The picture for the Eagles defense is a little more clear compared to the forwards. We have 8 players on NHL contracts, 3 on AHL deals and a couple of known tryouts so far. Our ECHL affiliate in Utah has only 2 defensemen signed so what we’re going through here is a shootout for spots on both clubs.
The Avs have been severely left-handed on D in the minors for years but that’s now balanced out a little with 4 rightys. This is also a big squad, averaging 6’2 and over 200 pounds, and young with an average below 23 years old.
Mark Alt – Was picked up on waivers at the deadline from the Flyers organization where he’s played for most of the last 5 years in Lehigh Valley. At 26 he’ll be one of the leaders on the team. Plays a solid defensive game and can contribute some offense. Average AHL season has been a little over 50 games and around 16 points.
Nicolas Meloche – After struggling to find playing time in the first couple months of the Rampage’s season he really came into his own in February and March and was their best D in the 2nd half of the year. Nic is a skilled & physical big defenseman that can move the puck well. We’re still looking for the offense he showed in the QMJHL and I think that’s going to blossom this year with some skilled forwards on the roster and a more logical overall system. My bet is that he gets a couple of callups to the Avs by year’s end.
Conor Timmins – Was selected with the first pick in the 2nd round last summer and has impressed since. He stuck around for quite a while in last year’s training camp before returning to Sault Ste Marie where he put up 59 points in 59 regular and post season games. Along the way he stole the show on Team Canada’s blueline at WJC’s along with our good friend Cale Makar. The big question is what are the Avs going to focus on with Timmins. We know he’s a skilled playmaker and good on the PP and I’m pretty sure continuing that’s not going to be a problem going forward. The difference between good and great is going to come from how well he plays outside of the offensive zone and that’s where he needs to improve to take the next step.
Kevin Davis – Was captain of the Everett Silvertips in his overage year and used that to back up a solid 16-17 campaign where his offense really took off. He scored 124 points in 143 games over the last couple of years after starting out averaging a point every 4 games in his first few seasons in the dub. The Avs invited him to development camp this summer and he earned an AHL contract out of it. He will probably end up in Utah to start the season but be on the callup list for sure.
David Warsofsky – The old man of the team at 28 and over 400 pro games, Wars will likely be the top pair scoring D to start the year. System issues and callups kept him from getting in a rhythm last year but even so he put up 20 points in 47 games, which was low for him but not bad for that team.
Mason Geertsen – Took advantage of being healthy and getting consistent TOI for the first time in his pro career and was one of the few players that actively improved over last season. He’s never going to be a skilled scorer but 3 years on terrible teams have hidden some potential there. I think he can put up around 15 points this season even in his expected role on a shutdown pair.
Ryan Graves – This is a player in need of a big comeback season. Graves is enormous and in his first two pro seasons could score, which is a combo scouts and player personnel directors dream about. I think this all comes down to how much of the Avs Summer training regime he’s been able to draw from and how well he fits into whatever the new defensive system is. It’s worth a shot but if it’s the same show as last year I hope the staff are willing to explore other options.
Sergei Boikov – Badly injured his shoulder in last pre-season and we never saw him again, which is a shame since he was coming off the Eagles first Kelly Cup and looked great in camp up until then. This could be some serious found money. Boikov is a wonderful skater, has good size and physicality and scored at a decent rate as a rookie. With a year off we have no idea what to expect now but if he gets right back on track he’s going to force the coaching staff to play him. Luckily Coaches Schneekloth and Tobler are familiar with him so they don’t have to make blind decisions.
Josh Anderson – Big, strong and very young, he and Timmins were born 3 weeks apart even though they’re in different draft classes, Josh is a straight up defensive defenseman. Despite only being 19 years old, he’s physically ready to play pros at 6’3 and over 220 pounds. After being traded to Swift Current mid-season he showed a little more offensive skill than what we saw in Prince George and developing that to a passable level will be the key if he’s going to get a chance at the NHL. My big worry here is that he takes the goon role and ends up hurt all the time like Mason in his first two years.
Turner Ottenbreit – Like Kevin Davis, he turned an overage year in the WHL into a chance to show that he could produce offensively and earn a chance at a pro career. I was impressed with the handful of games he had with the Rampage at the end of last season and that carried through development camp this summer, ultimately leading to an AHL contract. He’s got good size, skates well, defends well and can score. He’s also going to be headed to the Grizzles to begin the year more than likely but should be a good example of quality young depth throughout the season.
Matt Pufahl – Four years ago he had a late-season tryout with the Lake Erie Monsters (that’s two affiliates ago…) but opted to craft a productive career at Acadia University instead of hitting pros right away. From what I remember he’s a big D but a playmaker rather than a defensive guy. He had a goal on that 5-game PTO but could have had several points easily. Like the other AHL contracted D’s he’s probably headed to Utah at first and we’ll see what happens from there.
Others – I didn’t mention Anton Lindholm because from what I hear the AHL isn’t in the cards this year. Nolan De Jong had an AHL contract with the Rampage last season and played 6 games there along with 50 in Loveland. He’s got a rookie camp invite again and has signed with the Grizzlies. Alex Breton is yet another overage CHL captain looking for work and will be at rookie camp. I imagine a couple more Grizzlies D’s will be around for training camp as well.
There’s a good core group of 8 on NHL contracts and solid depth to complement that with the minor league signings. I like the mix of size speed and depth, it’s been a couple years now since the Avs have had full control over building the AHL roster so it’s an opportunity to show how they’ve grown as an organization. Like with the forward lines last week it’s a little early to start projecting pairs but why not, it’s fun.
Warsofsky – Meloche
Graves – Alt
Geertsen – Timmins
These check a lot of the Avs tendencies like youth with experience and offense with defense. Geertsen and Graves could swap and I wouldn’t be surprised. Pairs in the AHL aren’t like the NHL where the 5&6 don’t see a lot of action, 5v5 time on ice is a lot closer together. I would look for Warsofsky and Timmins to get the most PP time but Meloche will get some too. Geertsen and Alt would probably be the primary penalty killers but everyone will get shifts there.
If those 6 are indeed the starters, what happens to the rest is very interesting. Who stays, will they rotate the 7th (or 8th even) D in much, and so forth. There aren’t any back-to-back-to-backs with the reduced 68 game schedule and they don’t even play any mid-week games until November. The longest road trip is 6 games and it’s broken up by the All-Star Break. Other than spelling guys that are nursing minor injuries there won’t be a ton of need for extras. With Utah so close I’m thinking that anyone that doesn’t play for more than two weekends in a row gets swapped out.
Avalanche Rookie Camp will take place mainly in Las Vegas but they do have a single practice on the morning of September 7th at FSC. Look for a review of the goalies & coaches coming soon.