Although they didn't make quite the waves fans hoped, the Colorado Avalanche did ink three important free-agents during the off-season.
John Mitchell - 2 years at $1.1 million per year
Centerman John Mitchell was born in Oakville, Ontario, and grew up playing in Warterloo. After a solid season with the Waterloo Wolves of the Alliance Pavillion League, he was selected in the first round (19th overall) in the 2001 OHL Priority Selection by the Plymouth Whalers. In four seasons with the Whalers, he played in 258 games, registering 80 goals and 150 assists for 230 points. He appeared in the playoffs all four years, scoring 10 goals and 17 assists for 27 points in 37 games. During his final season with the team, he donned the C and, for the second year in a row, led his team in scoring.
Mitchell was drafted in the 5th round (158th overal) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs. From 2005-2008, he honed his skills with Toronto's AHL affiliate the Toronto Marlies. His performance grew each season, culminating in a 51 point (20 goals, 31 assists) effort in 2007-2008. He stuck with the Maple Leafs out of training camp the following season, appearing in 76 games. He scored his first two goals against the New York Rangers in a 5-2 win for the Leafs, garnering first star for the night. For the next two seasons, he maintained a solid journeyman role on their lower lines until he was traded to the very same Rangers in exchange for a 2012 seventh round draft pick.
He started the 2011-2012 season with the Rangers' AHL team the Connecticut Whale, but only 17 games in, he was called up and spent the remainder of the season playing in New York. His numbers (5g, 11a) didn't come close to his career high of 12 goals and 17 assists during his first season in Toronto. The Rangers chose not to re-sign him, leaving him open to signing with the Colorado Avalanche on July 1, 2012.
Mitchell is said to bring a solid work ethic to a team, which is most likely what drew the Avs' attention in the first place. He's a versatile, two-way player with good size (6'1", 204 lb). He's defensively-minded and adept in face offs. His role has been and will continue to be that of a bottom six forward designed to bring grit and energy to the game. If allowed to be in that role, he's expected to be consistent and reliable, something from which the Avalanche could really benefit. If there is a downside to the 27-year-old, it's that he sometimes tries to play above his talent level, which can cause his teammates to scramble in order to cover for him. However, in a system like Colorado's that promotes his skill sets, he could thrive and become a backbone of the lower lines.
PA Parenteau - 4 years at $4 million per year
Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau is a 29-year-old winger who came out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to a rocky road in professional hockey. Drafted by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2001 in the 9th round (264th overall out of 289 taken that day), it was expected that Parenteau would spend his career in the minor leagues. That's exactly where he started.
He had a solid career in Juniors, averaging 1.365 points per game, and played a pivotal role for his three teams, primarily the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. His career-high 51 goals and 67 assists came in only 68 games played during the 2001-2002 season. In 2003, the Ducks sent him to their AHL affiliate, the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, where he put in a decent performance over the two seasons (31g, 40a for 71 points in 144 games). His play improved as he transitioned into the Duck's new affiliate, the Portland Pirates, where he scored 77 points in 84 games, including an additional 5 goals and 17 assists in 19 playoff games during the 2005-2006 season.
On December 28, 2006, after four years in the Ducks' system, the 6-foot 195-pound winger was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks along with Bruno St. Jacques in return for Sebastien Caron, Matt Keith and Chris Durno. Parenteau spent most of the remainder of the season with Chicago's minor league team, the Norfolk Admirals, again putting up impressive numbers with a 1.275 point-per-game pace. This earned him a call-up stint to the Blackhawks. Although it only lasted 5 games and netted only one assist, it was his first step into the NHL.
Again, the young forward was traded, however, landing in New York with the Rangers in exchange for a conditional seventh round pick. The Rangers clearly didn't see much potential for Parenteau as he spent the next two years playing solely for the Hartford Wolf Pack, NY's AHL team. He continued to tear it up, posting 81- and 78-point seasons in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009. On October 28, 2009, the Hull, QC, native was called up for the first time to the big club and scored his first-ever NHL goal. All told, his multiple stints with the Rangers produced eight points (3g, 5a) in 22 games.
The Rangers didn't see a future with them for Parenteau, so the free agent was able to sign with the New York Islanders for a one-year, $600,000 contract. He has yet to see another AHL game as he hit the ground running with the Isle. Playing with guys like John Tavares and Matt Moulson, Parenteau excelled both in goals and assists, putting up 120 points (38g, 82a) in 161 games over the next two seasons, the second of which garnered a $1.25 million paycheck.
That time with the Islanders made him highly desirable as the 2012 free agency period loomed. The Colorado Avalanche wasted no time, signing him on the very first day.
The 29-year-old is described as having a depth of offensive tools. In addition to being an impressive puck handler, he has exceptional passing abilities. He's an instinctive player who is equally comfortable setting up his linemates as taking the shot himself. He's a power play specialist, recording 6 goals and 13 assists on the PP in 2011-2012. One of this biggest criticisms, a lack of size and strength on the puck, is something he's targeted for improvement the past few years. He's a proven-goal scorer, though, and working with guys like Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly makes it likely that he will continue that trend.
Greg Zanon - 2 years at $2.25 million per year
Greg Zanon, a Burnaby, BC, native, spent four years playing at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, where he cemented his role as a steady, stay-at-home defenseman. His point totals each season were consistent, ranging from 25 to 29 with an average of 39 games played each year. He flourished during his sophomore year (2000-2001), earning both a placement on the First All-Star team and the honors of the CCHA's Best Defenseman. This came after being drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the 2000 NHL entry draft (156th overall).
The Senators did not sign Zanon, though, and he went on to play with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL for three seasons. He was quite successful with the Nashville Predators affiliate as he helped the 2003-2004 Admirals win their first ever Calder Cup, sporting a league-high +10 during the playoffs and rookie-high +30 rating for the regular season. His 2005-2006 season with the Admirals—captain and career-high 35 points in 71 games—propelled him into the NHL. He had four games in Nashville that season, registering two points. He started in Milwaukee for the 2006-2007 season, but only lasted 2 games (0g, 2a) before reclaiming his spot on the Predators' roster. Over the next three seasons, he earned a reputation for giving solid, steady support on the back end and sacrificing his body to block shots.
On July 1, 2009, the Minnesota Wild inked Zanon to a three-year deal. His first season was a success as he continued to provide sound defense but added in a career-high 15 points (2g, 13a). The following season saw only 7 points although he was a workhorse, playing all 82 games despite the physical beating he took. He fell out of favor during his final season with the Wild, seeing a big dose of healthy scratches, and was traded to the Boston Bruins at the deadline for Steven Kampfer.
The addition of the 31-year-old helped Boston maintain as injuries plagued their blueline. Zanon's performance, although not overly impressive, followed his pattern to date: no frills, nose to the grindstone, consistent. The 5-foot-eleven, 200-pound defenseman registered 116 hits and 136 block shots in 2011-2012, and did so without sacrificing positioning or sound decisions. He signed a two-year deal with the Avalanche on July 1, 2012.
Zanon is expected to bring more veteran leadership to the young Avalanche squad, as well as solid defensive coverage that helps slow down games. He's touted as being smart and reliable, and though he won't contribute much offensively, he is still able to take on up to 20 minutes of ice time each game. His biggest asset, though, will be in front of the net, limiting the number of pucks seen by the Avalanche goaltenders.