Colorado Avalanche Are Getting Better From the Bottom Up

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 04: Matt Duchene
DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 04: Matt Duchene /
DENVER, CO – MARCH 31: J.T. Compher
DENVER, CO – MARCH 31: J.T. Compher /

The Colorado Avalanche’s ECHL affiliate are the reigning champions, and the future for their AHL affiliate is looking up

The Colorado Avalanche’s woes in the NHL have largely been mirrored by their AHL affiliates. The San Antonio Rampage finished 3rd last in the league in total points last season, and no Avalanche affiliate has made the playoffs since 2010-11. Nestled within this dismal track record, however, is a spark of hope.

A major factor in the Avalanche’s futility at both levels has been an abysmal combination of drafting, developing and retaining young talent. They simply didn’t draft many good prospects between 2010 and 2014. Those that showed promise either never developed as hoped or were lost to trades or free agency.

Of course, having top prospects Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon all bypass the AHL entirely didn’t help any.

The result was that the Rampage and the Lake Erie Monsters before them barely had any good players. Efforts to rectify this gap with signings from European leagues were largely unsuccessful. To top it off, if former prospect Borna Rendulic is to be believed, San Antonio boasted a coaching staff that was somewhere between indifferent and negligent in player development.

Avalanche fans are well aware of what happens when a talent deficient roster meets an ineffective coaching staff. But things look to be turning around. It’s a shocking formula, but having better players and better coaches might actually key a resurgence in the Colorado Avalanche organization, starting in the lowest levels.

The transition is already underway, with the Colorado Eagles coming off a championship season in the ECHL, and San Antonio ready to benefit from an influx of talent. Success in the lower levels doesn’t mean success in the NHL, but a strong AHL team will provide a good atmosphere for prospects when they turn pro.


The Colorado Avalanche are finally getting to the point where their top prospects can develop in the AHL. Frankly, there are still veterans cluttering the NHL roster and limiting opportunities for prospects. Even so, San Antonio stands to lose a couple good players, but will retain most of their best talent.

The Rampage’s best forward, JT Compher, is done in the minors. He scored at the 2nd highest rate of anyone on the team, and was +2 when most of the team was -10 or worse. There’s nothing more for him to learn. He’s ready for the NHL.

The only other returning forwards who might get a look come training camp are Rocco Grimaldi and AJ Greer, the Rampage’s top two scorers. It’ll be an uphill battle though, as there are already 13 forwards ahead of them on the roster. Both are likely to be in the minors to start the campaign.

Defence is trickier to project, because so much is still unknown. The most likely scenario seems to be that Nikita Zadorov and Andrei Mironov begin the year in Colorado. With David Warsofsky on a one way deal, there seems to be only one spot open, which will likely go to one of Chris Bigras, Anton Lindholm or Duncan Siemens.

Related Story: Siemens Deserves A Chance

Or, all three could be in Colorado if things don’t work out with the young Russians. Or someone else entirely might fill the spot if Matt Duchene is traded for a defenceman. However the pieces fall, two of the most NHL ready D prospects will probably be in San Antonio come October.

The Rampage will lose two of their best players. That’s tough, especially for a cellar team, but the good news is that most of the Rampage’s talent will return. And they’re going to get some help.


The Colorado Avalanche continue to reap what they sowed in the 2015 draft. Nicolas Meloche and JC Beaudin will make their AHL debuts after great junior careers. Their arrival should fill a lot of what the Rampage lose to graduations.

Related Story: Beaudin and Meloche Bring Missing Attributes

Meloche is a skilled, mean, hard hitting defender. He may be the best defensive prospect playing professionally for the Avalanche, and should mostly fill the gap of whoever makes the jump. He’s also one of the organization’s two AHL eligible defenders to shoot right.

Beaudin’s in a similar position. He’s a cerebral, two way centre that put up consecutive 80 point seasons in the QMJHL. It might not be long before he joins former junior teammate Greer on one of the top lines.

Beaudin won’t fill Compher’s shoes by himself, but he won’t have to either.

The Avalanche made up for losing out on Will Butcher by landing arguably the 2nd and 3rd best options from the NCAA. GM Joe Sakic signed Alex Kerfoot and Dominic Toninato this week, adding some serious promise to the forward corps.

Related Story: Analyzing Kerfoot Signing

Related Story: Avs Sign Toninato

Kerfoot was the runner-up to Butcher for the Hobey Baker Award, and scouts praise his elite offensive skills. Toninato, on the other hand, was named the best defensive forward in the NCAA’s NCHC conference last season. Any one of Kerfoot, Toninato or Beaudin could have partially filled the hole Compher leaves in the roster. All three will more than make up for it.

