Before we can discuss the beloved Monsters roster for this year, we need to take a look at who the Avs might keep in Colorado, who will be sent back to Lake Erie and why. Since this will potentially involve a few of the best players, it's going to have a pretty significant effect on how the Monsters are set up and what strategy best fits the team. The Avs roster currently holds 13 forwards, 8 defense and a pair of goaltenders, which spots are in play for training camp?
Starting with the forwards, I can say with a pretty high degree of certainty that Duchene, Landeskog, O'Reilly, Stastny, Parenteau, Tanguay, McGinn and Downie are all mortal locks to make the team. No kidding, right? McKinnon is pretty much a mortal lock too, but having never played a professional game, I'm not putting him in the same category.
Last year, Cody McLeod showed enough versatility, veteran leadership and good work ethic to make his spot look safe. You never know with a new regime, but there's nothing to indicate his place is in jeopardy.
We can debate whether or not the role Patrick Bordeleau plays deserves a roster spot, but he has no competition for that role, and his new contract indicates the Avs value what he brings, so he's pretty much a lock.
That's 11 guys out of 13, and since NHL teams generally carry 14 forwards/7 defense, I'm going to look at this like there are 3 spots left. Ideally, the Avs need a defensive center and a couple all-rounders to fill out the forward complement.
John Mitchell had a pretty rockin' year, 10G/10A, hey nice pickup Sherm! Signed ostensibly to fill the 4th C role, what we found was that he's not defensive and not really a center either. He's a safe bet to make the team, but there is some vulnerability there, at least for playing time, from some youngster having a kick-ass training camp.
I'd say Mark Olver is quite vulnerable, and that's not just my irrational bias against him talking. He's a vicious forechecker, can score from close to the net, has experience, but he doesn't pass or play defense, is brutal taking faceoffs and along with Mitchell, doesn't seem to possess the puck well.
With a potential open roster spot and a player that might be beat out, who do we have that can fill those roles?
If there's an open spot, I'd say it's Brad Malone's to lose. He finished last year in Colorado, is on a 1-year RFA reprieve contract and surely knows that this is his last chance to make the Avs full time. He's big, physical, skates well and can win faceoffs. A Mitchell-Malone-McLeod 4th line actually looks decent on paper.
Sgarbossa(!), Agozzino & Carey are all second-year pros that are better off in Cleveland playing rather than sitting in the press box, but an excellent camp from any of them could put them in Colorado. Trevor Cheek is a big (6'2/210) rookie that is a wild card here. BFFs from Plymouth, Meurs and Heard will be in their first training camp as pros and have almost no chance, but will be interesting to watch, as will Colin Smith. I'm looking forward to seeing Joey Hishon in camp, but it's unlikely he's a threat for a spot on the team right off the bat.
On the defensive side, Johnson and Hejda are locked in, and Barrie damn well better be. Wilson has a spot, but I'm not convinced he's a cinch to be EJ's partner yet. At this point, we don't know exactly what roles Roy & Sakic had in mind when they acquired Sarich and Benoit, wait and see on that. I can see Hunwick playing on opening night in either Denver or Cleveland. Three total unknowns right there. Fun!
Then there's Stefan Elliott... What do we do with Stef? Going on the premise that the goal is to have 7 defensemen on the roster, what do the Avs need to see from Elliott to keep him in Colorado? Obviously he needs to be better than 1 of the other guys, but there's not much point in him being a nacho man, so he really needs to be a clear cut starter and best of the bottom-pairing miasma. Can he do that? Lots of MHHers have said that he improved at the end of last year, but it was all in non-quantifiable ways. I'm not dying to see a guy that's been that shaky and inconsistent over the past two years play a sheltered role in the NHL when he probably should be honing his complete game in the AHL.
The defensive wild cards are probably limited to Nick Holden, Duncan Siemens and Chris Bigras. Holden is a big fellow (6'4/210) with a scoring touch and was signed to a 2-year deal so is perhaps a bit more than just an AHL depth player. Siemens needs some time to adjust to the pro game, but I don't think any of us would be terribly surprised to see him starting out with the Avs. Bigras could conceivably play himself into a 9-game tryout before heading back to Owen Sound. I'm very interested to see how all three of these guys play in camp. Beaupre, Lauridsen and Stollery will also be worth keeping an eye on for what their roles might be in the future and how they mesh with the NHLers.
Barring injury, the goalies are set for now, but the battle for the backup backup should be fun.
So, the way things look at this point, the Monsters will probably lose a forward and gain a defenseman from the group outlined in last week's article. Someone, unfortunately (please god no!), might be injured to start the season to further complicate things, so having a bunch of new guys and a new coaching staff for the Avs leaves a lot to the imagination.
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So I ask you, dear reader, who gets that 14th forward spot?
Can someone from the Monsters beat out Olver?
Does Big Stef make the team?
Which wild card/new acquisition/prospect defensemen are you most looking forward to seeing in camp?
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Next time: An in depth look at the Lake Erie Monsters players and their possible roles this season