With the beloved Rampage off until next weekend, I thought it would be fun to do a Q&A special with our good friend Jackie about a recent trip to San Antonio, some LA Kings prospects that seem to have the Avs attention at the moment and a couple of Rampage rookie defensemen that are charting new waters in development.
The AT&T Center
Q: Recently you got a chance to see the beloved Rampage live. First of all, what are some similarities and differences between the AT&T Center and the Pepsi Center as far as the arena itself, ease of access what goes on during games?
tv: The Rampage have a nice setup at the AT&T Center and it was great to see that first hand a couple weeks ago for both weekend games against the Iowa Wild. The AT&T Center has a nice modern feel and I believe has recently been remodeled. I didn't know that there was a level below the main arena concourse so that lead to some confusion for a bit. Once I figured it out the area was nice access to rink side seats and a more lounge type feel with bars and couches outside the seating area. Although only 15-20 minutes from downtown, the AT&T Center is in a residential area so not a place to want to hang around before or after the games unfortunately. All major league arenas have more or less the same type of feel and definitely gives the close to the NHL impression. Since the AT&T Center is sized for basketball, it does have a little bit more intimate feel. I wondered what it would be like with the seats removed from one end of the ice (to fit the ice in) but it wasn't awkward live. It was a nice touch that the Rampage updated on the jumbotron what a few former players were doing with the Avs, Goloubef and Rantanen were their choices that weekend.
Q: Since the bench is rarely shown on TV, I'm wondering first about Eric Veilleux's demeanor or anything interesting about what you could see of him during the game. Second if you could pick up anything about the players on the bench, who's chatty, any personal quirks, that type of thing.
tv: My eyesight isn't the greatest so I'm afraid I don't have any real details to share. But my impression of Veilleux was calm but talkative. I noticed Greer hardly sits on the bench, he's either sitting on the ledge or standing up. I always like to watch warm ups and see who stays out last since Duchene taking the last shot in warm ups is a thing in Denver. That person in San Antonio seems to be Boikov.
Q: That totally fits my notion of Greer’s demeanor, and interesting that Sergei would be that guy. What were your impressions of the games themselves?
tv: I was impressed with the atmosphere of the game. The crowd was engaged and the team seemed to feed off of it. The first game I saw was the worst from the score standpoint but the team was hitting and I could feel the intensity. Second game was a lot closer but had more of an anticipation feel. So it was pretty neat to have that live experience. It was surreal at first to be there matching live with what I see on the screen. The players look both bigger and faster than you'd expect and the action was definitely closer to NHL than ECHL in my experience.
After the second game I got the opportunity to watch some of the live auction of the specialty Girl Scout jerseys that the team wore that night. The players entered a roped off area and a little stage where one by one they stood and in essence were auctioned and the winner then went through the ropes and got to meet the player, had their photo taken and were given the game worn jersey. There were some serious collectors in the crowd and they plotted their strategy. One couple made particular plans to get Boikov's jersey, which ended up going for around $500. The vets like Sislo, O'Brien and Whitney went first around $300 each. Henley and Martin were a couple other popular ones. The highest I saw go was Greer at $800. It was definitely fun to see this part of minor hockey in action.
Q: That’s cool you got to see the Girl Scout Jersey Auction. I know practically pulling something like that off at an NHL barn is impossible but it’s one way that minor leagues really beat the majors. Access to players outside of exclusive environments like hospital visits and golf tournaments might do more for fan interest than winning games once in a while.
Kings Prospects/Paul LaDue
Q: Switching gears, let's talk about Paul LaDue. He's been in the Avs-Kings trade rumor mill for the last few weeks and we had a chance to see him for two games this weekend. Got the first star on Saturday in the Ontario win. What are your likes and dislikes from what you've observed?
tv: It was easy to see why the Avs have interest in LaDue after watching him this weekend. He seems like a good well-rounded puck moving defenseman. Good offensive instincts, shot, passer with lots of time on the power play but responsible in his own end as well. Didn't see him in heavy defensive situations or on the penalty kill as much though. My only concern with LaDue is he's a bit thin framed and could get pushed off the puck and in one on one situations. At 24 years old I'm not sure how much more strength he's going to gain in that area. The NHL upside and readiness seems real so that explains the Avs interest. He's neither a blue chip prospect or a proven NHL defenseman so he'd have to be a secondary piece in a bigger deal but LaDue also seems like a better prospect than just a rental return.
