Tonight at 7:05 in Kelowna BC, Mason Geertsen will lace up his skates for the Vancouver Giants jersey for the last time, but, fear not, because Mason Geertsen has more to prove, and a lot of hockey left to play.
When the Avalanche drafted Mason Geertsen in the 4th round in 2013, we didn't think too much of the pick. The scouting reports on Geertsen all said the same thing - he's big, he's strong, he's physical, and he's positionally sound... but the guy has hands of stone and his skating isn't good enough. Or, as Cheryl put it on draft day:
The word on him is fantastic: big, bad hands, can't skate, needs to improve decision making, takes bad penalties. But he can hit! Woohooo.
Even in the more positive scouting reports, the 6'4" defenseman's skating was always a recurring problem. Here's what Hockey's Future had to say when he was drafted:
Big, tough, rearguard. Already NHL-sized. Established early as a player prepared to take on WHL heavyweights. Able to control opponents in defensive zone. Should become more involved offensively as skating improves.
Now, two years later on the eve of his professional career, Mason Geertsen has blossomed into one of the Avalanche's most promising amateur prospects. Mason Geertsen has grown his game by miles in the last two years and the hockey world has stood up and taken notice. Here's a look at how his Talent Analysis at Hockey's Future changed after his second NHL camp, BEFORE this year - his best one in the WHL.
Geertsen is a solid wall in his own zone at the junior level. If the puck goes into the corner in his end opposing players are unlikely to wrest it from him easily and if they do it will surely come with a price. He will come to the aid of teammates and is a willing combatant if a situation arises. Geertsen displayed some offensive elements to his game in his third WHL season in 2013-14.
Geertsen followed up his impressive training camp with the Avalanche (He made AJ's "Good list" on Day 1 and 2 of rookie camp and received glowing reviews across MHH at the full camp) with the best season of his junior career:
|11-12 Edmonton Oil Kings||34||0||3||3||70||5|
|12-13 Edmonton Oil Kings||15||0||4||4||32||-2|
|12-13 Vancouver Giants||58||2||8||10||98||-26|
|13-14 Vancouver Giants||66||4||19||23||126||-5|
|14-15 Vancouver Giants||69||13||25||38||107||3|
The progress speaks for itself and Elliott Pap at the Vancouver Sun wrote a glowing piece on Geertsen last month: "Giant's Mason no longer has stone hands." Pap opens:
It is jarring, this Mason Geertsen thing that has been happening for the Vancouver Giants this season.
Long considered a rugged, shutdown defenceman, Geertsen has discovered his inner Shea Weber and is blasting pucks past Western Hockey League netminders at a surprising rate.
I mean, come on? 2 years ago no one would have expected that type of ink to spill over this 4th round pick for the Avalanche (read the whole article, it's great). The Giants' GM Scott Bonner got in on the Geertsen love fest as well:
"He's always been a big kid and he's an intense guy and, in some ways, he's an identity player," said Bonner. "When we've had our most success here, we've had guys like Mason who were very, very competitive and I think when you look at successful NHL teams and successful WHL teams, they either have very competitive people or very talented people.
"So I think with the steps Mason has made, he's a combination of both. He's probably our MVP this year and he's the guy, especially at home, who sets the tone in most games."
Great praise from the Giants' GM, who went on to compare Geertsen to a young Sheldon Souray. How did Geertsen react to the kind words from his General Manager? By backing him up with a strong finish to his WHL season. Last night Geertsen scored a goal in his final home game with the Giants and received the team's MVP award as well as the Giant's "White Spot Humanitarian of the Year" award and the "Pat Quinn Defenseman of the Year" award.
Even the Denver Post (which usually doesn't comment much on Avalanche property outside of the NHL) took notice of Geertsen and Bigras' respective big seasons in the CHL last February. Mike Chamber's quoted Patrick Roy on the Avalanche's defensive future. He writes:
I asked Avs coach Patrick Roy about righties and lefties, from a goalie perspective as well as a coach/executive [. . .] About being a coach/executive, he veered to the Avalanche's D prospects, and how (in order of their mention) teenagers Mason Geertsen, Chris Bigras, Ben Storm and Will Butcher - each left-handed shots - might someday compliment the Avs' righties in Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, Stefan Elliott, Zach Redmond and Nate Guenin.
"We have Johnson, Barrie, Elliott, Redmond, Guenin. We feel pretty comfortable on the right side, and they're young," Roy said, forgetting Guenin is 31. "On the left D, we have Geertsen who we drafted (and) needs to be signed, we have Bigras, we have Storm playing college (at St. Cloud State), we have Butcher (at DU). We have different Ds that we think eventually (will be NHL material)."
Geertsen, his big season in the WHL, and his upcoming contract were obviously at the front of Patrick Roy's mind. For Roy, he was the first name on the list. On June 1st, 2015, the Avalanche's draft rights on Mason Geertsen expire, but signing him to an ELC contract with the Avalanche is a no-brainer and there's no way he goes unsigned. Geertsen, now 6'4" and 205 lbs at age 19 (he turns 20 next month), will finish his WHL season tonight against the Rockets in search of that first professional contract and a future in the NHL.
So what happens next for the hulking Avalanche defensive prospect? Regardless of his ELC status, the Monster's will likely sign Geertsen to an ATO contract so that he can get a taste of professional hockey as the Monster's continue to chase an elusive AHL Playoff spot. Duncan Siemens and Calvin Pickard got similar opportunities with the Lake Erie Monsters after they finished their junior careers, so this is standard practice for the Avalanche now. The Monsters have 13 games remaining in their season, starting with a trip to Rockford this Wednesday. Here's hoping that there's a new #44 in the lineup for Lake Erie by then and that Geertsen can continue his impressive growth at a professional level.
Two years ago Geertsen looked like just another 4th round project, but, watching him last night, you can see there's something there. There's plenty of work left to do if Geertsen wants to be an NHL player, especially when it comes to his skating, but he was a man among boys at the end of his WHL career. He's big, he's got a mean streak, and a physical presence that can't be taught, he's got a good head for the game and sees the ice at a high level, and now he's developed a booming shot to compliment his defensively stout game. More and more, Mason Geertsen looks like he could be something special for the Avalanche and the show starts now.