The San Antonio Rampage opening night roster is starting to take shape as depth signings continue to trickle in. While some players are fully expected to start the season in Texas, there are more than a few who will be battling for a spot with the Avalanche on opening night. This week begins a series of articles looking at the Rampage roster and what we should expect for the start of the 2015-2016 season.
We begin with those on the cusp of NHL ice time.
Trading away both Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn left room on the Avalanche for some movement. However, off-season additions immediately tightened up the roster. With the return of injured forwards Patrick Bordeleau and Jesse Winchester and acquisition of Blake Comeau, Carl Soderberg, and Mikhail Grigorenko, there is little hope for guys that ended last season in Colorado to start there this season. Roy has made it clear, though, that a player can force his hand with a successful training camp and make the team over an established regular.
Who Might Move Up
Joey Hishon – Hishon established himself last season as a player who can not only keep up with the speed and ferocity of the NHL, but also be a successful contributor to an NHL roster. While his point totals were modest (1g, 1a in 13 games), he looked increasingly comfortable on NHL ice and often elevated his linemates for a fourth line that could drive possession.
Working against him, however, remains his size and style of play. Hishon is designed for a top-six role, and with the talent on the Avs right now, he’s simply not going to crack that list. If Roy decides to turn his third line into a 2b, Joey might have a chance. Most likely, though, he’ll make the roster as an injury call up later in the season.
Mikko Rantanen – Rantanen has the biggest shot of all players on the cusp at making it in Denver on opening night. The 2015 first-round draft pick has talent in spades and has shown he can dominate the lower rungs on the hockey ladder. Common sense suggests that he start the season in the AHL to acclimate to North American hockey and establish himself in the organization. Using the year in the A for development would help him develop a rock solid foundation, preparing him to be an integral part of the Avalanche core beginning in 2016.
It’s a great theory, but there is a reason Patrick Roy personally watched Rantanen this summer at the 2016 World Juniors evaluation camp: the kid is freaking good. Mikko absolutely killed it in Lake Placid, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Roy is more open to having Rantanen on the roster as a result.
Who Might Get Pushed Out
Marc-Andre Cliche – Of the forward corps, Cliche makes the most sense as a player who should be skating for the Rampage next season. His skill level just isn’t what you want on an NHL roster, and he brings little to the team. Roy has a love for veterans, though, and his insistence on playing Cliche despite having younger, more talented skaters available is worrisome when it comes to opening night. His contract might also keep him with the big club as he’s on a one-way deal, meaning he makes $750,000 no matter where he plays. NHL organizations tend to be reluctant to pay their AHL team members that kind of cash, so it is Cliche's job to lose at this point.
Patrick Bordeleau – Another type of player that Roy values is the big-bodied tough guy with the heart of gold, and perhaps only Cody McLeod fits that bill better than Bordeleau. Bordy is an interesting player, though, in that he has a very high hockey IQ for someone of his ilk. He reads plays well and knows where he should be and what he should do. Unfortunately, his hands and feet don’t have the skill to make that intelligence truly effective. With the enforcer role in a precarious state, Bordy’s place on the team is tenuous despite Roy’s affection for such players. Add in a lost year due to injury, and we might see Pat back in the minors. If he starts there, it is likely he’ll stay there for the season unless McLeod falls to injury himself.
Dennis Everberg –Everberg continues to show that he is a talented player who can drive possession and deserves time on NHL ice. His lack of the aforementioned veteran standing, however, is a knock against him, making his spot on the team a little shakier than it should be. It’s unlikely he’ll not be in attendance for the Avs’ opening night game, but Mikko Rantenan might force Roy’s hand here.
Technically, there are no spots available on the blueline. Taking last season’s roster into consideration, in addition to the off-season signings, the Avalanche have eight regular defenseman already on the roster. However, that’s not to say that a strong or weak showing at camp won’t shake things up. Roy might also choose to go with 12 forwards and nine defensemen to start the season, opening up a place for a hard-working guy on the cusp.
Who Might Move Up
Duncan Siemens – This one is a bit of a long not and not because Siemens doesn’t have the talent or development to be in the NHL. Roy is, for whatever reason, moving Siemens along very slowly, and unless the defenseman has made significant strides over the offseason in whatever area Roy thinks is lacking, it’s unlikely Roy will start him with the Avs this season. That said, it is possible. Siemens did not look out of place in his lone game with the team in 2014-15, and apart from a couple rookie mistakes, he held his own. He’ll need to have a spectacular camp to return to Denver to start 2015-16, but stranger things have happened.
Stefan Elliott – Talk about a guy who deserves that opening night spot. Elliott simply has nothing left to prove in the AHL. He is an NHL-caliber defenseman. Why he’s not getting NHL time isn’t clear, and it’s anyone’s guess as to what he needs to do at camp to earn his spot on the roster. Given Roy’s love for guys with size and grit, it will take something special from Elliott to see him displace Roy’s favorites in Guenin and Stuart.
Chris Bigras – Bigras, on the other hand, is Roy’s baby. Add in the ridiculously amazing season Bigras just had in juniors, and here’s a guy who has a prime opportunity ahead of him. Past training camps have been less than stellar for Chris, but if he can showcase his skills and dominate this September, he just might be on the roster come opening night. If he’s not, he’ll most likely be tops on the list for injury call ups.
Who Might Get Pushed Out
Nate Guenin – If only, right? It’s going to take a seriously bad showing for Roy to displace one of his favorite veterans for opening night. Never mind the fact that any of the d-men above would be a better option; Roy likes Guenin too much to sit him. It’s inexplicable, but there it is. Unless Guenin looks abysmal in camp, it won’t matter how good the young ones do.
Brad Stuart – See Guenin, Nate. Same song, different verse.
This is where things get interesting. Up until his last few appearances, Reto Berra was not doing himself any favors with his sub-par play. Calvin Pickard, on the other hand, looked every bit the backup goaltender, getting the nod over Berra on many occasions. What does that mean for the #2 spot in net?
Who Might Move Up
Calvin Pickard – Pickard is ready for back up duty in the NHL. His .932 save percentage last year proves that. Small sample size, you say? He also got a .917 in the AHL, shouldering most of the starter duties—when not in the NHL, starting over the official Avalanche back up.
His place on opening night has everything to do with Reto Berra. As long as Picks picks up where he left off last season, the job can be his.
Who Might Get Pushed Out
Reto Berra – A handful of games was the difference between picking 8th in the draft versus 10th. Those same games make the difference between the backup netminder job being Berra’s to lose or win. His atrocious performances throughout most of the season seemed to be nicely setting up the switch from Berra to Pickard as the Avalanche back up, but Berra suddenly figured out how to be a goaltender in the waning days of the season. That spike in performance put him squarely back on the Avs bench.
Should early-season Berra show up at camp, he’ll be in San Antonio to start the season. However, if it’s the guy from the last stretch of 2014-15, Berra’s name will be called in Denver on opening night.