From the Rampage Desk: Searching For Improvement

In this final chapter looking back on the Rampage’s last season affiliated with the Avs I’m going to examine the youngest pros in the system and how they progressed. Finding playing time was difficult for some, as I’ve shown the coach wasn’t interested in using spots in the lineup for developing young players and the organization was either oblivious or apathetic about what went on in San Antonio in general.

For some context and a reminder, sharing the affiliation with St Louis was perhaps an issue psychologically but the numbers tell us that there were plenty of lineup spots for whoever the staff wanted to use. St Louis on average took up 3 forward spots and 1.5 defense spots in every game, meaning the Avs controlled 9 forwards and 4.5 defensemen. Goalie usage ended up more or less even thanks to callups and schedule quirks.

3rd Year Pros

Mason Geertsen – 72 games

Geertsen was healthy all season for the first time in his pro career and that made a huge difference in his progression. Even though he didn’t wear a letter, by all accounts he took a leadership role with the team and was the Rampage’s Nominee for the AHL Man of the Year Award. On the ice he became consistent in the defensive zone and showed signs of a little offense with 3 goals and 9 points overall. He’s got some work to do to be considered for an NHL callup and more competition on the way but he’s become quality organizational depth. I would call him one of the few success stories of the year.

Spencer Martin – 34 games

Martin had a hot start to the season going 6-1-1 in the first month of the season and earning AHL Player of the Week honors in early November. Unfortunately that was the pinnacle of the season for him and he eventually lost the starter’s job to Ville Husso, winning only 8 more games the rest of the year. Despite spending a fair amount of time in Colorado he never got in an NHL game there, leading to speculation about his future with the org. He’s got talent but consistency has been elusive in his 3 years as a pro unfortunately. I think the Avs will give him a show-me contract and a year to work with Jussi Parkkila and the Eagles staff, hopefully that gets him on track. Playing for an awful team all 3 years has done him no favors and I’d like to see what he can do with some talent in front of him.

Chris Bigras/Ryan Graves – 20/21 games

I’m lumping these two together because they’re two sides of the same coin and of course were traded for each other at the deadline. Their scoring stats were identical in practically the same amount of games and neither were dependable defensively. Bigras started with the Avs but couldn’t stick, played a little with the Rampage before getting injured then started showing something resembling decent hockey about 2 weeks before getting traded. Graves came over from Hartford and never really looked at home in the Rampage system. He’s quite big and the Avs have his RFA rights if they choose to retain them. If they do I’d like to see him get in better condition over the summer and work with Skating Coach Tracy Tutton, speed is an organization-wide phenomena and if he can’t keep up then it’s not going to work.

2nd Year Pros

AJ Greer – 35 Games

Greer spent some long chunks of time with the Avs this year along with a few injuries which limited him to less than half a season. My thoughts are well documented elsewhere about the AHL staff’s refusal to play him on the PK or otherwise prepare him for the NHL role he’s slated for. It’s tough to watch a player that has talent go back and forth in his 2nd pro year and be able to take little from either league and apply it to the other. He still played professional hockey and spent time at the NHL level so calling the season a waste is hyperbolic but I definitely feel like he got far less out of this year than he could have.

Julien Nantel – 48 Games

Like Greer, Nantel missed a fair chunk of time playing in a different league but for him it was the ECHL. Despite having characteristics that play well into the Avs systems like quickness and comfortable playing an attacking style defensively, he couldn’t find a permanent home in the lineup. His offense has never developed at the AHL level but he tends to play well with skilled players anyway and makes them better. I would tap him as a guy that’s really going to benefit from a change in coaching staffs.

Shawn St-Amant – 34 games

St-A was on an AHL contract for the 2nd year but he attended Dev Camp and the Rookie Showcase so I’m putting him in here with the other prospects. He missed the first couple months of the year with a pre-season injury which means by the time he came back they were already starting to fall off the cliff. Even though his skillset is very similar to Nantel’s, the coach kept trying to force fit him into a scoring role with little to show for it. I doubt he’s got NHL upside but he did win the QMJHL Selke award so he can be very useful on a quick, attacking defensive team and provide some opportunistic scoring, if he gets a coach that uses him so.

