At some point in the near future the Colorado Avalanche will turn the page to the next year and begin filling out their roster for the 2016-17 season. While there are roster questions at all levels of the organization, this discussion will focus on the minor league system and the AHL affiliate San Antonio Rampage in particular. Anyone who played more than one game for the Rampage in 2015-16 and who is not currently under contract for the next season will be considered.
The lucky seven players presently under contract and expected to see significant time in San Antonio are defensemen Cody Corbett, Mat Clark and Mason Geertsen in addition to forwards Sam Henley, Troy Bourke and newly signed Julien Nantel plus goaltender Spencer Martin. Recently inked forward JT Compher isn’t expected to see significant time, if at all. The rest of the candidates are:
Most of these names have been around forever but it feels like the Avalanche are ready to move on from the vast majority of them. It’s tough to see the organization continuing on with Joey Hishon for a sixth year even if he is another first round pick that hasn’t made the jump to the next level, however will remain a big question mark until the avalanche decide to cut ties. Andrew Agozzino was a steady producer for the four years he was with the organization but as a UFA it is expected that he would look to find a better opportunity and chance at the NHL elsewhere. Ben Street an AHL level superstar and would be nice to see what he could do over a full season. Earlier on the prevailing thought was the organization would just move on from him after his two injury riddled seasons, both following call-ups, but in the few late season games he was able to participate in showed just what an impact he makes both on and off the ice. It is very difficult to find these true leaders and the Avalanche would be best served to figure a way for him to return.
Patrick Bordeleau wasn’t able to provide much in his return to the AHL so there is no reason to desire him to return for another campaign. Taylor Beck might be the toughest to evaluate among the forwards. Brought in at the trade deadline, it was clear he was targeted by the organization to test drive and see if he could fill one of their slots as a coveted winger with size. Then a mysterious injury shortly after his arrival and a bit of an uneven outing in his last few games coupled with an expiring one-way contract with a hefty qualifying offer and arbitration rights1 and it is not so easy to pencil him in. They should consider other options but the team needs bodies and Beck does fill a need and has a decent amount of NHL experience to his credit.
Perhaps the most difficult group to predict as they were brought in by Sakic and all saw some NHL time. Each are strong candidates to get qualified but also hold the cards on their return as they could easily find more attractive alternatives in Europe. Andreas Martinsen probably is seen as graduated to the NHL at this time and therefore not a significant option but it’s possible he could end up back in San Antonio if ample number of upgrades happen in Colorado. Martinsen seems to have made a good enough impression and will be brought back another year.
Dennis Everberg was one who seemed to have stuck in Colorado, though spent the bulk of his time down in San Antonio in his second year. Everberg has at least been consistent enough at the AHL level to get qualified and return should he choose to but a NHL roster spot won’t be guaranteed. Borna Rendulic might have the most tantalizing skill set of the three but lacked consistency and finishing ability and is more likely to find a situation to his liking in Europe, one way or another it is not expected that he returns even if the Avalanche qualify him to hold his rights.
Such is always a work in progress for the Avalanche, the defensive core in San Antonio is no different. Several decisions need to be made on the direction of the blue line for next season. Though the change in head coaching might alter their approach and philosophy, it’s been observed that typically there is a 3:3 ratio of developmental slots to veterans on the blue line in the AHL system. There’s no doubt the Rampage appreciated the guidance and mentorship of Nate Guenin in his final months but it is probably best and likely that they will move on, however fill his slot with someone very similar. Similarly, Zach Redmond saw more time in the NHL than AHL but also shouldn’t be an option at either level moving forward.
Max Noreau fresh off of a two-year one-way contract already signed with Bern in the Swiss league and will definitely not return. It’s hard to believe the Avalanche saw much in Brandon Gormley’s time in San Antonio to lead them to believe they should continue on the development path with him. It’s a shame because there was some promise at the NHL level but he is further than ever from returning to such level. Duncan Siemens is the big mystery and could come down to if the organization believes in his fourth year that Siemens can begin to provide some veteran type presence at the AHL level. Siemens makes the defense better in San Antonio and there still is some untapped potential but is no longer on the fast track and the organization possibly might not see NHL upside in him anymore. If that is the case, they could potentially cut bait with Siemens or look for a trade this summer.
