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Who Are These Guys?

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So you've played hockey your whole short life, and even though you had a bit of success in the junior ranks, you hit the age of eligibility but not a single NHL team gave you a phone call during your first entry draft.  Or any draft after that, either.

But you kept putting in the ice time, kept practicing, kept training, kept playing in juniors or for your college team, hoping you'd get another shot to prove yourself and score a professional contract.

If the above words mean something to you, there are four guys headed to Denver at the end of this week that can totally relate.

When Avalanche rookie camp begins on Sunday, September 14th, four young players who never got that draft day call will get a chance to make a name for themselves and make a living playing the game they love.

Two currently play in major junior leagues, and two play in the US college ranks.  All four are centers.  Jack Combs of the Saginaw Spirit (OHL), Dustin Sylvester of the Kootenay Ice (WHL), Chris Mueller of Michigan State University and Bryan Marshall of the University of Nebraska-Omaha are those four young players with a chance to join the Colorado Avalanche franchise, having been invited to participate in this season's rookie camp.

The main attraction, of course, is Combs.  By far the best player for Stephen Colbert's favorite team, Combs scored 100 points (42 goals) in just 67 games with the Spirit.  At 20 years old, he appears to have been somewhat of a late bloomer, having increased his scoring by 67 points from 2006-07 to 2007-08.  I suppose that's why he received the "Most Improved Player" award in the OHL Coaches Poll earlier this year.

The other three centers vying for contracts---Marshall, Mueller and Sylvester---are all decent point-producers, though not as impressive as Combs.  The only Canadian of the four is Sylvester, interestingly.  He's also the youngest, having been born in 1989.  The oldest is Marshall at 25.

Their career stats are below (choose the Wide view option in the left sidebar if the stats are partially obscured):

Working against all of these guys is the fact that the Avalanche already have a lot of centers (though their talent levels vary).  I have a feeling that anything short of stellar performances are going to be bad news for Sylvester, Marshall and Mueller.  Combs will probably get a little more leeway, considering his dominance in the OHL last season.  But none of these guys will likely be pulling Avalanche jerseys over their heads this season, even though I'd take Jack Combs over Tyler Arnason any day of the week.

Anyway, good luck to all four of them!