The Colorado Avalanche started rookie camp last week before heading to San Jose to compete in their second Rookie Showcase in as many years. In deference to the development process, TGBU will forego it’s usual categories and instead break down observations from the week in terms of looking towards the future of the organization as well as the players. Many of these players are vying for positions with the Avalanche, the San Antonio Rampage, or the Colorado Eagles and their play over the next few weeks will determine who are viable candidates.
This year’s showcase marked a significant step in the Avalanche’s move towards younger and faster players.
1. Hockey is back! There are not enough exclamation points for hockey's return.
2. Last year, two players from the Rookie camp advanced to the Avalanche starting lineup at the start of the season – defenseman Nikita Zadorov and forward Mikko Rantanen (who missed a number of games due to a nagging ankle injury suffered playing in the Rookie Showcase). Currently, six or seven players have legitimate shots at making the big club, depending on how they perform during the training camp and preseason. While the team is still working on developing depth, having so many promising players bodes well for the future – very exciting. Dare we say it? Might the front office be building for the future?
3. Ten defensemen battled for position on the rookie lines compared to eight last year. Even better, more players wait in the wings for training camp to begin. Neither Duncan Siemens nor Mason Geertsen were at rookie camp but they are participating in the voluntary Captain’s skates. While the Avalanche continue looking for an additional number one defenseman, the team has options for depth players, an exciting change from previous years.
4. Forwards Tyson Jost and J. T. Compher showed why they are top contenders for starting on the Avalanche. Both players showcased speed, skill, and intensity. They battled for the puck and pushed the play every possession. They earned every minute of ice time and their tenacity inspired hope for some exciting play on the big club.
5. The Rookies managed over 30 shots on goal a game, came from a three goal deficit to tie game two only to lose in overtime, led or tied for 59:42 of game three, and two times respond to Anaheim Ducks tying by scoring the go ahead goal a minute (or less) after the Ducks scored. Colorado scored three or more goals in all three games and defensemen accounted for three of the ten goals scored in the tourney. Both Compher and Hugo Roy (on an amateur try-out) scored two goals apiece and while Jost didn’t get a goal, he created enough havoc for his line mates to have success scoring. Each game showed improvement. Guess people will have to wait on their torching of the organization as yet.
6. Newly acquired free agent Alexander Kerfoot showed great hockey sense and proved a worthy addition. He played well enough to reasonably expect him to compete for a spot on the Avalanche roster. General Manager Joe Sakic signed a talented player. Stop the presses!
7. A.J. Greer dropped the gloves a minute into his first contest, ready to fight San Jose prospect Jacob Middleton, and set the tone for his compete level throughout the tourney. He never relented, crashing the net, going on to score a goal, assist on a couple of others, and generally make a nuisance of himself against their opponents. He exhibited so much of what the Avalanche lacked last season, it’s hard not to root for him to make the team.
8.The Avalanche will enjoy some choice options building their defensive depth. Anton Lindholm – who only competed in one game – rumors seem to indicate an early coaches' favorite to make the big club. Others vying for consideration include Nicolas Meloche, Sergei Boikov, Andrei Mironov and Chris Bigras. Meloche and Bigras improved with each game they played while Boikov appeared solid in each appearance and Mironov seemed most comfortable playing with Boikov (maybe because Mironov knows very little English). Good times. Maybe if they ever sign defenseman Nikita Zadorov, he could help Mironov adapt. Is that worth another $500,000?
1. San Antonio Rampage coach Eric Veilleux led the rookie team and seemed more interested in working on systems and evaluating player combinations than just winning. He experimented with different line matchups for the power play and penalty kill units as well as third and fourth line pairings. He frequently rotated the defensemen and occasionally replaced only one player at a time. If the Avalanche continue to responsibly evaluate talent, what will people complain about?
2. Recently signed center Dominic Toninato centered both the third and fourth lines and made strides with each game. While not as flashy as some of the other players, he played a responsible game with clean, accurate passes and good defensive positioning. Another decent addition to the team. Does anyone else smell smoke? Is that from heads exploding?