And they might not even be the team’s top prize.

It’s highly unlikely, and he’s doing everything he can to prevent it, but top prospect Tyson Jost still could start the season in San Antonio. Even without Jost, the Rampage will have the best group of forwards they’ve had under the Colorado Avalanche.

And they’re just scratching the surface of their potential.


More from Mile High Sticking

The best news is that the Rampage roster is filled with young talent that’s only getting better. The Colorado Avalanche are finally stocking their system, and it’ll start to pay dividends.

Beaudin, Kerfoot, Toninato and Meloche will all be starting their AHL careers. There’s an outside chance that Jost and/or Mironov do as well. Greer and Lindholm join fellow sophomores Sergei Boikov and Julien Nantel while Bigras, Spencer Martin and Mason Geertsen are all entering their 3rd year. These promising young guys are only getting better, and could make up roughly half the team.

Combined with some decent veteran talent, there is cause for optimism in San Antonio. Grimaldi was 3rd in the league in goals last season and Greer and Martin were both named to the All-Star team. Perennial 50 point threat Andrew Agozzino returns to the franchise while Boikov, Nantel, and Geertsen are all coming off an ECHL championship.

Deadline(ish) acquisition Felix Girard, almost NHLer Gabriel Borque and high scoring Eagle Shawn St. Amant should provide some deep and balanced scoring among the forwards. Meanwhile, UFA defencman Jesse Graham will join the 5 young prospects on the organization’s increasingly crowded and improving depth chart.

Most of these guys will never make a notable impact in the NHL. But they should make the Avalanche’s top affiliate competitive, a welcome change in environment for a franchise that’s done more than its share of losing.

And if they start winning, hockey fans in Colorado might even get to see it.


colorado avalanche
LOVELAND, CO – APRIL 14: Colorado Eagles defender Collin Bowman (10) skates off the ice after his team scored in the second period during the first game of the ECHL’s 2016 Kelly Cup Playoffs at the Budweiser Event Center on April 14, 2016 in Loveland, Colorado. The Colorado Eagles lost to the Utah Grizzlies 3-2 to drop one game back in the series. (Photo by Brent Lewis/The Denver Post via Getty Images) /

Colorado Avalanche fans filled the stands when the team was good. The last few years? Not so much. In both attendance and performance. Fans craving playoff hockey might get a chance to see it sooner rather than later though.

The Colorado Eagles will be promoted to the AHL after this season and become the Avalanche’s top affiliate. Having the farm team so close will allow the front office to directly oversee day to day operations. A cynic might point out that being far away from the Avalanche is a good thing at the moment, but the proximity allows for easier call-ups and should improve player development.

As an added bonus, the Eagles’ coaching staff could be part of the package. Éric Vellieux, a guy with a reputation for developing youngsters, will enter his second season as head coach of the Rampage. Though last season wasn’t good, the consensus seems to be that he’s a better option than former head coach Dean Chynoweth. Adding staff from the reigning ECHL champions, if possible, probably couldn’t hurt either.

A better roster, with better coaches under more direct supervision from the parent team, should give the Avalanche a much improved farm system.


It’s unfortunate, but the Colorado Avalanche organization is most likely to succeed at the levels where it’s least important. The top team will probably struggle this year and next, but at least there’s hope in the ECHL and AHL. The reigning ECHL champions are in the Avalanche’s backyard, and will probably become their top affiliate within a year, while the influx of better players and coaches gives hope that the success will climb to the AHL level.

Meloche, Beaudin, Kerfoot and Toninato will likely join a good mix of prospects and AHL veterans on a San Antonio team that will only lose a couple players. Having these and other prospects continue to grow should help the farm team be playoff calibre for at least a few years. Admittedly, a playoff farm team is a pretty small thing to get excited about.

Next: Short-Term Goals for Next Season

Nevertheless, fans should be pleased. If nothing else, it creates a good situation for prospects to come into. There is already some winning pedigree in the organization after claiming the ECHL crown last season and hopefully a measure of that success will climb the ladder to San Antonio. If the front office plays their cards right, guys like Cam Morrison, Connor Timmins and maybe even Cale Makar could join a talented AHL team accustomed to winning rather than languishing in the cellar.

And who knows? That mentality, not to mention success, might even bleed over into the Avalanche before long.