The holiday break is the perfect occasion to take a bigger picture look at how the Colorado Avalanche’s stable of prospects are performing this season. As the seasons pause around the globe, some will be involved in the World Junior Championship while others will see their teams bolster rosters or liquidate assets for the second half of the season. Here’s a look where all amateur prospects and their teams stand.
Shane Bowers – Center – Boston University (Hockey East)
Getting to know the Avalanche’s newest prospect has been a fun exercise in discovering the different facets of his game. Shane Bowers plays an energetic, north-south, tough on the boards and gets his nose dirty style but he’s also defensively responsible and is a crafty playmaking center with good vision and hockey IQ. BU has him in a second line center position with time on both special teams units and he is flourishing with such a large role for a freshman on a team with a lot of NHL drafted players. Bowers seems to get pigeonholed into a ceiling without much upside beyond a dependable third liner but he just keeps producing wherever he goes. In his 19 games with the Terriers, Bowers has scored eight goals and 14 points, which is good for second in goals and fifth in scoring for the team as well as third in goals from all NCAA freshman. Bowers also generates shots at nearly a three per game clip, has won 51.2% of his draws and has the second highest plus minus on the team at +7. So far Bowers is developing nicely and should be ready for a professional contract when the Avalanche have room in their system for him. One more year in school might be the right answer but he would not look out of place in the AHL right now.
As far as BU themselves, it hasn’t been as successful of a year for the team as they had hoped. With a loaded roster of NHL prospects they are just 6-6-1 in conference play and 8-10-1 overall. The issue isn’t scoring goals but rather preventing them. Superstar goalie Dallas Stars prospect Jake Oettinger hasn’t had the greatest campaign with a 7-9-1 record and .902 save percentage but the defense in front of him hasn’t given him any favors either. BU faces going into the second half of the season unranked and needing to make headway in conference play to climb higher than their current fourth position and earn a berth into the NCAA tournament.
Cale Makar – Defenseman – Massachusetts (Hockey East)
No amateur prospect in the Avs’ system has recieved more curiosity than Cale Makar and now the spotlight shines bright as he takes the world stage on the blueline for team Canada in the World Junior Championship. It’s tough to see so much emphasis placed on a singular event but hopefully Makar can put to bed those lingering questions about his size, defensive aptitude and potential to translate his offense to the professional game.
But first, a look back at how his collegiate season has progressed thus far. Makar has tallied a goal and added eight assists, which is fifth in team scoring and tops for defensemen with UMass. With the questions about can Makar defend adequately, he’s a +7 on a team with a -7 goal differential. Makar leads all freshmen defensemen and fifth among all freshmen skaters with 3 shots on goal per game. While sexier production is what folks want to see to judge his progress, it’s the impact on the game on both sides of the puck coupled with his hockey sense and skating which is going to show Makar’s readiness for a contract this spring. Makar also shows a good defensive aptitude and responsibility in the defensive zone. UMass is a slowly improving team even if it doesn’t look pretty all the time. The offensive structure they have isn’t conducive to generating a lot of goals, especially from the back end and UMass averages fewer than three goals scored per game. They’ve eclipsed their five wins from last season with nine already and are 3-4 in Hockey East conference play, which is good for 9th in the conference but with several games in hand. They could carry some momentum into their second half and make some noise in the conference tournament.
Cam Morrison – Left Wing – Notre Dame (Big 10)
Cam Morrison continues to see top line ice time on the left wing and has produced at an acceptable clip with four goals and 12 points in 20 games. However, many were hoping to see the production take a step forward this season as he sits just seventh in team scoring this sophomore campaign. Also, what hasn’t improved as much as some would hope is Morrison’s skating and puck handling. He might not be ready for a professional contract next season, which isn’t the worst situation for him especially if he prefers to remain in school. Hopefully Morrison can finish the season strong and see a long run to a championship in the spring. Notre Dame is poised for one sitting currently as the 3rd ranked team in the country and also on a thirteen game win streak with an undefeated 10 win record in Big 10 conference play. The Fighting Irish have had nothing short of a dominant first half and look to continue that through the spring.
Denis Smirnov – Left Wing – Penn State (Big 10)
A month long illness was the only thing that could slow Denis Smirnov down from filling in the scoresheet at almost a nightly pace and yet he still sits second on his team in goals with nine and fourth on the team in points with 17 in just 12 games. Penn State is currently ranked 15th in the nation with a 4-4-2 conference record and should enjoy a long run to the Frozen Four this spring. At this point, Smirnov has shown just about all he can at the college level with his unstoppable production and the creativity and skill level in his game is clearly evident. The questions about his skating, defense and translating his offense to a higher level will only be answered when and if he signs a pro contract.
Josh Anderson – Defenseman – Prince George (WHL)
Written off by most as a low upside pick living up to his billing, Josh Anderson has found his groove this season in Prince George. While Anderson is never going to get labeled as a dynamic points producer, he has taken charge with the puck a lot more this season and is even putting points on the board. He is shooting more and leading the rush at times and has modest production of a goal and five assists in 20 games. Anderson still brings that heavy, bruising and physical shut down defensive style plus he has taken on more responsibility as a fourth year player. A shoulder injury that sidelined him for a month hasn’t even derailed his progress this season.
