The beloved Rampage entered the 2016-17 season with mostly new players and a totally new head coach and system to learn. The beginning of the year was littered with struggles integrating new pros, injuries and turning aspects of play from thinking to instinct. Lately, we’ve seen a boost in production and a slight rise in the standings which I expect to continue.
A key aspect to this boost has been the improvement in play from the younger players on the team. The Avs threw a bunch of money at the Rampage in various ways this summer. Better and more expensive veteran players, a new training facility, a new coach. All of this was geared towards making the young members of the organization better players and better prepared to contribute at the NHL level. Coach Eric Veilleux took Jared Bednar’s system, adapted it to what he had to work with in a short period of time and has had more satisfying results. There are players in San Antonio that can help Colorado right now and will help them even more in the future.
The following is a totally subjective analysis of our prospects and depth available in San Antonio. The objective numbers the AHL keeps are few and ones we’d really like to see like time on ice and shot attempts aren’t available to the layperson. The NHL clubs want it this way and I can see their reasoning. Thus these are 100% opinion. I’m also going to ignore vet players that would normally be callups for competitive teams, guys like O’Brien, Vogelhuber and whatnot, because that’s far from something the Avs need this year.
AJ Greer - The big forward has already spent some time with the Avs and shown that he can contribute at the NHL level. He produces points and as the season has gone on has taken more responsibility defensively. Even with a long dry spell after being sent back and having to play without center JT Compher he leads the team in scoring.
Callup for: Playmaking, puck retrieval, net front presence, underrated puck moving ability
Needs work on: Skating, play/positioning without the puck in the d-zone, penalty trouble
JT Compher - Was really progressing nicely until an undisclosed injury took him out for 16 games but continued like he had never left once back in the lineup. He’s really made big strides this season in becoming a solid 2-way center and has the coach’s confidence late in games. Very much a pest, he manages to get opponents off their game without taking penalties. Hard to play against.
Callup for: Smart 2-way play, faceoffs, playmaking/creating space, accurate shooting, agitation
Needs work on: Shot generation, PK (mostly because that’s going to be a role for him in the NHL but isn’t with the Rampage right now)
Julien Nantel - First thing you notice is the speed and aggressiveness. Very good at forcing turnovers and covering lots of space. Great PKer and has a couple SH goals. Also has become very smart positionally and for as aggressive as he is he rarely finds himself in the box. Not a threat to be called up this season but if he continues on like he has over the first part of the year, he will challenge for a spot in Colorado next year.
Callup for: Speed, PK, defense, energy
Needs work on: Offensive skill, turnovers
Sergei Boikov - I really like this kid. Sent down to the Eagles at one point he’s now solidly established in the Rampage’s top 4 defensemen. A fantastic skater, watching he and Siemens paired up is a clinic. I’ll call him enigmatic but not in the usual Russian way, he just thinks the game differently. Makes some bad turnovers, although not nearly as many as early in the year, but I’m starting to see some of that as making plays that are outside the box and that teammates aren’t expecting. Nowhere near ready for a callup with the kind of partners available on the Avs but he’s going to get there.
Callup for: Skating, physical play, underrated offensive skills
Needs work on: Puck decisions, positioning, basic rookie stuff
Anton Lindholm - Tough as nails, he and Siemens are the only Ds to play every game so far. Small but doesn’t play like it. I wasn’t very impressed with him in October but after adapting to NA ice he’s improved a bunch since then. When used as a steady stay at home D he’s fine but struggles when asked to play an offensive role. Just not his mentality and he doesn’t have the tools for it really.
Callup for: Steady d-zone play, strength
Needs work on: Puck skills, offensive play, shot from the point is really ineffective
Spencer Martin - I’m not even going to try and evaluate him as a goalie. By my eye he has trouble catching the puck cleanly sometimes and that’s all I can say about it. All you need to know is that he was the “1b” behind Jeremy Smith to start the year and now has all but one of the Rampage’s wins. I don’t think he’s really ready for it but there’s no reason not to give him a start in Colorado at some point this year.
Callup for: He might win?
Needs work on: Getting more experience
Troy Bourke - After 2 years of being stuck on the lower lines with marginal players and no clear role, Bourke has made a helluva comeback so far this year. He’s generating shots at a higher rate than ever and when he gets chances around the net he’s burying them. Due to the injury onslaught he was moved to center and has stuck there on the ultra-speedy 3rd line with Nantel and Garry Nunn. He’s always been a decent PKer but the Rampage’s new attacking style really suits him and he’s one of the reasons they rank 3rd in the league.
Callup for: Speed, Versatility, Energy, PK, depth scoring
Needs work on: Consistency, turnovers, general development
Cody Corbett - Has always struggled to find PT. He’s making very gradual strides in improving defensive play but it’s still not great. Where he shines is on the power play and to a lesser extent in the o-zone 5v5. Honestly some of his best overall games have been at the wing and I think he and the Avs staff should really consider moving him to forward full time. He’s excellent on the forecheck and has a wicked shot.
