From the Eagles Desk: Breaking Down the Season, Part 2 – The Rookies

The Eagles primary goal this season was to win games and make the Calder Cup playoffs. The Avalanche Development Staff are still searching for the balance between icing a competitive team and making sure the youngsters in the system are getting what they need to improve. Like most aspects of the team this year that was inconsistent. The best hope is that they took what happened this season and improve on it, in relation to both winning and developing talent.

Below we have the 10 rookies that played for the Eagles this year. Evaluating prospect progress is tough because these are people, no two are alike and they all have different starting points. From my point of view, once a guy turns pro he’s just like all the others. Draft position and pedigree go out the window and I don’t like using expectations to color what happens on the ice. Pedigree does open up opportunities but at the end of the day what matters is how the player performs regardless of what role he’s given.

There isn’t a lot of data to go on but there’s is enough to get an idea of strengths and weaknesses. A few enterprising individuals have extrapolated statistics from what we have to work with, some of that is good, much is very wrong. I’ll use it at some points if it lines up with eye test and solid data but I think it’s better in general to stick with reality. Here is what I saw and what the numbers say.

Rookies

Logan O’Connor – 22yo RW, role: Top 6 forward, PK & PP
Even Strength PPG: 0.38, Shooting percentage: 10.9%, SOG per game: 2.7

LOC’s strengths are his speed and shot generation. Age plays into the latter but it was definitely a positive from the beginning. Overall skating ability is ok but the speed is noticeable and allows him to push the defense back on zone entries and led to a lot of PK points, tops in the league in fact. Even strength point generation was decent but nothing special, 18 out of his 42 points came on special teams.

Age also plays into his development path. At 22 he’s pretty close to the finished product skill-wise so while he started off quite well there wasn’t a lot of room for improvement over the season and that’s what we saw. Right now he’s a poor man’s Matt Calvert that’s less physical. His NHL debut during the Avs mid-season collapse was unimpressive but that’s not all on him. For him to make the jump to the Avs he needs to improve defensively in various ways and get more experience.

Martin Kaut – 19yo RW/LW, role: middle 6 forward, some PP, very little PK
EvStrPPG: 0.35, Sh%: 9.7%, SOG/gm: 1.97

Going into camp Kaut was dealing with a summer of little training due to the heart condition discovered at the draft combine. This put him behind for most of the year and he also had a couple of minor injuries plus missing time from the WJC’s. I would describe his season as up and down but he had a strong finish and scored 2 of the Eagles 10 goals in the post-season. I saw improvement in the way he adjusted to NA ice and systems (and the English language) with his physical limitations holding him back.

I highly suspect that his ability to read plays and have patience with the puck will translate to the NHL much better than it did in the unpredictable AHL. He along with Nick Henry and Shane Bowers suffered from making good passes to dangerous areas that produced little. The big question with Kaut is how will a full off-season of training augment his abilities. He’s got the chops to play in the NHL right now, building the strength & stamina required to be an everyday guy is the hurdle to making that happen. The Avs probably have him penciled in for another year in the AHL but he could force that in camp with enough improvement.

Ty Lewis – 21yo LW/RW, role: middle 6 forward, PP sort of, PK early on
EVStrPPG: 0.29, Sh%: 9.9%, SOG/gm: 1.6

Lewis was very strong until Christmas then started tailing off a bit. The staff didn’t stick with him for long and began decreasing his role, which had the predictable effect of keeping him unproductive. Ultimately he was shipped to Utah in March where he promptly put up 2 points per game and elicited a response from the coach along the lines of “he’s too good to be here”. The staff should have stuck with him. Even with a demotion off the power play after mid-season only Agozzino and Joly ended with more PP goals and his 4 with the man advantage represented one-tenth of the team’s total PP output for the entire season.

