SAN JOSE, CALIF. – In a dark, grungy practice rink on the outskirts of this Bay Area city, the Colorado Avalanche’s 2017-18 rookie class’s play, in the final analysis, mirrored their surroundings in their “Prospect Showcase” game against the youngsters of the San Jose Sharks Saturday night. Sometimes, promises of a bright future shone through. At other times, things seemed as bleak as ever.
The Sharks’ kids beat the Avs’ kids, 7-4, at Shark Ice, in front of a crowd in which scouts outnumbered actual fans on hand.
Let’s just say it won’t be a night fondly remembered by 19-year-old Avs prospect goalie Francis Leclerc, who allowed four third-period goals in relief of starter Spencer Martin. Let’s just say that the varsity club’s defensive problems won’t be solved overnight either, as there were plenty of mistakes made by the blueline group assembled here.
But let’s focus on the positives, shall we? After all, the game didn’t count.
First off, Tyson Jost is going to be the real deal. Even though the first-round pick from 2016 somehow was kept off the score sheet, he was otherwise dominant with the puck most every time it was on his stick. He and linemates A.J. Greer and Shawn St. Amant created numerous chances, with St. Amant finishing with a pair of assists. Jost also displayed strong chemistry on the power play with point man Chris Bigras, who walked the line with aplomb throughout and also assisted on two goals.
And, the kid from Harvard, Alexander Kerfoot, got his NHL career off on the right, er, foot with one assist and about a half dozen other wicked good drop passes or cross-ice saucer passes on the tape. After one long saucer from the right boards to the far circle, in the third period, to Jost on the PP, several scouts could be seen casting looks at each other that said, “Did you see that?”
Despite what everyone else thought was a stellar debut, Kerfoot wasn’t about to take any bows in the dressing room afterward.
“I didn’t think it was a great game. I was definitely a little bit nervous to start,” said Kerfoot, who set up J.T. Compher for the Avs’ first goal in the opening period. “But I think I kind of settled down as I got into it.”
Kerfoot seems to have that extra second of patience with the puck that’s hard to teach. You either have it or you don’t. He is clearly comfortable along the half-wall on the power play. If he has no pressure, he makes good crisp, accurate passes. When he does face pressure, he seems adept at twirling away and dishing off the backhand or a forehand attempt down low or to the net.
“I’ve played in that position a lot elsewhere and in the past,” said Kerfoot, who was the setup man for three years at Harvard to Jimmy Vesey, who now is with the Rangers. “I think that’s something I’m definitely comfortable doing, but it would have been nice to have buried one of those and put a goal on the board.”
Eric Veilleux, the Avs’ AHL head coach with San Antonio who manned the bench in this one, didn’t dwell on a third in which Leclerc just flat out struggled and the defense looked a bit gassed.
“Overall, I thought we had some very good O-zone time and had some great scoring chances,” Veilleux said. “Some of those we capitalized on, and others we didn’t. Structure-wise, it’s been a crazy three days for those young players. A lot of video, and physical testing. I know it’s the same for every single team, but at the same time, I thought we played a pretty decent game.”
The Avs’ goals were scored by Compher, Nicolas Meloche (a snipe wrister off the rush to the far post, left circle), Hugo Roy (a rebound putback of a Bigras point shot) and Gustav Olhaver. Latvia Sharks prospect Rudolfs Balcers scored a hat trick for the Sharks.
Other quick-hit impressions of some key Avs rookies:
- Russian import Andrei Mironov had a mixed-bag of a night, turning the puck over a couple times and looking winded at the ends of some shifts. But he was physical and seemed to get a bit more comfortable as the game went along.
- Defenseman Conor Timmins made some mistakes and was on the ice for three goals against. But Veilleux sang his praises afterward nonetheless. “I thought he was great, made some very good plays. I thought he closed his gap very well. He’s gonna be good,” he said.
- Greer got into a fight within the first few minutes and was generally a pain all night. He also had four shots on net.
The Avs will practice Sunday morning here, before resuming the round-robin tourney Monday with a game against the rookies of the Arizona Coyotes. They’ll play Tuesday against Anaheim’s rookies before heading home.