3. Two forwards on amateur try-outs who showed flashes of both good and not-so-good are Ty Lewis and Hugo Roy. It will be interesting to see how the organization evaluates each player’s future with the organization.
4. Goaltender Petr Kvaca, this year’s second fourth-round draft pick, played the entire second game in the tourney. While he looked nervous at the beginning, once he found his rhythm, he played a quality game, making some great saves to help the team get to overtime. Coming from the Czech Republic and with many people questioning his selection, he showed some real promise.
5. Worth noting – 12 of the 28 rookie camp invitees attended last year’s camp. It’s good to see the new coaches getting a handle on the organizational talent as well as the scouting bringing in additional players to evaluate. Stick taps all around.
6. Coach Veilleux seemed comfortable keeping J. T. Compher and Alexander Kerfoot together on one line and Tyson Jost and A. J. Greer paired on another line. While he experimented with the third linemate for both pairings, he rarely deviated from the combination at even strength. Could this be a clue for future matchups? Only the coaches know. Or maybe a magic eight ball.
1. 19-year-old goaltender Francis LeClerc, on an amateur try-out, suffered a rough outing in the second half of the Sharks game and did not play in the subsequent matches. He’s young so one game is hardly enough to gauge his future, but one can expect the goalie coach will be doing some homework on his evaluations.
2. Second round pick defenseman Conor Timmins managed to improve with each game but will need some seasoning. He is only 18 so there’s reason to believe he will benefit from additional experience. Also, because he upgraded his play with each contest, there’s lots of room for optimism about his future.
3. Defenseman Nolan De Jong made some exciting scoring opportunities, unfortunately, for both teams. He showed glimpses of promise as well as more than his share of gut check moments.
4. Big forward Ben Storm seemed to get called for a couple of penalties just because of his size. A former 2013 sixth round pick, he represents one of the bubble players on an amateur try-out fighting for a spot. He needs to be good at more than fighting though to make the team. Gasp! Can’t believe I wrote that.
1. Rookie camp is all about teaching systems, evaluating talent and finding chemistry between players. The only really ‘bad’ criteria pertains to injuries, and a couple of promising players did miss playing time. J.C. Beaudin took a puck to his leg early in Friday’s camp and did not play at all in the Showcase. In yesterday’s game, Shawn St.-Amant, a developing player in the organization on a professional try out, left the ice with his right hand wrapped in a towel. Hopefully, none of these injuries will impact their ability to compete at the full training camp, as both players are fighting to establish a future with the team.
2. Forward Sami Moilanen did not skate in any of the games and was not on ice for the Friday skate. While he is not bad, not seeing him skate is bad.
3. The Avalanche went 0-2-1 in the Showcase. However, they were fun to watch, fighting through each game, battling for the puck, and throwing the puck at the net. The final tally did not represent the quality of on ice play. The compete level is high with this group. There is hope for the future, folks!
WHAT TO WATCH
1. The Avalanche will hit the ice on Friday and Saturday for training camp this week and will host their first preseason home game Tuesday, the 19th.
2. The Avalanche announced today they will be retiring #23 Milan Hejduk's jersey, finally joining the rafters with the team's elite on January 6th. It's about time!
3. The Nikita Zadorov signing watch continues. Reports surfaced he was in Ottawa with his agent yesterday, which could be a good sign an end is in sight. Players are due to report Thursday for training camp. Any minute now, please.
4. As always, it seems, the Matt Duchene trade saga continues. As reported by BSN’s Adrian Dater, Joe Sakic expects Duchene to report to training camp as he is under contract to the Avalanche and Duchene’s agent refused to comment one way or the other. Duchene has not showed up for any of the Captain’s skates, as yet. Stay tuned for the slow, ongoing drama “As the Ice Melts” on BSN, where one of our intrepid reporters will cover all breaking Avalanche news.