The Avalanche began the initial stages of gardening today.
They selected some seeds at the store, planted them in the earth, and added the proper application of Miracle Grow. Not all these burgeoning plant organisms will fulfill their promise, but the team hopes a handful can develop into adequate sustenance, while perhaps a select few might qualify one day for prizes at the Calder County Fair.
I traveled to the far reaches of the netherworld today (er...uh, the suburbs) to witness twenty-two Avalanche prospects make initial impressions on the organization and coaching staff. Pucks were on the ice very little today -- just a brief shooting session during the first hour while the Gray Team was getting work. Highlighted by recent 1st Round draft picks, Mikko Rantanen and Conner Bleackley, along with defensive prospects Mason Geertsen, Kyle Wood, and Nicolas Meloche, each took turns firing shots at goalies Spencer Martin, Roman Will, and Max Pajpach. The shooters won this battle today, featuring both accurate and powerful attempts by each player. But this activity was soon set aside for a series of rigorous skating exercises.
Players made numerous trips up a down the ice, forward and backward, at full-speed and slowly -- with an emphasis on balance and technique. None other than Adam Foote assisted these drills with a number of highly skilled demonstrations when he wasn't filming the prospects. Perhaps most noteworthy was how ordinary the 6'3" 225 pound former defenseman looked among Colorado's recent acquisitions. Foote was a large, powerful blueliner during his time in the NHL. Wood, Geertsen, and Meloche all appeared to be in a similar mold, if not quite there in the weight room.
Rantanen stood out to me among the group as an already natural skater with the highest potential ceiling. His straightaway speed was impressive, but his stopping and turning ability were perhaps more so. Bleackley, generally considered a very average skater, received a lot personal instruction throughout the session, tweaking both his stride and arm movements. Among the defensemen, Geertsen stood out on top, skating backward just as well as he did forward. Kyle Wood and Nicolas Meloche are still a way off before they get to that level -- something to follow in the next couple of years as they develop.
The next two groups participated only in the skating drills. Most notable on the Blue Team was Russian Sergei Boikov, who had an uncannily balanced approach to skating. His torso never seemed move, even as his legs churned, arms pumped, and head swiveled. The lithe 2015 draft pick probably has the most ground to gain among his camp peers in order to achieve an effective NHL playing weight, but he's worth keeping an eye on. Also striking was big Andreas Martinsen, the recent free agent signing from Norway, playing in Germany's DEL. His size has definitely not been overstated in stories, and his straightaway speed is like a runaway train. He's going to make an impact right away in the AHL with his size alone. If he can demonstrate a scoring touch, I wouldn't rule out 3rd line upside for this physical force.
Martinsen still winning every skate race among this group. Would not want to be on the receiving end of that forecheck.— MHH (@MileHighHockey) July 7, 2015
Finishing out the day was a group headlined by Chris Bigras, who did not disappoint. His short strides get up to speed as fast as anyone on the ice, and his backward skating ability is already top-notch. This upcoming camp will be interesting to see how close he is to the NHL. I'm not sure he makes it right away, but I don't think the team hesitates to call him up if needed. JC Beaudin was also noticeably fast at full-speed. The 3rd Round pick also has a ways to go packing on weight before getting to the professional levels, but he's a future speed wing to look forward to.
Overall, we didn't get to see much today. With most of these guys, I want to see puck skills, passing ability, and vision, and those kids of things weren't on the docket for today. If I can draw any conclusions, I'd say it's worth watching Rantanen and Bigras very closely the next couple of days. Of all the talent in this camp, they appear to set themselves apart. I don't think they're too far away from the NHL, if at all.