Q: I agree. LaDue looks like a solid prospect that value-wise might be more than someone like Iggy could bring but shouldn't be the cornerstone of a core trade. A couple concerns I have are the fact that he's 24 and like you said probably won't get much bigger or stronger without affecting his skating. He’s probably pretty close to his ceiling talent-wise, any upside will come from gaining experience at this point. Also, the Ontario system probably has large effects on how he looks on the ice and projecting what he is aside from that is difficult.
Other than LaDue, were there any other Reigners that stood out? Brodzinski had the hattrick, so that was nice, but they seem to have a lot of similar type guys. And I don't mean that in a good way.
tv: A few other names I know who have been thrown around are forwards Mike Amadio, Justin Auger and Adrian Kempe. I watched Amadio quite a bit with North Bay and he was a 50 goal scorer his last year in junior. He still looked a bit raw at the AHL level as a rookie and had trouble stringing good plays together but his energy was there and the potential for things to come together. Auger is a huge dude at 6'7 and plays with a bit of skill. He had a pretty good season in the AHL last year scoring 19 goals and 39 points but seems to be a bit of what the Avs are trying to get away from. He wasn't a big scorer in junior so the upside is probably limited. Kempe as folks know is the Kings' top prospect and he's a good solid forward but hasn't put up big points in the AHL and doesn't look a ton better than Compher at this point. I'd welcome any of the three to the Avs pipeline but it's tough to see any of them move the needle significantly for the Avs to pull the trigger on something bigger. And as you said, playing in such a well-structured system we have to take into account how the player would look away from that.
Q: The skill Auger has at his size is intriguing but I cant tell if that's going to transfer to the NHL. Kempe looks like a bad fit for that org, he might start to thrive somewhere that plays more open but I'd hate to pay to find out otherwise. One fellow that wasn't around due to long-term injury was Michael Mersch, who I've always liked. I wouldn't mind him as part of a package deal but it all goes back to LA being not the greatest fit if Colorado trades someone big.
Rampage Rookie Ds
Q: Finally, I wanted to get your take on a couple of rookie Ds in San Antonio and how they've progressed since training camp.
Anton Lindholm has gone from a guy that looked constantly surprised by the quickness of hockey on small ice to very sound positionally. The thing that's surprised me lately is the offense, which he seemed to have exactly none of at the beginning of the year. He now seems to have developed a shot and some decent instincts. He's never going to be able to do what someone like Bigras can but I've got to hand it to the development staff for making something out of nothing.
Sergei Boikov has gone through some totally different changes. He's always had talent but it was very raw and unfocused. Now he's getting noticeably more focused week to week. It like the old cartoon of taking a squiggle and turning it into a line. I really think the Avs might have something good with this dude. Again credit to Randy Ladouceur and the dev staff for hard work on a project guy.
Both players show something we haven't really seen before: Rookies that make measurable progress by the All-Star Break. Finally there seems to be a little urgency with the youngsters instead of letting them fester like Bourke and Geertsen. Now all that needs to change is how the front office uses what they are creating and we're in business.
tv: It has been interesting and fun watching some real development going on with some of our prospects this season. Admittedly, I haven't been the biggest Lindholm fan because I can't quite figure his game out. I appreciate the polish he brings and don't mind that he's a stay at home guy but he tries things he's maybe not the best suited for. I have noticed he's had more offensive success and it gives hope he can round his game out. Boikov is such an interesting character and player. He's still a bit raw but is showing more flashes of potential and has been given a pretty big and consistent role by the Rampage staff. He's my dark horse to see a glimpse of NHL time if the dominoes really start falling.
Q: Yeah, Boikov seems to me to have the best shot at moving up to the NHL, his limits right now are from lack of experience and decision-making. Lindholm’s are more size and ability related but that said, there’s already more there than I thought in October.
I want to thank Jackie for sharing her experience at the AT&T Center and thoughts above as well as her time, it’s most appreciated.
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In other news, AJ Greer and the Pacific Division team went 0-3 in the All-Star Games, guess they could have used Spencer Martin after being outscored 17-7. Greer had a goal and an assist on the night. Speaking of Greer, if you haven’t read this article from the Rivard Report do so now. He’s a pretty amazing kid.
AHL CEO Dave Andrews addressed the media at the ASG, one very interesting note was that as of right now there have been no applications for a 31st franchise to open next season. They expect to have that starting in 2018 but next year could see a shared affiliation for the first time in years. For anyone expecting the Avs to be gung ho on acquiring a franchise, that doesn’t appear to be the case for now. The affiliation agreement with San Antonio has 3 more years after this season.
The Rampage will be back in action at home on Friday, then kick off the infamous & annual Rodeo Road Trip Saturday night against the Texas Stars in Cedar Park.