The beginning of February and right before the daunting month long rodeo road trip, which claims the promise out of any season, is a good time as any to look back at how the Colorado Avalanche professional level prospects’ seasons are coming along with the San Antonio Rampage. Due to much more movement at the minor league level it takes just about this long to get any kind of sample large enough to draw any conclusions from. Even so, I hesitated to write this piece because theres been some unfortunate circumstances that haven’t played out yet. However, the season is over half through and this is where things stand.
There’s a lot of interpretations of what constitutes a prospect at the pro level but sticking with those still on ELC and have yet to hit waivers, sorry Rocco. Also going to leave those on AHL contract alone regardless of usage.
AJ Greer and Dominic Toninato are both at the intermediate stage in their development and deserving of the regular call-ups they’ve received. They are currently both up with the Avalanche and should stay there if the numbers game ever works out in their favor. NHL experience has done Greer well in particular as he is much more confident with the puck on his stick. He’s been a major producer in the AHL when playing there with 10 points in 18 games. Greer is just a couple games shy of 100 total professional games played and he’s ready for the next step. His skill level and production in the NHL remains to be seen but he can absolutely help make a positive impact.
Toninato for his part has the polish and maturity of someone who is further along into his hockey career at age 23. He’s done well for himself at the NHL level when given the opportunity save for a couple mistakes. He leads the Avalanche in Corsi For at 55%. Obviously the sample size is small but when compared to other call-ups in a limited role haven’t cracked 40%, it’s easy to see that Toninato is ready to contribute. He’s bounced around the lineup in San Antonio and produced 12 points in 31 games. He may not score much or hold a bigger role than a fourth line center at the next level but those who can move the puck forward and flip match-ups in Colorado’s favor will always have a place.
On the other side of the coin, it is tough not to make too much of what’s gone on with JC Beaudin‘s development thus far in his first pro season even though it is still fairly early in his pro career. There’s numerous circumstantial reasons but the bottom line is he is not being developed at the AHL level and that is unacceptable. Early on it made some sense to help him the transition to pro hockey but we are closing in on the final third of the season now. Beaudin has reached point per game level in the ECHL with the Colorado Eagles with 22 points in 23 games and has found his offensive game. With his talent level and what he needs to develop other parts of his game it is clear he has surpassed what the ECHL can do for him and yet he continues to play there. In two stints with the San Antonio Rampage with four points in 17 games, Beaudin was sent down twice just after finding his footing due to the Avalanche and St Louis Blues sending forwards down. Beaudin dutifully plays the role of fourth line center giving the team energy and moves the puck forward into the offensive zone and continues to try making the plays which are the strength of his talents. Yet because he’s the youngest and not guaranteed a spot for being a Blues player, he’s the one that has to wait around in the ECHL for a roster spot instead of those on AHL deals or expiring contracts who have no future with the Avalanche or those who don’t produce given more games and minutes. Hopefully someone in the Avalanche organization figures out a solution before it’s too late.
Nicolas Meloche is in the same situation as Beaudin. He’s the youngest defenseman on the roster and therefore was in and out of the lineup and even sent to the Eagles just to have somewhere to play at one point. Injuries to Chris Bigras in particular was the blessing in disguise for Meloche as it occurred on a call up he received on a technicality and allowed him to stay on the roster. As Andrei Mironov flamed out in San Antonio, Meloche started playing more minutes and even resembled top pair duties on occasion. Meloche has played in the lineup for a month consecutively now and improvement is starting to show in his confidence with the puck in the defensive zone and starting to put some plays together in the offensive zone, although he has 6 points in 27 games. It would be a shame to derail this progress of playing a month of consecutive games by sending him to the bench or down to a level he doesn’t belong because of the numbers game but the impending return of Bigras, Mironov or a Blues defenseman would likely spell doom. If Meloche is a seen as a part of the future it might be a good idea to prioritize his development.
Mason Geertsen has improved his game this season to the level of a defenseman who can play every night and has chipped in modest points with three in 40 games. It’s too bad that it’s taken to his third year pro to get to that level as the organization didn’t have much use for him as a defenseman in his first two years and he focused on fighting a bit too much as well. Geertsen plays his role of a third pairing guy well now but there’s a lot of those types in the organization.
Julien Nantel is a bit of the same boat as Geertsen. He does have one extra year remaining and has become a mainstay in the Rampage lineup but it’s tough to see if the Avalanche have any sort of plan to use him in a fourth line role now or in the future. Nantel is the perfect fourth line energy forward and a regular on the penalty kill. He’s chipped in six goals in 35 games this season and works well in a bottom six role.
Spencer Martin like any developing goalie has his ups and downs. He’s generally played well this season splitting time with Blues prospect Ville Husso. It’s not the dire circumstance painted by his call-up and disastrous second half last year but Martin will still need a few years at this level before really knowing if he’s an option for the Avalanche. His .901 save percentage no doubt needs to improve but he’s been much more consistent in net, so that’s at least encouraging.
Sergei Boikov hasn’t been seen or heard from this season unfortunately, not that there would be any room on the Rampage defense for him. Chris Bigras has only played nine games and scored one point in San Antonio this season after getting booted in Colorado because basically Sam Girard took his job and then subsequently suffering a lower body injury. Therefore, there isn’t much to say about his progress, not that there seems to be much future left for him on the Avalanche. If one considers Reid Petryk an Avalanche prospect, he’s been on the shelf for a while too dealing with post-concussion symptoms and has scored eight points in 27 games.
Andrei Mironov is best left in Colorado even if he never plays. Getting some consistent ice time on the North American ice surface was a good idea at first but then he just decided to use his time in the minor leagues for his own amusement. Some heroic offensive moments have lead to nine points in 22 games. After some careless and selfish play, particularly one overtime where his pretend Karlsson act left the Rampage in defeat, his minutes started to scale back leading to his eventual call-up to the NHL this week. If the Avalanche can salvage something out of this situation, good luck because it’s anyone’s guess where they go with Mironov’s one year remaining on his contract from here.
It is a year of transition with the Blues taking space and impending move to Colorado make the politics of decisions weigh heavier but to be clear the development problems this season are not due to these unique circumstances. It is a continuation of the same problems that have plagued the organization for over a decade and are only enhanced by these outside factors. Those issues of giving priority to roster filler over development, sagging in the second half after a strong start and just general lack of progress from top to bottom keep occurring. Hopefully the last 32 games in the Rampage season lead to more solutions than questions.
*Credit to the San Antonio Rampage for the photo