Breaking Down: Rookies Solid but Inconsistent

Last week we graded the Avs veterans that returned from the season to be forgotten and did the heavy lifting on the ice. Now we turn to the youngsters that filled in around the lineup for the “younger, faster” phase of the Avs rebuild on the fly. As is often the case, there was good and bad and little that the staff could count on consistently. The goal here was taking the rare opportunity to develop an entire group at the NHL level and with that the org set themselves up for the future. Here’s how our BR staff marked their final exams:

full staff grades shown below

The Full-Timers

Kerfoot, Compher & Jost spent the most time with the Avs as rookie forwards this year, often together as the “Frat Line”. Injuries limited Comphs’ games played to an extent and Jost missed significant time at various points of the season. The staff learned that all 3 are NHL players but roles are still not entirely clear.

Alexander Kerfoot was a surprise signing about a week after his rights expired with the New Jersey Devils in August. He had just graduated from Harvard where he was captain and a point per game scorer in 4 years. Expectations were that he would take a role with the Rampage and go from there. Early in the rookie showcase we saw that maybe those were a little low. He impressed both fans and staff in training camp and made the opening night roster easily. He played all but 3 games and led rookies in scoring with 19G and 43 points, good for 5th on the team overall. Despite a reputation for refusing to shoot, 19 goals is awesome for a pass first guy. The Avs ended up with a skilled, productive and durable middle 6 forward that wasn’t even on the radar in early September. Many doubt he’ll be able to match his output next year but I’m honestly looking for a 50-point season with 40+ assists. The main questions are about where he’s going to fit and if his defensive zone play can continue to improve. The staff gave him a B, which I thought was low.

J.T. Compher got a shot to prove his NHL status at the end of the lost season and was a shoo-in to make the team in camp. Comphs was envisioned as a gritty, defensively responsible center that could add some scoring when need be. That’s mainly what he ended up being at the end of the season but it took a circuitous route to get there. Defensively he struggled and shooting percentage at even strength was abysmal for most of the season.  What I liked about his game is that he’s a consistent shot generator, can enter the o-zone effectively and has the speed and mindset to take advantage of rush opportunities. The defensive zone play is coming around but still some questions there that should be answered with more experience. Staff grade was C+, which I generally agree with.

Tyson Jost struggled with injury during and coming out of training camp. He missed games here and there and finally the Avs shut him down for a month then sent him to San Antonio for a rehab assignment through Thanksgiving. My opinion is that he would have benefited greatly from playing in the AHL for most of this season but for various reasons that was impractical or impossible. Hopefully he can overcome a lost year like this but it’s likely going to be a negative long-term. The real downside is that we still don’t have a good idea what his strengths are or even what his role will be, both for next year and over his career. Even though it’s not all on him, a top 10 pick playing in the NHL at age 19 should be much better than what we saw. The staff gave him a C which I would say is generous.

The Defense

The 3 rookie defensemen couldn’t be more different. Sam Girard was in his draft+2 year and ended up sticking with the Avs after being acquired in the Duchene trade. Anton Lindholm was solid and smart in limited viewing at the end of last year. Duncan Siemens is the Rasputin of Avalanche prospects.

Sam Girard is amazing to watch. He has flaws in his game but taking his age and size into consideration you just have to sit back and laugh sometimes. He’s very smart and can control the game in any situation and in any area of the ice. The Avs could have sent him back to Shawinigan to score 100 points in 50 games but they chose to keep him to get a head start on becoming a fixture on the blueline for the foreseeable future. His weaknesses are experience related things in the defensive zone and offensive production, which showed signs of improving late in the season. The main question I have is can a D with Sam’s skillset and size become a #1 in the NHL. Karlsson has opened the path for this, can Sam take it? Staff gave him an A-, which is appropriate.

