As most Avalanche prospects take a pause in their seasons for either the holidays or to participate in the World Junior Championship, now is the perfect time to examine their seasons thus far in-depth beyond their weekly highlights. This will cover the non-professional or NHL contracted prospects as those will get a closer look around the AHL All-Star break in January.
Massachusetts has enjoyed a historic start including their first ever number one USCHO.com ranking and a 14-2-0 start including a 7-0 record in conference play to currently remain ranked second. The team’s offense is one of the best in the NCAA scoring over four goals per game and Cale Makar is a big part of that offense. He is second on the team in scoring with 19 points in 16 games including six goals, which is nearly to his freshman 21 point total in less than half of the games. Makar’s defensive game continues to round out and he’s much more consistent in asserting his offensive gifts this season. The talent level around him is much improved and Makar is able to shine among his peers.
Everything has gone wrong for Boston University with a 5-8-2 start. The new coaching staff hasn’t helped and the team is struggling to score goals at just over two per game on average. Shane Bowers has posted modest totals thus far with eight points in 15 games but is tied for second on the team with five goals and has posted five points in his last four contests. It is not for a lack of trying as Bowers averages nearly four shots on goal per game including a whopping 12 in a victory against Maine. He has played mostly as the Terriers’ top center but the coaching staff has shuffled the lines a bit to try and get something going and Bowers has even seen time on the wing. Despite the early difficulties Hockey Canada still included Bowers in their plans for the World Junior Championship and are poised to play him in a defensive center role with penalty killing duties.
After a bit of a dramatic summer Sampo Ranta settled into Minnesota for his freshman season. He has mainly been on a middle six scoring line with power play opportunities and has posted seven points including four goals in 15 games. Two of those goals came in his last three contests before the holiday break and departure for Finland’s World Junior camp. At times it’s evident he is still adjusting to playing at a higher level but the skill shines through easily as well with Ranta a threat to pass or shoot. He also uses his big frame successfully on the forecheck. Minnesota is hanging in the Big 10 with a 5-6-4 record and hopes to make noise in the second half. Ranta is still a part of Finland’s World Junior team as an extra forward but has not been officially registered as part of the roster yet.
Notre Dame is the home of three Avalanche prospects who all hold various roles within the team. The program has enjoyed an 11-5-1 start and are ranked sixth in the country by USCHO.com. The Fighting Irish are still jockeying for position within the Big Ten conference and currently sit third behind Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Cam Morrison started the year strong with a three point night in a win against Omaha but only had five total points in nine games before he sat out three games with an injury. Since his return Morrison has a five game point streak going with four goals and three assists in that span for a total of 12 points in 14 games on the season. Morrison generally plays as a top six left wing but does bounce around several different lines and hopes to find some consistency in his play. Mobility is still an issue but Morrison lives for the deflection or tipped goal plus his shot when he has the time and space for it.
Nate Clurman has played in every game for the Fighting Irish thus far and is playing in a mainly defensive role in third pairing defenseman type minutes but is used on the penalty kill and in defensive situations. He has also chipped in one assist in 17 games. For a freshman, albeit older, he plays a pretty responsible defensive game and is starting to take a few more offensive chances in Notre Dame’s rigid system. After his lackluster season in the USHL it is good to see Clurman find his niche at the collegiate level.
Conversely Nicky Leivermann is working through some freshman blues as he’s been a frequent scratch and has only dressed in 10 games this season, typically one night per weekend as the seventh defenseman. He too has chipped in one assist so far for Notre Dame. The puck skill and offensive instincts are there and hopefully in the second half Leivermann can earn the coaching staff’s trust a bit more as he does have the potential to bring a different dimension and some offense to the program.
Another forward looking for consistency is Denis Smirnov who has posted 10 points including four goals in 15 games. Despite playing for the most prolific offense in the country at over five goals scored per game, Smirnov has not posted any multi-point efforts. He often finds himself in a smaller role on one of the lower lines plus also contributes on the power play. Penn State has enjoyed a 11-5-2 start and are ranked ninth by USCHO.com.
It hasn’t been much of a season thus far for Tyler Weiss as he missed nearly the first two months with an injury sustained in exhibition. In the six games since his return Weiss has posted one assist mainly playing in a bottom six role on the wing. The Omaha squad is a young one and has a 4-10-2 record thus far in the NCHC as both the team and Weiss hope for a bigger second half.
Nick Henry has had an eventful first half of the season as he caught fire in November with hat tricks in consecutive weeks hoping to grab the Avalanche front office’s attention. Henry scored a total of 40 points including 15 goals in 25 for the Regina Pats before the rebuilding club changed his address in a trade with teammate Jake Leschyshyn to the Lethbridge Hurricanes on November 30th. Since then Henry has taken some time to adjust to his new team as he’s posted seven points including a goal in eight games playing on the top line right wing. Henry continues to use his shot as his greatest asset but is rounding out his game defensively as well.