1st Year Pros

Nicolas Meloche – 58 Games

A couple weeks into the season it was apparent that getting ice time for Nic, the Avs top pro prospect defenseman, wasn’t a priority for the coaching staff. He was sporadically scratched and there’s nothing wrong with that really, rookies benefit from a game off here and there to soak in systems from the press box and to be honest he wasn’t playing up to his capabilities every night. The key is to get a player like Nic back in the lineup quick after a game off so learning can continue and that wasn’t what was happening. Ultimately he ended up getting demoted to the ECHL for most of December.

Whether there was a change in his play after or it was purely personnel related, he wasn’t healthy scratched again. By the end of the season he was the Rampage’s best defenseman and neck-and-neck with Mason Geertsen for most improved. Take out the unnecessary scratches and demotion in the Fall and he might have been good enough, early enough, to make a difference while the team was collapsing in January and February. He’s still got plenty of room to expand his game, especially offensively, so that’s what we are going to look for in the early part of next year.

Dominic Toninato – 31 Games

Toninato split his time between the Avs and Rampage, by mid-January he was basically in the NHL for good. While in San Antonio the staff bounced him around the lineup in various spots, mostly as a top 6 center but occasionally on the 4th line for reasons I can only guess at. Like Greer, he didn’t get usage in the PK/defensive role that was the ticket to the NHL and at times it looked like the staff were actively avoiding putting him in those situations, which is baffling. I’ll call the season a partial success since he ended up playing in the NHL but as far as showing improvement and broadening of his game in the AHL, it was fairly static. Dom is very close to exactly what you need from a depth center in the NHL and a little improvement in some fundamentals would have gone a long way.

J-C Beaudin – 34 games

After getting drafted by the Avs in 2015, Beaudin had 162 points in 123 games for Rouyn-Noranda so looking at him as a scorer is a fair assessment. A better assessment would be to look at how he got those points and what his strengths are that could lead him to NHL time. Instead the staff decided to demote him to the ECHL before giving him a chance with the Rampage. And they kept demoting him, 4 times in total.

I’ll be the first to admit that his play was underwhelming in the AHL but asking a rookie to play at the level of his teammates when he’s not around to practice and play and grow with them is lunacy. If the goal is to create a more polished and confident AHL pro then the simple solution is to use one of the 9 forward spots available in the lineup every night on player that will help win games when it matters. Beaudin was 2 months behind everyone by the time they got around to inserting him into the lineup and it showed. For all practical purposes the staff kept punishing him for not having been in the lineup when they were the ones not putting him in the lineup.

This sounds like excuse-making and it is to an extent. When a young player is tentative and unproductive late in the year, I want to know if it’s an issue with talent or skills and it’s tough to say one way or another here. At least when a player is in the lineup every night and doesn’t measure up the organization can learn something but in this case a year has gone by and nothing was determined.

 

I liked what I saw by the end of the season from Geertsen and Meloche and at least we have a couple of success stories from another last place finish. Toninato made the jump to the NHL in spite of what happened in San Antonio so that’s nice to see too. The rest gained little more than experience and lost another year relative to their peers. They’ll never get that back and the hope is in a more stable situation with the Eagles next year some damage can be undone. There are a lot of positives on the horizon for the Avs pro prospects and plenty of help on the way for the roster that can finally get the program to a tipping point towards success.

 

This will be the final From the Rampage Desk column and I’d like to thank SSE, the Rampage PR Department, Dan Weiss, Nate, JP & Topher from Running With the Herd and the other wonderful Rampage fans I’ve gotten to interact with over the past 3 years for an interesting, if unsuccessful, time. Take care, and see you next year.

 

 

Thanks as always to the Rampage for the feature photo and the AHL and eliteprospects for stats and biographical information

earl06

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

%d bloggers like this: