Colorado Avalanche: Quick Prospect Development Could Pave Way For Successful Season


If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that there is a good chance of the Colorado Avalanche missing the playoffs once again in 2016. However, that is obviously not the only possible scenario. Anything can happen in hockey and one thing will play a big part in what will happen next season — the Colorado Avalanche prospects’ development.

As mentioned before, the team’s current depth is to be treated with caution.

As mentioned before, the team’s current depth is to be treated with caution. The primary reason for that is the fact that many players on the roster are without much NHL experience or without much experience in their projected role.

Carl Soderberg has not been a second-line center before, Mikko Rantanen, Joey Hishon and co. don’t have a lot of experience. But it has to be remembered that none of that sets up the club for inevitable failure. In fact, the exact opposite could happen, if everything works out. After all, none of those Avalanche players who are projected to play important parts on the team next season are untalented.

Let’s start with Joey Hishon. A good performance in training camp could earn him a roster spot for opening night. While the top six seems to be set, he could play on a line with ex-Penguin Blake Comeau and center John Mitchell; maybe even as the line’s center.

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Hishon did not really get a shot to prove what he can do until late last season. In the beginning of his 13-game NHL stint, he often got less than ten minutes of ice time a game on a checking line, which is — let’s be honest — not the best circumstance to show how you can help the team. However, he did get some more ice time later on, recorded a goal and an assist, and showed that he has NHL talent. If he continues the upward trend, he could become an important part of the Avalanche’s offense starting next season.

Another example is Swedish forward Dennis Everberg. The 24-year-old started last season in Lake Erie, but quickly convinced the coaches that he can help the NHL club. After 12 games and seven points in the AHL, Everberg became a part of the Colorado Avalanche, where he spent the next 55 games before getting injured.

He brings the perfect combination of size and skill to the table, which made him a valuable part of the team last season, despite his low point-total (3 goals, 9 assists). If he can continue his strong development and raise that point-total a bit, he could become an extremely good bottom-six forward as soon as next season. However, he is also recovering from shoulder surgery and may not be ready for training camp.

In a perfect world, Rantanen could go into the upcoming season and not only play in the NHL, but own it in a MacKinnonesque campaign.

Moving on to the next prospect — Mikko Rantanen. Currently the Avalanche’s top prospect, Rantanen may jump right into the NHL, after having played professional hockey in Finland for three years. The Finnish league is one of the best in Europe and the 2015 NHL Draft’s No. 1 European prospect has proven that he is ready for more. He will fight for a roster spot in training camp and I am convinced that he can make it.

The young forward can play center or either wing and has superstar potential. In a perfect world, Rantanen could go into the upcoming season and not only play in the NHL, but own it in a MacKinnonesque campaign. It is not impossible that he will force veteran Alex Tanguay to move out of the top six and go on to win the Calder Trophy like Nate MacKinnon did right after his draft year. Just as a reminder: this is a best-case scenario.

Then there is, of course, Russian forward Mikhail Grigorenko — the Avalanche’s new mystery box. Many fans see him on the second or third line already and that is exactly where he could slot in sooner rather than later, if he shows a strong performance at training camp. He was arguably rushed into the league, but a little bit of a rush does not necessarily destroy talent. Grigorenko has elite potential and he may reach it in Colorado.

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Unfortunately, he is still an unsigned RFA and there is a risk that he moves on to Russia. But just like any kid with his talent, he will want to make it in the best league in the world, which is without a doubt the NHL. As I said, he has all the tools to make it there next season and he could be a huge addition for the Avs’ offense.

The 2015-16 Colorado Avalanche offense could look like the following, maybe a few weeks or months into the season.

Rantanen — Duchene — Iginla
Landeskog — Soderberg — MacKinnon
Tanguay — Hishon — Comeau
Grigorenko — Mitchell — McLeod/Everberg

And all of a sudden, we have something that looks like decent depth. Grigorenko on the fourth line is anything but ideal. However, this is not the only possibility for line combinations and just shows how good the team could look sometime next season.

Moving on to the defense, we also have at least two prospects that can move in very soon.

Moving on to the defense, we also have at least two prospects that can move in very soon, starting with Duncan Siemens. Expectations have naturally always been high for him, as he was a first-round draft pick. He hasn’t been able to deliver so far, but got his first chance to play in the NHL in the last game of the 2014-15 season. Siemens’ time is now and there is a good chance that he will be called up sooner than last season.

The Colorado Avalanche’s defense has been extremely shaky for a while now. The first two pairings seem to be fixed through the additions of Francois Beauchemin and Nikita Zadorov. However, the bottom-pairing is still not quite on NHL level and Siemens could change that with some quick development.

Chris Bigras‘ future looks even brighter. He was a standout in the OHL and late in the AHL last season. Furthermore, the young D-man could impress at this year’s prospect development camp. He is arguably one of the prospects closest to the NHL. If he can keep that up, he may jump into the bottom pairing next season and continue to improve there.

In this best-case scenario, next years defense could look like the following.

Beauchemin — Johnson
Zadorov — Barrie
Bigras/Siemens — Stuart

Again, this shows how good this defense could look all of a sudden, after being one of the worst just a few months ago. Pair that with the offense and a goalie trio of Semyon Varlamov, Reto Berra and Calvin Pickard and suddenly the future looks very bright.

This is not me changing my mind on the matter, don’t get me wrong. These are all talented players, but none of those prospects are proven NHL players. In this best-case scenario, the future would look really bright, starting next season. It could, however, also be the exact opposite.

That is the excitement that upcoming year will bring for the Colorado Avalanche. Are we headed for another lottery pick or will we make it back to the playoffs? If the prospects work out the way we are hoping, we could be much closer to the top than just a few weeks ago.

Next: What's Soderberg's long-term role with the Avs?

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