Now that the ELCs have been given out we can start to get a picture of how the 2014-15 incarnation of the beloved Monsters is shaping up. As of now there are 17 players signed to prospect contracts which leads one to believe that there are 8 spots left for our RFAs, some vets and perhaps another couple ELCs. Given the signings (and not signings) already, I'm resigned to the fact that I have no idea how those will be used.
We also have no indication as to the makeup of the LEM staff yet, which colors how these talented youngsters will be deployed, but I'll go on the assumption that regardless of who's behind the bench development will take a larger role than in the past.
Here's our gang, broken down by position with some summary of last year and needs (* - indicates final year of ELC):
Andrew Agozzino* - Top scorer for LEM 2 years running, plays at all 3 forward positions and in all situations, probably will be in a leadership role as well next year. Needs: Keep doing the same
Mike Sgarbossa* - This was a throwaway year for Mike, came to camp out of shape, ankle injury early, struggled to find time with the skill lines even given ample opportunity, major battles with the coach. Needs: Work hard over the summer, lose the attitude and start producing or he will be in the CHL (or worse)
Mitch Heard* - Not a horrible year on the stat sheet but struggled with discipline and finding a consistent role. Mitch is never going to live up to being a 2nd rd pick but he has the tools to be a good bottom-6 forward. Needs: Keep winning faceoffs and being physical then concentrate on playing sound defensive hockey. Nixing the horrible penalties would be nice too.
Colin Smith - Consistently praised by the staff for his work ethic, he started on the 4th line, earned a spot in the top-6 and never looked back. 8G/26A was good for 3rd in scoring on the team. Needs: Put on some mass over the summer and keep setting up the big guys in front of the net.
Garrett Meurs - After a promising first half, he got in the doghouse and never recovered. Needs: More discipline. Use that speed and grit to draw penalties and create space for linemates and he'll be in the lineup and productive every night.
Trevor Cheek - Struggled for most of the first half of the season adjusting to the speed of the pro game, he was improving rapidly and getting time with the skill lines when a freak fall on an opponent's skate tore his hamstring. Needs: Use his size and excellent shot like he was before the injury, stay healthy
Troy Bourke - So glad the Avs signed him, not as small as you think (5'11 176#) and could end up a budget version of Parise or Duchene. Fast, likes going to the front of the net and tough enough to play there. Had 3G/4A in 15 games with LEM, also was captain of the PG Cougars and put up 29G/56A there. Needs: A little more mass/strength, linemates that can get him the puck
Samuel Henley - Huge (6'5 220#) C/LW. Saw him in a couple Memorial Cup games, not fast at all but very positionally sound and good on the PK. Excellent hand-eye coordination, will be good in front of the net on offense. Needs: Work on skating
Borna Rendulic - RW with some size (6'3 203#) and scoring ability. Had 32 points in 57 games in the Finnish league last year. Needs: We'll see
Dennis Everberg - Another big (6'4 210#) C/LW, this time from the 2nd-tier Swedish League, where he scored 17G/17A last season. Not sure what his strengths are, doesn't seem to be a scorer. Needs: A role
Along with these fellows, we'll see Joey Hishon if he's re-signed and doesn't make the Avs out of camp. I'm pretty sure Dan Maggio (as a full-time forward) will be back on an AHL contract. There's a small chance Paul Carey gets a show-me deal. It's a good start, I like the addition of size but there are some worries there, like can they keep up with the speed of the AHL and can the European players adjust to smaller ice. I'd still like to see some skill added for the top lines, scoring and sustaining pressure in the offensive zone were the major weak points last year and it still looks a bit thin there.
Markus Lauridsen* - Tallied just 8 points in the first 29 games, missed half the season with a devastating shoulder injury then returned strong with 4 points in the last 10 games. This is a big year coming up for Moose. Needs: Use his size more, play reliable defense and score 25-30 points
Gabe Beaupre - A big guy that likes to hit and is better offensively than his role has allowed him to show in the last 2 years, Boop is probably the most underrated Dman in the system. Didn't look out of place at all getting top minutes with Stef for a good stretch. Needs: Stop taking the nightly penalty, the freedom to push the puck up ice, more shots on goal
Duncan Siemens - Like Lauridsen, missed a big chunk in the middle of the season with injury. Really came on strong at the end and started to dictate play on the defensive side and contribute offensively as well. One of my favorite snapshots of the year was Duncan in a major fight, and it looked like he was laughing the whole time. I'm very excited to see how far he goes this year. Needs: Stay healthy, stay mean
Cody Corbett - Like Sam Henley, I only saw him a little in the Memorial Cup but was impressed. Definitely played better defense than advertised and has a helluva shot. Needs: Skating work, an experienced RH defensive partner
Needless to say this is only half of next year's defensive corps so the other guys will determine much about roles and whatnot. I wouldn't be surprised if Karl Stollery returns as a vet leader, but i think the Avs also want to find another Guenin/Holden in FA and keep him in Cleveland to anchor the D. Gus Young is still theoretically available, Matt Pufahl was good on a try-out and could be in camp vying for a spot, Max Iafrate might be an option if still available in the later rounds of the draft or as a FA. Need to grab a couple right-handers somehow.
Calvin Pickard* - Statistically regressed a bit from last year but didn't play any worse really, I attribute most of this to Coach Dean's goalie misuse strategy and the team's defensive doldrums in the middle of the year. Needs: Adapt his talents better to the Allaire/Filiatrault style, consistent & predictable use
Sami Aittokallio* - Sami improved a bunch from his forgettable 12-13 campaign, lost a bunch of starts in the middle of the year due to a freak practice mishap. Needs: A little more speed, stay healthy, consistent & predictable use
Roman Will - Had a great season in the QMJHL 2 years ago and has been tearing up the Czech minor league in the meantime. Needs: ?
As it stands right now, there are no solid roles beyond Varly for the goalies in the Avs system. We could have Picks and Sami back for the Monsters or it's possible we could see Yogi and the Roman. Sami showed his coachability this year which allowed him to close the gap to Picks' instinctual wizardry, I like how these guys have been pushing each other, this is likely the last year in the organization for one of them. Whoever plays in LE, it's mandatory that we see smarter use and set the goalies up for success.
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This is a good start and promising for the Avs development side, but who fills out the rest of the roster is going to determine whether LEM finally get back to the playoffs or have yet another mediocre campaign. We've got 7-8 contracts left on the Avs side and the usual 6 or 7 AHL deals. The former we'll find out in the next 5 weeks for the most part, the latter when Monsters camp opens in September. I can honestly see the possibility of a couple of guys from the Avalanche on the Lake Erie roster if beaten out in training camp too. Should be an interesting summer.