For what is an organizational strength there are a lot of questions on who returns and in what role for the following season. It seemed for a while that the organization was higher on Roman Will than the fans ever believed and would bring him back for at least one more year as they get their goaltending depth sorted out. However, as Will saw little time down the stretch, and didn’t give San Antonio much reason to, it is now more likely that he will be replaced, possibly with a more veteran AHL goaltender if Reto Berra does not return to San Antonio. The mystery of Sami Aittokallio and why the Avalanche needed to sign him to a NHL contract while he was still in Finland for the 2015-16 season still hasn’t been solved. The possibility always exists that Aittokallio could return to North America if he is given the undisputed starting position in the AHL. Aittokallio has found success again in Finland and it is hard to believe this will present as compelling option for him. It is likely there will be one new name added to the depth chart in goal.
While a stint in Fort Wayne generally was good for development, spending significant time in the ECHL was not a good sign for the future plans of a player. It is not expected any of those players in this category to return, which include forwards Garrett Meurs and Trevor Cheek plus defenseman Gabriel Beaupre. Of the three Cheek probably has the best shot to return as he could be used as a bottom line center at the AHL level but the Avalanche would be better served trying the contract slot out on a fresh face and possible NHL upside.
Not technically eligible to “return” under an expiring contract, still these two did see action in San Antonio at the end of the season and are options moving forward. Most notably is 2015 6th round pick defenseman Sergei Boikov, who had a five game stint with the Rampage following his season in the QMJHL. Boikov looked poised and ready for AHL action with some possible upside for the Avalanche. They should waste no time getting him signed to an ELC before he explores other options for next season, possibly in Russia. Forward Jackson Houck was a surprise ATO as he was not on the Avalanche radar at all previously. He too enjoyed a three game stint at the end of the season and looked like he could play at the AHL level as well. Houck would fill more of a bottom six role as a depth option and is more likely a candidate for an AHL contract.
But wait, there’s more! The NHL given 50 contract slots are not enough to fill out an entire AHL squad so the rest of the team must be fulfilled with AHL only contracts. These are typically only one year deals and obviously don’t include any NHL component for compensation, ability to recall or rights retention. If the organization discovers they like a player on an AHL deal they’d be wise to consider bumping up to a NHL deal. The best candidate for such upgrade is Reid Petryk who has seen significant time on top lines and was one of the top six scorers in San Antonio. At the age of 23 and new age Avalanche approved size of over six feet tall, there is potential of possible NHL usefulness in the near future plus it would be unfortunate to lose him to another organization considering his development thus far.
Alex Belzile busted his rear every night and should earn another AHL contract but begin in San Antonio next season. The same for Garry Nunn who was actually borrowed from the ECHL Atlanta Gladiators on a try-out agreement and not under any AHL contract at all. He made enough of a difference with his seven goals and 14 points in 16 games to earn the AHL contract. Garrett Thompson also provided 13 points on a try-out recall from the ECHL affiliate in Fort Wayne and would be another option to bolster depth in San Antonio.
Defensemen Justin Hamonic and Will Weber were decent ECHL call-ups and adequate reserve options. Nick Drazenovic filled a hole at center out of desperation and would be fine in a bottom six role should he return but the organization shouldn’t count on him as part of the center core in San Antonio. The Avalanche should move on from old friend Dan Maggio, who was increasingly a liability every time he touched the ice and also say goodbye to the large Swede Michael Schumacher who hasn’t shown much other than the very occasional goal in his last few years with the organization. Belzile and Nunn would prove to be much better depth options moving forward.
Prediction Time (not a wish list). Returning:
Siemens (or trade)
The rest of the roster filled out with a few AHL veterans new to the organization, a new find or two from Europe and a CHL overager/NCAA free agent to replace some of the missing prospect base and a goalie.
1 Players who hold arbitration rights (according to CapFriendly) include: Taylor Beck, Dennis Everberg, Brandon Gormley, Joey Hishon, Andreas Martinsen, Borna Rendulic and Roman Will.