Callup for: PP specialist, excellent shot
Needs work on: Anything essential to defensive play like gap control, 1v1 battles, positioning & puck decisions in the d-zone
Chris Bigras - Played 6 games, hurt his upper body again and has returned for just 3 so far. Avs fans are familiar with his strengths like skating and puck movement, in the AHL he’s also much more offensively inclined than we’ve seen in the NHL. I said before the season that until that offensive side of his game is developed to the point that it’s useful in the NHL or he is given opportunities to continue developing that at the NHL level (PP/o-zone starts with scoring lines) then he needs to stay in the A. Without that he’s just a bottom-pair guy and that’s not what the Avs need.
Callup for: Top-4 duty with PP time only
Needs work on: 1v1 coverage, turnovers, experience
Sam Henley - I believe Sam is still leading the NHL in shooting percentage and points per 60 so his offensive game should be ok, right? Not really, he’s a little behind his career averages so far but the team struggling to score in general has affected that. Plus he’s been saddled with carrying ECHLers for a good chunk of the year. The coaches can count on him to provide solid d-zone play and excellent PK skills. Now that the Rampage are rolling 4 functional lines I expect his offensive production to start going up. Dreadfully slow when he first turned pro, his skating has improved a lot and his excellent anticipation and positional discipline make his speed a non-factor.
Callup for: PK, defensive specialist
Needs work on: Shot generation, o-zone play, keep working on the skating
Reid Petryk - Has missed most of this season with a broken foot so he gets an incomplete. When fully healthy he’s a tenacious forechecker and puck retriever that can chip in with good depth scoring numbers and PK ability. Once he gets the system down and gets conditioning/game shape fully 100% he’ll start his usual attack up the lineup for PT.
Callup for: Speed, puck retrieval, depth scoring, PK
Needs work on: General development
Mason Geertsen - Like Pete and Bigras he’s missed a big chunk of the season so far so he also gets an incomplete. When healthy he’s big physical D with a good shot from the point.
Callup for: Solid positional play, 1v1 battles, heavy shot
Needs work on: Fighting less, skating, puck decisions
Rocco Grimaldi - Yeah, he’s small but that doesn’t prevent him from doing what needs to be done from what I’ve seen. Not sure he’s an NHLer but he’s pretty much a known quantity at the AHL level so the Avs may as well find out what they’ve got. He played about 1 full period on the 2nd line in his callup and generated 3 shots on goal. In fact, he’s been in the top 10 AHL SOG leaders all year. He may be a foot shorter than Joe Colborne but he’s not going to be less productive.
Callup for: The fact that he’s ready, shot generation, scoring, puck movement
Needs work on: Remembering he has linemates, trying not to do too much
Gabriel Bourque - Another fellow that should be in the NHL as we speak. He’s fast, skilled defensively and an excellent penalty killer. He is exactly the kind of bottom-6er that Bednar’s system requires and that is markedly absent in Denver.
Callup for: Speed, forecheck, defensive specialist, PK
Needs work on: Offensive skills, but I think he is what he is at this point
Duncan Siemens - Duncan’s done all that has been asked of him as a prospect. He’s the best defenseman in the d-zone on the team and has a leadership role. His puck skills are finally at an acceptable level and he’s scored not one but two goals. It’s time for the Avs to reciprocate and give him a legitimate chance to win a job.
Callup for: Skating, gap control, 1v1 battles, physical play, general mean attitude on the ice
Needs work on: Puck skills
Turner Elson - Played only 4 games before a case of LBI put him on the shelf, it’s been 10 weeks and he’s still not skating so something major happened. He did put up 2 points in those 4 games and was a solid PKer I’m pretty sure. Incomplete and I don’t have a good idea of his strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully we find out.
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To a certain degree everyone on the team has developed by learning the new system, becoming comfortable with it and finally showing signs of using it to their advantage. That goes for the vets like Whitney, O’Brien and Sislo too. Coach Veilleux had some very frustrating nights this Fall, I’m sure some more will follow, but the team bought in and is gradually making some headway in the standings. Coach Bednar is going through the same thing to a much greater and more publicly scrutinized degree but there are signs that at least some of the Avs are getting it. They should, it appears to be worth it.
As far as our prospects go, I’ve been impressed with just about all of their progress and development this year. Maybe it’s the low bar set from the Chynoweth years but all of the rookies are noticeably better hockey players than they were in Training Camp. Greer is more complete. Compher has taken on more responsibility and thrived. Nantel is learning to focus his energy. Boikov has solidified his game from the mess it was in October. Lindholm’s struggles with the immediacy of the North American game are dissipating. Martin is more consistent and has proven he can put the team on his back if needed.
Bourke and Siemens hardly resemble the players they were a year ago. After a few years of slow progress, or in Bourke’s case outright regression, the light has flicked on for both of them. What these guys have shown exemplifies what the development staff and coaches are accomplishing. The rookies have the furthest to go and will naturally demonstrate greater gains so when you see a couple of older prospects rapidly closing the gap between reality and potential it’s an indicator that what the org is doing developmentally is finally outputting some results.
Now it’s up to management to make a plan that utilizes what they’re creating at the minor league level. There’s a growing group of young players in San Antonio that know how to play in the Avs system and are ready to contribute at the NHL level, or will be in a matter of weeks. The next step is making some room and moving towards how modern NHL clubs manage rosters and talent.