Anton Lindholm looked pretty good last Spring compared to the plugs that were moved out over the summer. The hope was that a smart, physical D that can skate would be a good fit on the bottom pairing this season. Durability and puck skills were the big questions and they contributed to his lack of PT over the season. He missed most of November with a broken jaw, had a couple other setbacks over the season and only played 1 game after March 8th, while supposedly healthy. Lots of theories out there as to why, personally I think that he wasn’t good enough at any one thing and the staff wanted a specialist as the 6th D plus I think the overall effectiveness level of the defense as a whole rose down the stretch and he wasn’t keeping up. He’s still a decent young defenseman but he’s going to need to reinforce his game at the AHL level next year if a return to the Avs is in the cards. Staff gave him a D+, which seems fair.

Duncan Siemens is a guy that most fans love but have wanted to write off for years. He’s dealt with injuries early and disappointment throughout his career. Along the way he stuck with it and became a dependable defensive defenseman that can fill in when needed at the NHL level. Despite a gruesome pre-season he finally stuck in his 4th callup at the end of February and became a solid PK specialist down the stretch. He learned to play within his means, scored his 1st NHL goal from three-quarter ice and played in 5 Stanley Cup playoff games. I gave him a B vs expectations but the staff settled in the C range, which is fair.

Part-Timers

Dominic Toninato, AJ Greer and Vladislav Kamenev were guys that didn’t stick permanently in the lineup but got various shots at proving their NHL chops this season. There’s still work to be done in all 3 cases and I see them all in the AHL to begin next year but each can bring something the Avs need and have opportunities going forward.

Toninato, like Kerfoot, was signed in August right after his rights expired, in his case with the Maple Leafs. He had a solid camp and was sent to San Antonio to play lineup bingo with Coach Veilleux for a few weeks before getting his 1st callup in mid-November. In January he was called up permanently. Most fans groan at his 2 assists in 37 games and the fact he topped 10 minutes only 6 times but for a rookie 4th line true center he did his job. He doesn’t take penalties and very rarely does the opponent score when he’s out there. He generates shots at an acceptable level and CF% is top 5 among forwards. When everyone’s healthy he’s not going to be your #1 choice to anchor the 4th line but when you need him to play he does a fine job. This is what quality depth looks like. Staff gave him a C, which I thought was low.

AJ Greer is the best example yet of how dysfunctional the Avs development system works. The NHL staff asked him to do one thing, the Dev staff told him another and the AHL coaching staff ignored both when using him. What he needs is an AHL coach that knows what Jared Bednar wants and lets him play that role, i.e. – kill penalties and take tough defensive minutes when possible. He also needs to stop listening to the Dev staff when they tell him he needs to punch people in the face to get a job. Greer is the big, skilled bottom 6er the Avs want and need and messing around the past 2 years has delayed that unnecessarily. Luckily he was only 19 when he turned pro so there’s time to correct that. The staff gave him a C-, which is understandable. Regardless of what the Avs have done to him, some of that lays on him as well.

Vlad Kamenev made his Avs debut soon after the trade with Nashville and promptly had his arm broken in half by Brooks Orpik. Four months later he got thrown in the deep end during a playoff run and the staff couldn’t have the patience to let him learn on the fly. At the time Coach Bednar remarked he wished they could give him more AHL games. That would have been nice but for various reasons wasn’t an option. Kam is a skilled 2-way, middle 6 center that’s very good on the power play so losing ¾ of a season is a short-term setback but long-term he’s going to be fine. We’ll call this year an Incomplete and look forward to training camp.

The Avs got 402 games out of these 9 players or around 5 spots per night in the lineup. For a team with chronically dumb vet-heavy usage that’s outstanding. I don’t see the same rookie usage being the case going forward, nor should it be, but the under-25 percentage should continue to be high and that’s what the staff ought to be shooting for.

For me, the success stories of the season were Kerfoot and Girard, proving to be contributors right out of the box, and Toninato and Siemens, who turned out to be useful depth. Compher had some ups and downs but kept up with the level of the team and became a more complete player by the end. Greer, Jost, Lindholm and Kamenev didn’t have the success that the others did but that’s par for the course and doesn’t mean they won’t going forward.

In the final installment next week, we’ll look at the last group which I’ve artfully titled “Others” and includes players from other organizations that came in this year along with a couple that were with the Avs for only a bit during the lost season.

 

earl06

Scoring LW, punchy climber for the Ardennes classics, spirit guide

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