Baffling Avalanche Development Trends Continue

Development is a process. Ups and downs are expected, progress is not always linear and success isn’t guaranteed. After scouting has done their job and turns their selected assets over to the organization in the form of players, the next step is to get those guys from point A to B when they are then considered ready for the NHL. That’s what one typically calls development and is crucial to organizational depth and sustained success.

Nicolas Meloche is not being developed by the Colorado Avalanche organization.

The 40th overall pick from the 2015 draft, considered one of Colorado’s top prospects with legitimate NHL upside, who enjoyed a productive and successful junior career and was one of the most anticipated prospects turning pro this year is simply not playing. Anywhere. And the Avalanche are perfectly ok with this.

In the 25 games the San Antonio Rampage have played this season Meloche has dressed in 14 of them. Two games he was out with an illness but nine were a legitimate healthy scratch including the last four consecutive contests. Meloche was trading scratches with AHL/ECHL tweener Jesse Graham until Mason Geertsen was suspended three games for elbowing, which got Meloche regularly back in the lineup for only those three games. By the way, that contest in which Geertsen was kicked out of and left the Rampage with five defensemen, Meloche had to play a lot more minutes than usual and coincidentally that’s when he scored his first professional goal, added an assist and was named third star by the opposition’s media in a losing effort.

It is understood that rookies don’t always have it easy or a spot in the lineup handed to them plus it’s good for young players to take a step back and watch on occasion. It’s also understood that there’s pressure to win in the AHL for jobs, the paying customers and for a competitive environment to foster…development. But there’s just flat out no excuse to keep a future hope out of action that long.

Successful organizations such as the Tampa Bay Lightning have figured out that there’s a correlation between playing their young prospects and winning. Their AHL affiliate in Syracuse recently traded away a vet so their five rookie forwards could see more ice time. Syracuse has a winning record in the AHL to go along with Tampa Bay’s dominance in the NHL.

For his part, Meloche is keeping a good attitude. He says he trusts his former QMJHL and current AHL head coach Eric Veilleux and the Avalanche to know what to do with him. Craig Billington and other members of the Avs brass were on hand in San Antonio over the weekend and presumably had no issue with how the development decisions have been handled.

Many will point to the shared AHL affiliation with the St. Louis Blues as the problem this season but it is only a complication, not the cause. The Blues have provided four forwards, two defensemen and a goalie who are all of high enough quality to help the team win each night. The issue with them are a scratch seems to not be on the table at all for the group (except for forward Adam Musil on occasion) even if rookie forward or young defenseman growing pains arise.

The deeper problem is a continuation of the same old Avalanche story, defaulting to using mediocre to poor veterans as a crutch even while watching the season slip down the drain and prospects sit on the sidelines. The Rampage have lost eight of their last twelve as the veterans aren’t moving the needle. In a rare 5-2 win over the Bakersfield Condors Saturday night, one would think holding the same lineup together would be the latest excuse to continue keeping Meloche out. No, JC Beaudin was the healthy scratch after playing well with four shots on goals in that win and also orchestrated, along with Julien Nantel, San Antonio’s win last weekend in a come from behind 4-3 overtime win against the Iowa Wild with a goal and assist.

Speaking of Beaudin, his two month and 16 game sojourn in the ECHL with the Colorado Eagles at least kept him playing even if he belongs in the AHL. The stint got Beaudin’s offense going where he scored 16 points in that span but also gave him a place to wait out the dominoes of the Matt Duchene trade, the Blues calling a forward up and injuries to forwards in San Antonio to take place before he could return. Also it seems the sabbatical gave the organization and coaching staff confidence to use Beaudin in a decent role upon his return with third line center and second power play unit responsibilities, the latest scratch notwithstanding.

Now is it time to begin considering and possibly hoping that Meloche gets the same treatment because sitting out for weeks at a time is the most undesirable scenario. The ECHL would be a needless step back but it would provide playing time and possibly a chance for the staff to craft a future role and plan for Meloche. The other issue is the roster crunch especially on the defensive side isn’t going to disappear. It is likely that injuries and callups (or suspensions) are the only scenarios which will get Meloche regular playing time in the AHL, which calls into question the Avalanche’s development plan for him and in general. It also begs the question if any development successes are in spite of rather than because of the Avalanche development system.

Update:

The Avalanche must have arrived at the same realization that Meloche needs to play somewhere but the move is still bittersweet. He will see a lot of ice time but he belongs in the AHL. Now we see how many injuries and callups need to happen before Meloche returns to San Antonio.

* Photo credit San Antonio Rampage

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