Lewis had a couple injuries that played into it, along with the demotions, but his shot production falling off starting in January is my big concern about his rookie season. He went from around 2 shots per game to around 1 after New Years Day, from a fairly dynamic offensive player to the strugglebus. My other main concern has to do with rookie stuff like strength and stamina which will improve over this summer and beyond so no big deal. He’s got the speed and savvy to be an impact player in the AHL next year and could fit into something like Matt Nieto’s role on the Avs down the line (I like Nieto so yes, that’s a good thing).

Kevin Davis – 22yo RHD, role: top 4 defenseman, PP quarterback
EvStrPPG: 0.36, Sh%: 12.0%, SOG/gm: 1.0

We get to our first defenseman and only rookie on an AHL contract with Davis. He is a dynamic scoring defenseman both at even strength and on the power play. In half as many games his point production was comparable to David Warsofsky and 6th overall on the team. The big head-scratcher here is that he only played 25 games, otherwise he was benched or with the Grizzlies. He was top 30 in the AHL in per/game scoring by defenseman and that wasn’t good enough to get him regular PT. Unbelievable!

Davis is a free agent and most likely someone will sign him to an ELC this summer. It should be the Avs. He’s in the Sam/Makar/Barrie mold just extremely raw. Maybe it’s a stretch to see him in the NHL some day but I wouldn’t bet my house it doesn’t happen. Tyson Barrie’s production his first year in Lake Erie was very similar and well, defensively there are similarities in their rookie seasons too. With no defensive prospects arriving in the AHL for next season this would be a very low-risk move. Do it.

Igor Shvyrev – 20yo C, role: 4th line center, light PP use
EvStrPPG: 0.21, Sh%: 10.3%, SOG/gm: 1.0

This season was about learning English and getting back in to the rhythm of playing regularly for Shvyrev. Last year he dominated in 12 junior games and got like 10 minutes TOI total in 35 KHL games. This year he was inconsistent but at times showed aptitude for a solid 2-way game. He was a fixture in the lineup but towards the end missed time with illness then got benched when Bowers and Henry showed up.

It’s tough to get a hold on Igor’s season because his role was mainly as a checking/energy guy and for what it’s worth did fine there. Scoring is in line with usage but I would like to see more of a shot mentality. He’s got a good shot and with a little experience ought to be able to increase his rates significantly. I’m not big on laying the blame on linemates for individual performance, that might affect points but it shouldn’t affect shot rates much and those were not good. The Avs thinking here is patience (always!) and getting him through rookie season with an understanding of English and some NA pro experience. The expectations will come next season.

Travis Barron – 20yo LW, role: 4th line wing, rare PK shifts
EvStrPPG: 0.13, Sh% 7.7%, SOG/gm: 1.0

Barron got 38 games with the Eagles and 12 in Utah plus the playoffs. His usage by the staff was very disappointing but he did what was asked when lucky enough to get in the lineup. Like Lewis, Davis and Dickinson he was cast out of the lineup for good in mid-March and never seen or heard from again.

I can’t say I saw a lot of improvement from Bear over the season but he played so little it’s not a surprise. He got a few shifts on PK but nothing consistent enough to build on. I do think he would do well there and in San Antonio at the end of last year had a couple of SH points in 2 games. Hopefully with a year of experience the staff will have the guts to play him more next season.

Josh Dickinson – 21yo C, role: bottom 6 center, a little bit of PK
EvStrPPG: 0.14, Sh%: 7.1%, SOG/gm: 0.7

Dickinson bounced back and forth between Colorado and Utah all season. He really struggled in the first part of the year, of all the rookies his transition from the ECAC to the AHL was the greatest leap and it showed. Mainly for that reason he probably had the most improvement over the year, although the majority of that happened in the ECHL. Dickinson played 21 games for Colorado and 31 plus the playoffs for Utah.

Dickinson still has potential to grow quite a bit. He’s got some skill and showed signs of a solid positional game defensively. The question is whether he’ll get an opportunity to pursue that in the Avs organization. If nothing else they have plenty of centers, if they don’t load up on useless vets on July 1st then there’s a chance.