Lethbridge (18-9-6) currently sits in a three-way tie for first place in the WHL’s Central division as the trade has already paid dividends helping them move up from fourth place in just a matter of weeks. They are poised for a strong second half and long playoff run as they showcase top draft eligible Dylan Cozens.
Making the most of his overage year after getting sent back to Hamilton in the OHL by the Avalanche, Brandon Saigeon is another continuing to do everything in his power to earn a contract. With 54 points including 22 goals in 34 games Saigeon is sixth in the league in scoring heading into the holiday break. He has formed a strong duo with draft eligible Arthur Kaliyev and is close to surpassing his career high of 70 points in a season.
There is a strong possibility Saigeon will depart the only franchise he’s played for by the January 10th trade deadline because as an overager with valuable playoff and championship experience he will be in demand. Saigeon is second in the league to only Ryan Merkley with 18 power play assists and will help bolster someone’s championship run. Hamilton (15-17-2) is currently on the bubble for the playoffs with 32 points and will need to sell some players to recoup assets from their run last season but would certainly miss the all-situations top center they have in Saigeon.
Playing in his first full season in the KHL for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl Nikolai Kovalenko has scored five points including four goals in 23 games plus several converted shootout attempts. That might sound like modest numbers but his goal output is only bested by Vitali Kravtsov for teenagers in the KHL. Kovalenko typically plays on the fourth line but sees pretty consistent minutes with around 10 to 12 per game on a strong Lokomotiv team with a 26-13-3 record.
Kovalenko was invited to the Four Nations tournament and with a strong showing there led to participation in Russia’s World Junior camp and eventually he was named to Russia’s World Junior team. Kovalenko plays his tenacious aggressive style either alongside skill players or in a grinder role and will compliment the Russian team however they want to use him.
Danila Zhuravlyov has spent the bulk of his season playing for Bars in the VHL which is the AHL type farm team for the KHL club AK Bars Kazan. Inexplicably Zhuravlyov has not hit the scoresheet in 24 games with the club, which is on the low event end of the spectrum and at 18th overall in a low scoring league. Zhuravlyov needed his defensive tools refined in this defense type boot camp but has been at the expense of his offensive gifts, particularly his cannon of a shot, but is still able to contribute as a puck mover.
Considered a large part of the national team for Russia, Zhuravlyov was able to take a break from his club team for a couple weeks in order to participate in the CHL Canada-Russia series. There he chipped in an assist playing mainly second pair minutes with time on both special teams units and clearly earned the trust of coaches over the course of the six-game trek across Canada. For his efforts Zhuravlyov earned a look at Russia’s World Junior camp as one of the few 18-year olds invited and only continued to impress as he made the team and expected to play a third pair role.
Still on the Avalanche prospects ledger, towering forward Gustav Olhaver has been playing this season for Tingsryds AIF (12-13-5) in the second tier league in Sweden. Olhaver has posted six points including three goals in 29 games.
It’s been a rockier season than many had hoped for Justus Annunen but the positive note is that he is playing regularly for Hermes (18-7-0) in the second tier Mestis league in Finland. He is splitting starts and has played in 11 games with a 2.91 goals against average and .877 save percentage. The league is a bit higher scoring but Annunen does have some work to become more consistent at this level. He wasn’t given much World Junior consideration but is also eligible next year.
A good start in the second tier Czech league earned Petr Kvaca a couple of loans to the top league. The second one to the top team in the league Ocelari Trinec (20-7-2) has proven to be a good home for Kvaca as he recently posted two wins with a 1.97 goals against average and .925 save percentage (plus an assist!) and his loan was recently extended until January 15th. Kvaca still plays occasionally for the second tier Ceske Budejovice and there has posted a 1.54 GAA and .934 in 10 starts. Unfortunately Kvaca was recently hurt in his last game for Trinec when he came in cold for the shootout in a Spengler Cup game.
Shamil Shmakov only just began his campaign after spending nearly the first half of the season on the shelf with injury. Since his return he has taken the reins back as the top netminder for Sibirskie Snaipery Novosibirsk as they climbed to 6th in the Eastern Conference. Shmakov has a 2.32 goals against average and a .922 save percentage in 14 games. He is still a bit raw working with his large 6’6 frame in his last year of MHL eligibility.
The only goaltender in the Avalanche non-pro system who has spent the entire year playing in a top tier men’s league, Adam Werner has found a good amount of success thus far this season. For top team Färjestad (17-7-3) in the Swedish Hockey League Werner has posted a 1.98 goals against average and .926 save percentage in 14 games and is top eight in the league in both categories. Werner should be ready to sign and bring to North America after this season.
Credit Colorado Eagles for the photo