The Colorado Avalanche hosted the first day of their first-ever Rookie Showcase on Saturday to a nice crowd at northwest metro’s Westminster Promenade. Avalanche prospects played three periods of real live spirited hockey against the top prospects of the San Jose Sharks and walked away with a solid, if not completely clean, 4-1 victory.
Colorado definitely wasn’t messing around with their roster, suiting up three young players that saw NHL time last season in Nikita Zadorov, Chris Bigras, and the AHL’s co-Rookie-of-the-Year Mikko Rantanen. The Baby Avs (Snowflakes?) far exceeded the San Jose squad in both raw talent and development level, and had it not been for a rash of 2nd and 3rd period penalties, this score might have been even more lopsided.
Chris Bigras got the scoring started in the 1st on a big slap shot assisted by JT Compher on the power play. New ELC signee AJ Greer pushed the lead to two early in the 2nd with point-blank chance off a Rantanen assist. And Ryan O’Reilly trade product, Compher, got on the score sheet yet again in the 3rd with a pretty drive and deke to make it 3-0. After San Jose got one back a little later in the period, Nikita Zadorov scored on an empty net wrap it up.
That’s the condensed version. Hopefully some more detail will emerge from my notes (no particular order):
Sergie Boikov — Still a standout skater every time he’s on the ice. Transitions from forward to backward are just so easy. Established great position during a 3-on-1 that forced a bad angle shot for goalie Spencer Martin to save. Not a small defenseman for a puck-mover. Physical in his own end. Really polished overall — definitely looks ready to jump to the AHL for next season.
Nicolas Meloche — Started the game alongside Chris Bigras, though the pairings definitely appeared constructed to combine experience with CHL-level guys. Not the cleanest game overall, but the talent really shines through. Good skater, big, and keeps his head up looking for outlets. Only defenseman out there headed back to junior and he held his own for much of the game.
Mikko Rantanen — Most talented player on the ice, bar none. Looked confident and made steady plays throughout the game. Looks to have filled out and he employing some misdirection in his skating that bears watching. Nearly pulled off a Matt Duchene Spin-O-Rama at one point in the second. Looks surprisingly comfortable at center. Defensively in the right position, capable at distributing the puck, and made plenty of plays from the middle of the ice. Great assist from Gretsky’s Office to Greer after a sustained o-zone possession. Sprained ankle late in game and hobbled off. Both AJ and Chambers report it was only minor.
AJ Greer — Today was the first day I’d gotten to see him play and now I understand what everyone’s been talking about. Not unlike a Cody McLeod, you feel his physical presence the second he steps on the ice. Unlike the organization’s most tenured player, Greer appears to have a strong nose for the net and looks to play the puck after destroying fools into the boards (or into the Avs’ bench!). Pretty easy to see why the org has fast-tracked him to the AHL. He’s physically ready and should learn a whole lot more in that league.
JT Compher — Looking down at No. 37, it’s easy to trick yourself into seeing rookie Ryan O’Reilly—the steady breakout execution, the aggressive neutral zone play, the near-perfect defensive zone positioning. Where I finally snapped out of it was early on when he took hit in his own zone after unloading the puck, grabbed the guy and slammed him into the glass, and then proceeded to jab him in the head until he fell to the ice. For the next period and a half, he was up in everyone’s business and had five guys in teal trying to drop gloves at the same time. Though he may share some similar traits, this is a very different player. Compher, temperamentally, plays like one imagines third or fourth line center. And the speed and pretty deke to score the third goal looked like he could be a 40-point player one day too. Rough day on face-offs, but he’ll get there.
JC Beaudin — He’s been one of my prospect crushes since his first development camp. Played on Rantanen and Greer’s line all game and didn’t once look out of place. Like Meloche, this is pretty high praise for a player who will be headed back to junior after camp. I don’t know what Beaudin’s ceiling is, exactly, but I believe he’s solid enough in every area to earn an ELC, unlike a lot of recent draft picks.
Spencer Martin — The big guy only had to make two dangerous saves, but he turned those away and made the rest look really routine. Played the first 32 minutes or so and allowed exactly zero goals. That’s what we’re looking for right?
Chase Marchand — Martin’s backup may have let the lone goal in, but he was otherwise very solid. Colorado was on the penalty kill a lot during his time in net and didn’t back down. Not the biggest goaltender, but he’s quick and makes routine saves. I think the Colorado Eagles would be luck to have him next year.
Nikita Zadorov — It’s nice that he wanted to get the extra work in (lazy Russian, am I right?!), but he didn’t belong in this group. Zadorov was (literally) heads and shoulders above anyone playing for the Sharks’ squad and he tossed them around like mini-mites. No, his day wasn’t perfect. Still needs to clean up his stick handling and lost a couple up-ice passes in heavy traffic, but it’s still early in his preseason too.
Chris Bigras — Speaking of not belong in this game...Bigras showed why he’s challenging for an NHL roster spot unlike most of the players in the game. He just so darned polished in just about every area. Like many others, I believe he still needs to develop a modest scoring element to his game and today’s power play slap shot was a great glimpse at what might be possible.
Troy Bourke — I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be earning a larger in San Antonio next season. Bourke makes up for whatever he lacks in size in speed and determination. He’s getting to the puck whether you’re in the way or not, and he’s not afraid to plow through you to get there. A lot of Sharks prospects took exception to his physical play today and their time between whistles retaliating. Overall, a really productive game.
Shawn Ouellette-St-Amant — Talk about another guy who looked like he belonged. The Val D’or product should already be quite familiar with his coach in San Antonio and now Avalanche fans are getting to see a player with good size and solid ability in a lot of areas. SoSA looks like a steal for an AHL contract.
That’s the end of my observations. Fortunately, there were quite a few prominent voices in the Twittersphere chiming in today who have way better eyeballs than I do.