You hear it all the time: Young defensemen take years to develop into NHL-caliber players. There's a necessary physical maturity, a mental understanding of the game, a steep adjustment to the pace-of-play of professional North American hockey -- even from elite junior levels. But Chris Bigras didn't take years. In fact, it took him just 44 games in the American Hockey League to convince Avalanche team officials he was ready to contribute to the big club.
MHH Survey Grade: 76.1%
After getting drafted 32nd overall in the 2013 draft, there were those kinds of expectations. Bigras was considered a smart, smooth-skating, stay-at-home blue liner with surprising physical ability despite his rather average size (see: his sequence of hits while in the OHL on Connor McDavid). Then we went and surprised everyone during his overage season and became an offensive force, scoring 20 goals and 71 points in 62 games for his Owen Sound Attack.
As a 20-year-old for the San Antonio Rampage, he put up a tidy 6 goals and 19 points in his 37 games before getting called up -- ranking up right with the AHL's best rookie defensemen.
His 31-game tenure with the Avalanche wasn't as prolific -- just one goal and two assists -- but the smart, smooth-skating blue-line play was on full display. Primarily saddled with Zach Redmond and Andrew Bodnarchuk, he brought a quiet competency to the bottom pairing group that was absent for much of the season. Though he would average just 13:46 per game, Bigras would eventually see some play in the Avalanche's Top-4 at the end of the year, seeing a season-high 19:25 against the President's Trophy-winning Washington Capitals.
MHH Staff Grade: C+
Was it all roses? Certainly not, but Chris Bigras flashed enough last year to indicate he will likely occupy a spot for a number of years going forward. The skating and vision jump out right away as NHL-ready. Like all rookies, he'll need to improve in his decision making, especially on the breakout. And Bigras needs to be encouraged to continue being aggressive in the offensive zone. We saw instances last year where he made great plays with his instincts and he'll only contribute more by continuing to act on them. We can't help but be excited for his future after a full offseason of gaining more strength and experience.