Prince George isn’t enjoying a productive season themselves as they currently hold a record of 12-17-5 and sit last in the Western Conference. After their miracle year and winning the division last year, this is definitely a disappointing but not completely unexpected start to their season after a lot of key pieces from last season graduated. It’s fair to wonder if the Cougars are going to look to sell some assets at the trade deadline and if Anderson might be an attractive option to a team looking to add defensive depth. Anderson could still be a real option for the Avs to sign because he has developed for the type of player he is, which the team was fully aware of and on board with when they selected him on draft day.
Travis Barron – Left Wing – Ottawa (OHL)
A real leader in every sense, Travis Barron embodies what it means to be a captain for a young squad and leads by example every night by setting a physical tone and as an emotional leader. Where Barron has made the most growth over the time is embracing the type of player he is and finding the consistency in his game. Barron has found the power in his game and transitioned from trying to live up to the skill expectations of a third overall OHL draft pick. This season, a healthier rate of production has followed that epiphany with 26 points in 33 games, good for second on the team in scoring. While he might not translate that scoring rate to the next level, the intangibles and the comfort in his game should. This season Barron has been a fixture on Ottawa’s top line with San Jose prospect Sasha Chmelevski and a favorite underrated 2018 draft eligible Kody Clark. Barron also sees a ton of special teams play and defensive situations, he is the rock for the 67s.
Ottawa is a young team comprised of mostly 16 and 17 year-olds and thus are showing youthful inconsistencies. They currently have a record of 15-16-3, good for third in the division and fifth in the conference, although they’ve gone 2-7-2 in their last stretch of games before the holidays. As a likely early exit playoff team, Ottawa could look to sell some of their older players heading into the trade deadline but have indicated they’d prefer to stand pat and let Barron lead the young squad and get some playoff experience even if Barron is expected to sign with the Avs this spring and play professional hockey next season.
Nick Henry – Right Wing – Regina (WHL)
Still getting back into the swing of things as Nick Henry only made his season debut in early November following summer shoulder surgery. However, Henry was inserted back on the top line on the right wing with superstar Anaheim Ducks prospect Sam Steel and their chemistry hasn’t missed a beat. Henry has put up 13 points in 17 games with four goals so he’s still finding his game after missing a lot of time but he is averaging over three shots on goal per game and the goals will come in time. Henry’s shot is powerful and quick and he plays with the finesse of a top flight winger. He will look to take on a bigger role with teammates Steel away at the World Junior Championship.
Regina itself is going through a slump and have lost six of their last seven heading into the break and currently sit fourth in their division with a record of 16-17-3. That’s not going to cut it for the Memorial Cup hosts and they should look to make some aggressive moves to fortify their lineup in advance of the early January trade deadline. Their coffers are already getting thin so it’s going to take some creativity and probably a massive rebuild after their run, which could likely involve moving Henry next season.
Ty Lewis – Left Wing – Brandon (WHL)
There isn’t a more fun prospect to watch right now in the Avs’ system than Ty Lewis. The points are nice to watch roll in to the tune of 55 points and 17 goals in 33 games including the fourth highest assist total in the entire CHL with 38. It is entertaining watching him score so consistently but it’s the way he plays hard, fast and confident every single night that’s the real treat. Lewis plays a heavy game on the boards and loves to play aggressive in transition with a real nose for the net. His production has been consistent recently snapping a 13 game points streak to go along with another 13 game point streak he opened the season with. Lewis averages 3.42 shots on goal per game and is always dangerous in the offensive zone.
There are lot of questions surrounding Lewis and what to make of such explosive production from an undrafted player. No doubt he’s in a good situation as one of the 19 year-old leaders on a very competitive team and expected to contribute points but it’s a special season seeing Lewis lead his team in scoring plus hang in the top ten of WHL scoring all year and currently sit 6th. He is not an “overager” as what’s commonly reported as that’s reserved for those who are in their 20 year old seasons and available for pro hockey. Lewis is still playing among his teenage peers. Other questions about his eventual upside persist as well. IF everything goes right in development he could be a middle six winger because his shot and speed are professional quality plus he has the hockey sense and defensive aptitude for the next level.
Brandon is enjoying a season which could lead to a special run in the spring with a 24-8-1 record and just saw a 10 game win streak snapped prior to the holiday break. They sit third in a very strong division and also third in the league. This group of the last remnants and depth youth from their championship run and Memorial Cup appearance in 2015 didn’t have many expectations going into the season but are enjoying strong chemistry and breakout performances from Lewis and others such as top LA Kings prospect Kale Clague. Brandon could make one last run with the group they have before next year’s graduations and even find themselves mild buyers at the trade deadline.
Conor Timmins – Defenseman – Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Just as the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds have capped off an incredible first half with an record setting 20 game and counting winning streak and a record of 29-3-2 so has Conor Timmins with a place on Canada’s blueline for the World Junior Championship. Timmins really seemed to pick up the confidence after his dazzling performance in the fourth game of the Canada Russia series, which earned him player of the game honors. Since then Timmins produced 17 points in 11 games plus four goals giving him a total of 34 points including six goals in 28 games, good for 6th in league scoring from defensemen. Getting hot at the right time clearly really impressed and got the attention of Hockey Canada.
