From the Eagles Desk: Breaking Down the Season, Part 3 – Prospect Progress

Previously on Eagles Desk I discussed the rookie class and their contributions, now we turn to the rest of the true prospects – those that are still on Entry-Level Contracts plus Michael Joly who was on an AHL contract but fits into this genre. All but Sheldon Dries were in at least their second pro year with the org, he’s sort of a special case and probably skews the numbers a bit but this is the most logical fit for him as well.

The expectations are greater than the rookies with this group and the org will take a dim view of a lack of progress, especially those looking at expiring contracts this summer. Of the nine players listed below only Nicolas Meloche is signed for next year.

ELC Players

AJ Greer – 22yo LW, role: Top 6 forward, 2nd unit PP, 2nd unit PK  15 NHL games
Even Strength PPG: 0.63, Shooting percentage: 12.1%, Shots on goal per game: 2.9

Unlike his first two pro seasons, Greer finally got usage that would prep him for the NHL. He played PK, he got tough defensive zone starts and rounded out his game. He was the 2nd leading scorer on the team by rate and by volume, clinched 2 shootout wins with goals as the usual 3rd shooter and had 3 assists in 4 playoff games. They asked, he answered. The ball is in the Avs court now, he’s as ready as the AHL can prepare someone to be for a full-time NHL role.

The improvement Greer showed wasn’t surprising but more showing what we all knew he could do. Yes, given time on the penalty kill he became adept there. His shot rate went up nearly 40% from his first two seasons and was consistent, only twice did he not get a puck on net all game. For the first time in his pro career he didn’t miss stretches with injury, in fact he only missed 14 Eagles games while playing 15 for the Avs. After a very forgettable 2017-18 season his game matured and he became a durable and dependable all-situations player.

Greer’s ELC is up July 1st and he’s not eligible for arbitration. The logical course of action here is a qualifying offer from the Avs and see how that goes. He will become eligible for waivers starting next season so he either makes the Avs out of camp or they expose him to the rest of the league.

Dominic Toninato – 25yo C, role: top 6 center, 2nd unit PK, occasional PP  2 NHL games
EvStrPPG: 0.40, Sh%: 14.6%, SOG/gm: 1.7

The first few months started out slow and he missed almost a month with an injury early. In mid-December Dom started playing much more consistently and that continued for the rest of the season. Before December 15th he averaged 0.33 PPG and after it shot up to 0.59, concurrently his shots per game went up around 50% as well. He only played 2 games for the Avs but did score his first NHL goal in his brief stay.

Toninato’s always had defensive skills going back to his NCAA career, what held him back from playing with the Avs this season was the lack of offensive production. Shots for both sides tended to be highly suppressed when he was on the ice. That continued through the early part of this season but then the light went on and he became a fairly solid offensive player to complement his defensive prowess.

It’s a pretty easy choice for the Avs this summer to sign him. Even though he’s 25 he’s still got a year of waiver exemption and although he’s eligible for arbitration there won’t be much room for either side to negotiate. It’s not hard to see him coming back in the same role next season for the Eagles.

Nicolas Meloche – 21yo RHD, role: top 4 defenseman, some PP time
EvStrPPG: 0.27, Sh% 7.9%, SOG/gm: 1.38

Last year due to injuries and whatnot, Meloche ended up in a top pair role at times in San Antonio and got a lot of power play time. This year was a little different. He was the youngest defenseman on the roster and in general the staff went with experience over ability. Like many other youngsters on the team he was removed from the power play because of poor results but it only got worse without them. Nic’s shot rate and scoring were pretty static from last season but with less PP time and more of a support role alongside David Warsofsky means there was actual improvement. His even strength scoring went up by 17%.

Meloche is in kind of an odd spot. In the AHL, since there were so many plug defensemen with no puck skills he was called on to be more of an offensive driver. He can do that to a point but it’s not his strength nor is it anything close to what will get him time in the NHL. He got very little time on the PK, which is exactly what will get him time in the NHL. He needs to demonstrate that he can make solid decisions with the puck in the defensive zone and be reliable positionally, two of his weak spots. Due somewhat to usage that’s not something that he was able to improve on as much as needed this season. Like we saw with AJ Greer in the 3rd year of his ELC, the focus needs to move towards prepping Meloche to take the next step in 2019-20.

