Alright Avs fans here we are, Part Five of our Five Part Training Camp Preview. Today we'll give you some MHH staff picks so you know which players to pay close attention throughout next week. Just two more days. We can make it. In case you missed it, here's the rest of our preview series:
Wednesday AM - Invites, Absences, and Rookies
Thursday PM - Stories to Watch
Friday - MHH Staff Picks
On the docket today, a number of MHH Staffers will pick their "Most Improved" and "Most Out Of Place" players at training camp, as well as provide you with their "Player To Watch." First up...
Most improved: Duncan Siemens
Siemens should be fully healthy for camp after his MCL sprain last year. After coming on strong for the last few weeks of the season I expect him to kick ass in camp and make it tough for the staff to send him down.
Most out of place: Mike Sgarbossa
Sgarbossa had a lost year in 13/14 and a lot of it was of his own making by coming to camp out of shape and displaying poor attitude and lack of effort on the ice at times. Mike's a talented guy, but on an improved team he will really have to work hard to get ice time and earn a second contract.
Player to watch: Troy Bourke
I'm very excited to watch Bourke this year. Fast and extremely agile skater, good passer and has a quick and accurate shot. All he lacks is size which should come over the duration of his ELC. Many compare his game to Zach Parise and from his 15 games with Lake Erie, I can see some validity to that.
Most Improved: Nathan MacKinnon
MacKinnon already has stories being written about him by major journalists on his bulking up and John Tavares remarked that he's even faster than he was last year. Assuming that's even possible, I expect MacKinnon to breakout in a huge way and better assert his dominance from shift-to-shift. I expect this to start with day one in training camp. Hart Trophy, baby.
Most Out of Place: Mitchell Heard
As far as Heard goes, I've never seen anything about him that says "NHL". He's not creative with the puck, he doesn't have a special shot, his vision doesn't expand beyond the tunnel in front of him, but he's a physical player with a tough guy mentality and has a great work ethic. Typical Avs prospect - high on "try hard", low on talent. If this is how we're going to spend 2nd rounders, we might as well keep rolling the dice with NHL players.
Player to Watch: Mason Geertsen
Geertsen made significant strides last season and after holding his own at last year's camp, he's the guy that I'm most excited to see this time around. He's got the kind of size the Avs have lacked on the blueline and while I doubt he makes the kind of push necessary to force his way onto the roster this year, I think he uses this camp as an opportunity to announce himself as a legitimate NHL prospect.
Most Improved: It's Nathan MacKinnon, it just is.
13 extra lbs brings MacK to 208 with 6-7% body fat according to Nick Cotsonika's Yahoo Sports article yesterday. If you haven't read the interview there, check it out, because MacKinnon's attitude and work ethic are every bit as impressive as his rookie season. But, since we've had others talk about MacKinnon's growth already... I'll pick my runner up.
2nd Most Improved: I think that Chris Bigras is going to have a huge camp this year. The Avs top prospect is coming off a very successful season in which he was voted the OHL's best defensive defenseman despite playing much of the season on an injured foot. Bigras is loaded with the two most important tools in the game of hockey, skating ability and on-ice smarts. He thinks the game faster than lots of players play it and when he does make mistakes, he's a strong enough skater to correct them quickly. A year stronger and playing on a healthy foot I think that Chris Bigras is going to turn heads again in camp, and make it very, very difficult for the Avalanche to send him back to juniors.
Most Out of Place: Nate Guenin
This guy is going to play with the NHLers at camp, he's going to be given assignments and responsibilities throughout the preseason like he's an NHLer, and he's going to get consistently out-skated and out-played by guys like Chris Bigras, Duncan Siemens, Stefan Elliott and Mason Geertsen. The expectations for Nate Guenin are different this season, and the young up-and-coming players are one year bigger and one year hungrier.
Player to Watch: Jarome Iginla
There are a lot of reasons to pay extra attention to Jarome Iginla this training camp, but the first and foremost is that he is an NHL legend, a future Hall of Famer, and an all around good dude. It is an absolute privilege to see him in an Avalanche jersey, and we should savor every second of it. Beyond that there's been some significant debate around here as to which line Jarome Iginla should play on this season. We should know early in camp which center Iginla will be paired with, but my money is on Matt Duchene. Iginla will need to adjust to a system which is more uptempo than the Boston Bruins' but if Ryan O`Reilly and Paul Stastny were fast enough for it, then Iggy should have no problems.
Most Improved: Stefan Elliott. I have called him out before, but damn, am I ready for him to make that stride forward.
Most Out of Place: Mitchell Heard (for obvious reasons)
Player to Watch: Chris Bigras.
I do expect big things from Bigras, but honestly, not for a while. I just want to see if his skates are as smooth as I hear on the grapevine. I don't expect him to step up and magically make the big club (especially with the way the team lays now), but seeing what the talk is about will be a damn nice thing. With Duncan's development coming along slowly but surely (I hope), and Will Butcher a ways off too, I am looking to keep those cupboards stocked for when Hejda retires, and maybe as a Stuart replacement (depending on how well he plays, of course). I love the idea of having up-and-coming D that I'm excited about.
Most improved: Nathan MacKinnon (lemme esplain...his showing in camp last season was okay, even good, but it didn't wow anyone. This season, he's going to blow everyone's minds.)
Most out of place: Borna Rendulic (only because I suspect he'll be a bit overwhelmed with all of it; gotta think there's some national media attention on him from his homeland.)
PlayerS to watch: Joey Hishon and Duncan Siemens
I've got two. There's no way you can go into training camp this season and not watch Joey Hishon. After such a long, hard fight to get back, he was solid in his first foray into the big leagues. Most impressive is that it came during the playoffs, and it didn't take him long to not only look like he belonged, but to show that he had valuable contributions to give. His assist on McGinn's goal was a beauty. He's had his first full stint of off season training this summer and is bound to come into camp hungry. I can see him making a case for sticking around past preseason. The other guy is, of course, Duncan Siemens. Most of us were pretty surprised that he didn't get any preseason games last year, and I know I'm still wondering why. I expect to see him show up healthy and strong and with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. With how questionable the defense is, he could quite possibly shove Guenin or Wilson right off the roster. And then eat their brains.