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Colorado Avalanche Top 25 Under 25, #9: AJ Greer, Power Forward

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Greer has the size and skill to make an impact in the NHL. The only question now is when do we see that.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Mile High Hockey writing staff. Our writers, plus a special vote from the readers, ranked players under the age of 25 as of September 1, 2017 in the Colorado Avalanche organization. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked

AJ Greer was drafted with a pick obtained from San Jose at the 2015 Amateur Draft. The pick sent to San Jose in the deal was acquired in the Ryan O”Reilly trade so he’s one of the 6 current or former members of the organization that comprise the ROR trade tree, along with Nikita Zadorov, JT Compher, Cam Morrison, Denis Smirnov and the departed Mikhail Grigorenko. Avs did ok here, don’t let anyone tell you different.

Greer was drafted after his freshman season at BU, which wasn’t great even considering he was one of the youngest players in the NCAA. Things weren’t improving in the Fall of 2015 so he decided to change boats mid-stream and defect to the QMJHL where the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies had drafted him with a ‘just-in-case’ pick in the 11th round 2013. After a few weeks to get up to speed he fit right in with a dominant Huskies team that also featured Avs prospects J-C Beaudin and Julien Nantel. Greer ended up with 16G/11A in half a regular season, 12G/10A in a long playoff run to the 2016 QMJHL championship and a goal and assist in the Memorial Cup. Smart move. He had the option to turn pro last summer and did along with Nantel.

After a good training camp with the Avs, Greer settled in with the Rampage and got to work. Spending most of the time with fellow rookie JT Compher and experienced scorer Rocco Grimaldi, the “2nd Line” in SA quickly became the most effective, at even strength and as the 2nd PP unit. As injuries began to torpedo the Avs season, he was called up to make his NHL debut vs the Bruins on November 13th. Over the next 10 days he played in 4 more games before returning to San Antonio for the rest of the year.

We often see players struggle after a callup and while not the force he was beforehand, AJ had decent production in the middle part of the season and was impressive enough to earn a trip to the AHL All-Star Game at the end of January. His season, along with the Rampage’s in general, fell in a black hole once they began the yearly Rodeo Road Trip in early February. Greer’s season ended after a violent collision into the endboards on March 31st. I’m going to break his season into 3 parts to show what was happening as time went on.

Pre-callup
13 games: 5G/9A, 1.08 points/gm, 1.34 SOG/gm, 20.8 Sh%

Post-callup to Rodeo Road Trip
30 games: 8G/10A, 0.60 points/gm, 2.19 SOG/gm, 11.0 Sh%

Rodeo Road Trip to Injury
20 games: 2G/4A, 0.30 points/gm, 1.70 SOG/gm, 5.9 Sh%

The white-hot start was fun but shooting like Alex Tanguay isn’t sustainable for mere mortals. After coming back from the Avs his shots per game went up dramatically and his shooting percentage looks about right for a guy that has his office 5 feet in front of the net. The less said about the Rampage’s season from February on the better but some obvious factors stand out. Most people say he hit the rookie wall and there’s a good case for that, especially considering he played all the way through the end of May the previous Spring with Rouyn-Noranda. Call it a Memorial Cup hangover. Add to this that the word was out about the Compher line and the vet scoring line was absolutely dreadful so any team would automatically try to shut down the kids and take their chances with everyone else. I also suspect Greer was pretty beaten up long before his season-ending injury. His size and style of play tends to induce big collisions.

Another theory many have is that JT Compher was the main driver of that line and without him Greer became ordinary or worse. To some extent that’s true, anyone that replaced Compher on that line wasn’t going to be nearly as effective. Greer is a wing that excels in the corners and net-front, if someone isn’t creating plays when he’s on the ice there’s not a helluva lot he can do. Looking at Compher’s stats in the same time periods as above with Greer, they are pretty similar. Compher’s Sh% went from 33% to 14% to 10.5%, his SOG/game went from 1.25 to 2.15 to 2.11 and points per game went 0.75 to 0.80 to 0.44. I’m not taking anything away from Compher here but I think the relationship was more symbiotic than it may have appeared.

Stats courtesy of eliteprospects.com

That was then, this is now. Most fans don’t see a spot for Greer on the Avs coming out of camp, or that he deserves one. I doubt that’s how he’s looking at it. He’s a very confident and driven guy and will make the staff’s decision as difficult as possible. Personally, other than experience and keeping his scoring touch against bad goalies, I don’t see a lot for AJ to gain by playing in San Antonio this year. He will be a top-6 wing there, probably on the 1st line, and that’s not a role he’ll be ready for in the NHL for a while, if ever. Last year he rarely played PK or got buried with defensive zone draws in the AHL and that’s the kind of role he needs to make the NHL jump permanently. In his callup last year, Coach Bednar used him this way and he wasn’t out of place at all. Here he is talking about his first NHL point after his 2nd game:

The likely scenario is that Greer beats out a few guys in camp but gets sent to the AHL anyways. There’s a logjam at LW, which the Avs created with the pointless Colin Wilson trade this summer, but since they have only Mikko and maybe Matt Duchene at RW there’s room to move someone from left to right. I realize the importance of creating the best chances to not repeat last season’s miasma but the org should really be looking at this year as building for a shot at the 2019 playoffs. There should be some urgency to developing AJ Greer into a fully functioning member of the top 9 by then.

The Avs don’t really have a forward like Greer and only Cam Morrison is similar as far as what’s in the pipeline. He’s big, he can skate and he’s underrated handling the puck through the neutral zone. What really stands out is his play in front of the net, setting screens, creating chaos and skilled in close-quarters shooting. If that element is still missing in the Avs offensive scheme as the season progresses, don’t be surprised to see Greer sooner rather than later.