J-C Beaudin – 22yo F, role: middle 6 forward, 2nd PP unit
EvStrPPG: 0.26, Sh%: 8.6%, SOG/gm: 1.7

In case you missed it, Beaudin was traded to Ottawa in early February for Max McCormick. I was not a fan of the move at the time and it definitely didn’t age well. I think I understand some of why it happened, some of it was sound logic and some of it was very flawed.

Beaudin was tabbed to be a top 6 center on the Eagles coming out of camp, much like Tyson Jost was with the Avs. In neither case did it work out. He had 11 points in his first 18 games, not bad, but after that scoring dried up completely and he only had 2 points in his final 24 with the Eagles. The staff tried various remedies, moving him to wing, up and down the lineup, but no solution was found. They were counting on him to provide offense and he was snakebit, I get that part. What I don’t understand is cutting bait after 24 disappointing games and trading a 21 year old prospect for a cap dump that no one would take for free. Maybe Beaudin never does anything in pros again but even so what kind of thinking goes into making a move like that? Whether this was a message to the rest of the team or getting rid of a player they didn’t have any use for or they actually liked the return, it was an alarming situation.

Sheldon Dries – 25yo F, role: middle 6 forward, power play, a little PK  40 NHL games
EvStrPPG: 0.24, Sh%: 5.0%, SOG/gm: 2.4

Dries spent a little over half the season with the Avalanche, mostly in November and then from mid-December to early March. He played 25 games for the Eagles. The Avs coaching staff wanted so very badly for him to be a center and even contracted the Eagles to make that happen for a while but it never took. The Avs coaching staff also wanted for him to be a solid defensive bottom 6er and PK regular, that also never took.

This was a great case of misidentified talent. Dries came out of college and played on an AHL deal with the Texas Stars, scoring 10 goals with no assists in the 2018 playoffs. The Avs pro scouting staff took one look at that and decided he was an older “prospect” that could play a more or less completely defensive role. By the time the Avs were done with him in March his offense was out of sync and he could do neither offense nor defense for the Eagles. Another baffling situation.

Dries is RFA and arbitration-eligible and will be waivers-exempt again next season. I’m not sure about whether he’ll be back again however. He is what he is at age 25 and what role he fills going forward is unclear.

Sergei Boikov – 23yo LHD, role: bottom pair D, 2nd unit PK
EvStrPPG: 0.20, Sh%: 1.4%, SOG/gm: 1.3

Boikov was injured in the 2017 pre-season showcase in San Jose and missed all of last season so no one really knew what to expect. Boikov is a very good skater with extremely scattered and inconsistent decision-making and that at least carried over from his rookie season. He settled into a bottom-pairing defensive role this year, mainly with Mason Geertsen. Whether it was directly from having both shoulders operated on last year or just the long layoff it became clear quickly that his puck skills had eroded somewhat and his scoring touch was diminished. He still struggled with decision-making, occasional horrifying turnovers in the d-zone along with questionable hits. The play that summed up his season best was in a game vs Manitoba down the stretch where he committed a 5-minute boarding major while killing off a double-minor. Not anything to do with him exactly but the staff’s choice was between he and Kevin Davis down the stretch, they went with him and it really didn’t pay off.

Boikov will be RFA in July and this is a tough call to make. There’s really no reason to bring him back. He was a marginal AHL #6D with one foot on a plane to Utah at a point late in the season. At 23 he won’t be getting significantly better so he’s neither prospect nor vet anymore. Pass.