Nick Henry – 19yo LW, role: bottom 6 forward, PP unit 2
played 3 regular season games and 2 in the playoffs

Henry joined the club at the end of the season after Lethbridge was eliminated. First four games he was on the 4th line, final playoff game he was on the top line with Aggz and LOC. This was just a taste for Hustle Hank to get ready for next season and for the most part he did fine with it. The first weekend he had one practice under his belt and it showed in some coverage and positioning deals. After that he looked comfortable when he was in the lineup. I like that the staff bumped him up to the top line in the elimination game, bodes well for next season.

Although he didn’t register a point I think this was a success. He needs to build strength and experience like any other guy his age but the skill was there and if not for several blown chances he set up both 5v5 and on the PP he would have had a few assists for sure. Defensively he was able to handle top 6 duties as well as anyone else so I would look for him to slide into that role beginning with the dev/rookie camps over the summer.

Shane Bowers – 19yo C, role: bottom 6 center, 2nd PP unit
played 4 regular season games and all 4 in the playoffs

Bowers played 8 games and I’m not sure he ever had the same 2 wingers consecutively. The staff were scrambling to find something, anything that worked but having little success. He was most effective with Cody Bass and either Henry or Julien Nantel on the wing as an energy line. He scored his first pro point in the elimination game on the power play with an assist to Kaut.

It was nice to see Bowers quick adaptation to the AHL although his teammates seemed unprepared for some of his passing skill in the offensive zone. He gained the trust of the coaches and played some tough minutes defensively as well. He’s going to be a top 6 center next season barring a miracle and a spot earned on the Avs. Physically he’s ahead of the age curve and didn’t have any issues with AHL speed. Now that he’s out of the NCAA regime he’ll be able to train this summer under the Avs staff and at home he’s trained with Mack, Crosby and Marchand in the past so that’s a big plus.

Josh Anderson – 20yo LHD, role: defensive defenseman
played 1 game with the Eagles

There’s not much I can say about Anderson, he played one-half of one game in Colorado and looked way over his head. Other than a couple of callups he spent 55 games with the Grizzlies where he put up a goal, 6 assists and 88 PIMs. It’s unclear what happens from here but I can’t imagine there’s going to be a spot for him with the Eagles next year.

Overview

Eagles rookies played a little over a quarter of total (skater) man-games for the season. To put it another way, in the average game 4.8 rookies were dressed out of 18 skaters. We have no concrete way of knowing how often the scratches were for injury/illness or coaches decisions but that’s about 2/3rds of possible games played by the 7 rookies that were around at the beginning of the season. O’Connor and Kaut did lead the team with 64 and 63 games played respectively.

Is that enough? We all wish it was more but it’s not terrible looking at it as a whole. The most egregious snub is Davis by far, 25 games for a player that was very productive and had the exact skills the team lacked on a nightly basis is truly baffling. The most alarming aspect of this year’s rookie usage in general was in the last 10 games of the season when one-by-one most were taken out of the lineup and the team went completely flat, almost missing the playoffs. When the balanced skewed towards an older lineup, they got much worse but the staff either didn’t make the connection or got stubborn about it. Poor talent evaluation by the Avalanche development staff has been a hallmark for well over a decade so it’s going to take time to realize what goes into success now that they finally found a small amount.

Overall I would characterize progress by this year’s Eagles rookies as satisfactory. Not good, not bad, just treading water. There were no significant leaps but there weren’t any heinous regressions either. They kept up with the tempo of the league as it increased through the season which is something they have not been able to do at all in the past.

Those are my views, I’d be a lot more interested in how the Avs feel about it. What were their goals for these fellows, and where did they end up as far as meeting them. What are their evaluations like as far as what the organization did or did not do well this season. Going into the new affiliation agreement with the Eagles had some obvious benefits but I’m sure others were discovered this season once they were put into practice. How they change and improve going into next season will be intriguing.

Next up

A look at the season for the non-rookies on Entry-Level Contracts plus be on lookout for a TOOA podcast on the Eagles accomplishments as a whole.

Thanks to the AHL for stats and standings and to the Colorado Eagles for the feature photo.

earl06

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

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