team for his senior season where he will help defend their national title.

Young is a smart player with good skating abilities. His excellent vision allows him to anticipate the play and get in position. At 6'2 and 207 pounds, he also uses his size to his advantage to help clear the crease and be a physical presence around the net.

14. (9) Colin Smith, C, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 192nd overall, 2012

Blessed with dazzling speed and lightning fast hands, Colin Smith centered one of the most feared lines in junior hockey for the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. The offensively gifted forward was fourth in league scoring with 106 points in 72 games in the 2012-13 season and helped set a franchise record for consecutive wins. His play earned him a spot on the WHL First All-Star Team and a look from Hockey Canada for the World Junior Championship squad.

Smith boasts elite skill levels but his lack of size raises concerns about whether or not he can continue to produce at the professional level. Smith signed a three year entry-level contract with the Colorado Avalanche in July of 2013 and is expected to play in Lake Erie.

15. (NR) Mason Geertsen, D, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 93rd overall, 2013

At 6'4 and 203 pounds, Mason Geertsen is an imposing figure for opposition players. Geertsen is not afraid to drop the gloves and is one of the top heavyweights in the WHL while playing for the Edmonton Oil Kings and Vancouver Giants. Geertsen was not drafted for his offensive prowess but he has shown he has the work ethic to get better and grow his game and understands that in order to score points he has to work on other areas of his game like skating.

Geertsen has a long way to go before reaching the NHL level but his upside as a defensive stalwart is reachable if he continues to improve. His physical play and willingness to stand up for teammates makes him an important part of any hockey team.

16. (12) Nate Condon, C, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 200th overall, 2008

Nathan Condon was able to easily transition from Wisconsin high school hockey to junior hockey with the Fargo Force of the USHL and put up 29 points in 58 games his first season in 2008-09. He improved his points total to 51 points including 23 goals his second season before committing to play for the University of Minnesota. Condon earned a spot on the roster his freshman season and put up 17 points while playing mainly on the bottom-six of a depleted Gophers team. His next two seasons would see him topping 30 points twice and establishing himself as an offensive threat for the Gophers.

Once considered a one dimensional player, Condon has proven he can improve his two-way game and help kill penalties if needed. Condon will return to the Gophers for his senior season and at the conclusion will sign an entry-level contract with the Colorado Avalanche and report to the Lake Erie Monsters, or wait for his rights to expire the summer of 2014 and sign with another team as a free agent.

17. (NR) Karl Stollery, D, 6.5D
Signed as a free agent in May, 2013

A late bloomer coming out of Camrose, Alberta, Karl Stollery is used to flying under the radar. Stollery established himself as an offensive defenseman while playing for his hometown junior team, the Camrose Kodiaks in the AJHL, where he put up 62 points in 111 games his final two seasons. Upon the conclusion of his junior career, Stollery committed to playing for Merrimack College of the NCAA where he earned a spot on Hockey East’s All-Rookie team. After four stellar years of college hockey where he twice scored more than 20 points from the blue line, Stollery signed a professional contract with the Lake Erie Monsters. Stollery got off to a hot start with the Monsters scoring seven points in nine games and earned a spot on the Monsters for the 2012-13 season. Stollery continued his performance by leading all Monsters defensemen in points in his first full pro season.

Stollery signed a new one year contract with the Colorado Avalanche and is expected to play on the Monsters blue line next year while mentoring up-and-coming defensive prospects.

18. (NR) Will Butcher, D, 6.5D
Drafted 5th round, 123rd overall, 2013

Will Butcher caught the attention of the hockey world while playing minor hockey for the Madison Capitols where he put up 30 points in 34 games as an underager in the Midwest Elite Hockey League. Butcher would go on to play for the U.S. National Development Team in Ann Arbor and represent the United States in multiple international tournaments including winning a gold medal with the U18 team in the 2012 World Junior Championships and a silver medal in the 2013 tournament. He is committed to play for the University of Denver Pioneers this upcoming season.

Butcher has excellent puck-moving skills and will be a valuable addition to the Pioneers hockey team. His proximity to the Colorado Avalanche will allow the team to closely monitor his progress.

19. (11) Brad Malone, C, 6.0B
Drafted 4th round, 105th overall, 2007

After four successful years playing for the University of North Dakota, Brad Malone made the transition to professional hockey by playing for the Lake Erie Monsters. Malone would be called up to the Colorado Avalanche his first year for nine games where he contributed two assists in a checking role. His second year for the Monsters would see him dropping slightly in points due to a decreased role, but Malone would see NHL time for 13 games and notch his first NHL goal against the Calgary Flames.

Malone is the ideal candidate for a call-up from the Avalanche due to his size and physicality. He fits in perfectly on the bottom-six group of forwards and does not shy away from playing in the corners. While he may not have an elite offensive skill set Malone can still contribute in other ways and can certainly be a crowd favorite with his thunderous body checks.

20. (15) Mitchell Heard, C, 6.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 41st overall, 2012

Passed over in not only the OHL draft but his first year of eligibility for the NHL draft as well, Mitchell Heard is no stranger to being an underdog. Heard had to work hard to gain recognition and a roster spot on the Plymouth Whalers. Then when his NHL draft year came around, he failed to hear his name called. Instead of packing up his bags and giving up on his hockey dreams, he was determined to work even harder despite not being offered a contract after attending the Toronto Maple Leafs camp. However, Heard would attract the attention of Colorado Avalanche head scout Rick Pracey and the Avalanche would select him with their first pick in the second round of the 2012 NHL Draft.

Heard has shown he can score at the junior ranks but has failed to carry that over to the AHL for the Lake Erie Monsters. In 23 games he was only able to find the back of the net once. Heard does bring more to the table in that he is a heart and grit player. Not afraid to drop the gloves, Heard amassed 72 penalty minutes in his short AHL career.

Heard will continue to develop his game in the AHL and is not a prospect to be given up on so quickly. He is still young and has shown in the past he can overcome adversity. Look for him to be given a bigger role on the Monsters as more players are called up to the major ranks.