Anton Lindholm – 24yo LHD, role: top 4 defenseman, 1st PK, some PP 2 NHL games
EvStrPPG: 0.12, Sh%: 1.4%, SOG/gm: 1.2

The least offensively-minded defenseman on the roster, Lindholm still managed to play top 4 and in many cases, top pair minutes this season along with occasional power play time. There are those in the organization who really like his game but Jared Bednar isn’t one of them, with a trip to the NHL cut short very quickly in December. He reads plays well and can skate but the lack of puck skill hasn’t improved over the last 3 years and that’s a major flaw to overcome. The main effect is some hideous turnovers and dead time in the offensive zone. Using he and Mark Al together as a top pair was part of the reason there were huge difficulties scoring this season.

Lindy is an arbitration-eligible RFA this summer and like Boikov I’m not sure there’s much point in bringing him back. He is what he is and won’t be an option for NHL callups going forward. The choice is probably up to him whether he wants to go back to playing in the SHL or stick around and be an AHL lifer.

Julien Nantel – 22yo F, role: bottom 6 forward, penalty kill
EvStrPPG: 0.09, Sh%: 1.6%, SOG/gm: 1.4

Unlike with his former teammate in Rouyn-Noranda J-C Beaudin, Nantel got nearly infinite patience from the staff, although he did have a couple stints in the ECHL. He was on the verge of a 3rd when suddenly he became the 3rd line center for the Eagles. I’ve always been a fan of his game and he is a solid defensive forward if nothing else but there is a minimum level of offensive production that a player has to have to justify a spot in the lineup. Nantel doesn’t meet that, even taking into account his poor shooting luck this season. In 152 AHL games he has only 8 assists, exactly one every 19 games and no more than 3 in any of his 3 seasons.

The ELC is up and arbitration not an option this summer. I wish there was something to point to saying that a new contract is in the cards but there really isn’t.

Michael Joly – 24yo RW, role: top 9 forward, power play 1st unit
EvStrPPG: 0.40, Sh%: 19.0%, SOG/gm: 1.7

Joly was the hero of last year’s Kelly Cup playoffs and signed on to play the same role in the AHL version of the Eagles. Like in San Antonio last season he struggled at this level early on but gradually got a hold of it late in December. He missed nearly all of February and March with an injury, scored 4 goals in the final 8 games but got blanked in the playoffs. I guess you could call him a power play specialist but 5 goals isn’t much and perhaps making him the featured shooter was a bit of a drag on overall PP effectiveness. His 5 goals in the shootout were a big help and one reason the Eagles ended up 6-1 there.

Joly is the lone player on this list without an Avs contract and his goals for the season were to prove he’s capable at the AHL level and perhaps earn an NHL deal. I think he showed the former is true but not the latter. He definitely improved his game outside of the offensive zone over the season but as a featured offensive player he’s a little over his head. I have my doubts as to whether he would be productive in a diminished role as a bottom 6/PP2 guy. If the Eagles want to bring him back again that’s fine but it’s time to turn to some different primary scoring options.

Mentions

A few other ELC players found their way into some Eagles games this season. Vlad Kamenev played two games very early as a de facto rehab stint. Tyson Jost was around for 8 games in late January and early February and scored 4 goals along with an assist. Conor Timmins was never on the roster but practiced with the team extensively in the 2nd half of the season. The great hope is that he’s healthy next year and can start his pro career with the Eagles in October.

Overview

AJ Greer was the biggest improver on this list by a lot. Dom Toninato found some offensive game, Nic Meloche stayed ahead of the curve and Michael Joly became somewhat more complete. Other than that there’s a lot of stagnation and outright regression on this list. That’s probably par for the course but not something one wants to see with a group that should be nearing NHL readiness as a whole. The fact that out of this 9-player list and the 7 full-time rookies only AJ Greer is a serious candidate to graduate to the NHL (and no sure thing either) is very troubling.

On the bright side, outside of Beaudin and to a much lesser extent Meloche, oddly enough the two fellows not in their final ELC years, these players got opportunities to show their stuff. The results were mixed but at least we have a good idea on the 7 players that are looking for new contracts in July. I’d prefer to see a little more urgency with players that are earlier in their contracts but that’s not the way the org handles things.

Next up

Everyone’s favorite topic – the Vets. Coming soon in Part 4.

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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