The Greyhounds have everything it takes to win the OHL championship and even the Memorial Cup, it will be a surprise at this point if they don’t make a serious push to meet those accomplishments. Timmins no doubt contributes to the success of the Greyhounds’ stifling puck possession system with his smart and aggressive quick puck movement but that system covers up some of his flaws as well. The skating is still something Timmins needs to work on and he can get beat by speedy forwards. His risky tendency can lead to some poor decisions with the puck too. Timmins is at his best when he’s aggressive and confident when his play with the puck and offensive IQ really shine through. Timmins will be eligible to play pro next season and should have been signed to his ELC by now so he can have the contract slide should he play in the AHL next season.
Nate Clurman – Defenseman – Tri-City (USHL)
The first half of the season has been a bit unexpected for Nate Clurman as he has struggled to produce in his first season in the USHL with only three assists in 20 games. Tri-City is a strong defensive team as they sit second in the Western Conference with a record of 16-6 and have only scored 55 goals while giving up 37, thus it is understood to an extent that production might be difficult to generate on this team. However, as one of the older players in the league and already in his second year post draft, the hope was that Clurman would be further ahead in his development. He’s also not seeing a lot of ice time and his game looks a bit raw for a player who hopes to make the jump to the Notre Dame in the NCAA in a year. Hopefully the development trajectory takes off a bit for Clurman in the second half of the season.
Nicky Leivermann – Defenseman – Pentiction (BCHL)
Conversely, it seems Nicky Leivermann selected the best place for the next stage in his development with the excellent Penticton Vees in the BCHL. A perennial contender, Penticton sits third in their division with a 22-7-4 record. Leivermann is second on the team in scoring with 27 points including seven goals in 32 games. Goals are a lot easier to come by in the BCHL as Penticton has scored 117 of them and routinely engage in high scoring affairs. Still, it’s great to see Leivermann has made such an impact on his team in the short time he’s been with them and should be ready for the next step to Notre Dame in the next year. Playing in such a defensive program there will help balance the offense he’s had in his career thus far.
Gustav Olhaver – Center – Oskarshamn IK (Allsvenskan)
In his second season back in Europe, Olhaver is currently playing in the Allsvenskan with Oskarshamn. He’s played 26 games with the production of 10 points including five goals. He sees a lot of his success at the net front, which makes sense given his size. Olhaver continues to plug away and could maybe even see a recall to the SHL sometime this season. Oskarshamn sits fourth in the league with a record of 15-9-4. Given the increasing options at forward at the Avalanche’s disposal, it’s tough to see Olhaver a candidate for a pro contract right now.
Igor Shvyryov – Center – Metallurg Magnitagorisk (KHL)
Even from afar it’s been noticeable that it has been a frustrating season for Igor Shyvryov. He spends most of his time with the KHL team Metallurg Magnitagorisk getting very low ice time at an average of 3:46 in 22 games, which explains his production of only one goal. Sometimes he dresses but does not play or inexplicably gets one very short shift. In four games he dressed in the month of December Shvyryov saw the ice for all of fourteen seconds. About once a month he goes down to the MHL to feast on junior competition to the tune of 13 points including five goals in six total games. Shvyryov got a brief reprieve to play at the Four Nations tournament where he performed well but it wasn’t enough to catch an invite to the Russia national team camp for the World Junior Championship. Shvyryov is a very skilled and creative center with a great release on his shot, which was all on display at that tournament. Where he goes from here is anyone’s guess and probably depends on his interest level in playing in North America. He could likely play right away at a young age in the AHL like what Vladislav Kamenev did, incidentally from the same Magnitagorisk system, or bide his time in the KHL and hope for an increased role eventually.
Petr Kvaca – Goaltender – HC Ceska Budejovice (Czech2)
The goalies all deserve mention but it’s difficult to have much evaluation having never seen them play. Most notably has been Petr Kvaca who has put up some impressive numbers with a 1.57 GAA and .931 save percentage for HC Ceska Budejovice in the Czech2 league. The numbers are eye popping but it is a low scoring league but Kvaca stands second and third respectively in the league in both statistics. Kvaca earned a brief callup to the top league for Sparta Praha but didn’t fare as well with a 5.40 goals against average and .833 save percentage in two starts. It’s tough to get a handle on what the Avalanche want to see in a European goalie before deciding to develop one in North America but Kvaca could begin that journey sooner than later.
Adam Werner – Goaltender – Bjorkloven (Allsvenskan)
Werner has had an up and down season himself with a 2.71 goals against average and .902 save percentage for Bjorkloven in the Allsvenskan. He has seen the bulk of the team’s starts with 25 appearances and a 13-12 record. They are a middle of the pack team sitting 7th in the league. Like Kvaca, Werner falls into the same boat as far as when to pull the trigger on one of them to start developing in North America.
Who do you think has enjoyed the best first half or who has progressed the most? Who has the most to gain in the second half? We’ll again take a look at their full season progress just before the playoffs get underway in March.