When the Colorado Avalanche entered the 2017 offseason, many fans likely expected a little more roster turnover for the team that finished with the worst record since the NHL introduced the salary cap. With a number of young players knocking on the door, it was thought that we would see more than a few rookies in the Avs lineup to start this season - especially up front.
The front office traded for Colin Wilson and then signed Nail Yakupov as a reclamation project. Combine those two moves with the fact that Matt Duchene is still around and suddenly there might not be many openings for youngsters like J.T. Compher, A.J. Greer, Alex Kerfoot, Dominic Toninato, Rocco Grimaldi and Julien Nantel.
With that said, this past week both Compher and Greer were outstanding at rookie camp and have proven they deserve a shot at cracking the big club - but will there be room for either of them.
So which Avalanche rookies are we likely to see in the lineup on opening night?
Tyson Jost is a lock. He didn’t leave University early to play in the AHL. He is going to be with the Avalanche and he’s going to play a big role. At rookie camp, he looked bigger than when we last saw him and was performing as you’d expect. He was the best player every time he stepped on the ice and is a definite preseason candidate for the Calder Trophy.
Beyond Jost, no one is a lock - though J.T. Compher would be the next closest thing. Compher spent a lot of time on Jost’s right-wing during rookie camp and he fit in rather well. He looked strong, fast and like a player that is ready for the next step. At 22-years old, it’s time for the former second round pick to be given the opportunity to prove he belongs in the NHL.
The fact that he is a right-shot bodes well for his chances. The Avs have a glut of left-handed shooting forwards on the roster so having a righty to fill a spot on the RW would help.
It’s only been a week, but watching A.J. Greer at rookie camp, he looks like a player who is ready to contribute in a bottom-6 role with the Avalanche. Unfortunately, there probably isn’t a spot for him in the lineup. With Colin Wilson, Joe Colborne and Blake Comeau around, Greer will likely be sent back to San Antonio - at least to start the season. Comeau and Colborne are likely candidates to be traded before the deadline in February, but until then, there likely isn’t room for Greer.
Alex Kerfoot is an interesting case. The former Harvard captain chose to sign with the Avs over other suitors like San Jose and Vancouver. When he signed, he spoke about an opportunity to play in the NHL quickly as a big factor in his decision. The problem is that there just might not be any room for the speedy centerman.
With Duchene still in town - for now - and Jost looking like he’s set to play center, it’s hard to see where Kerfoot would fit. You might be able to slot him in as the 4th line center, but that’s likely not a role he’s best suited for.
Kerfoot looked lost at times during rookie camp, but seemed to get more and more comfortable as time went on - he was one of the better forwards in the final game of the Rookie Showcase. I’m sure he wants to be in Denver to start the season, but he might be too far down on the depth chart.
As for the other college UFA Dominic Toninato, he looked pretty good in the small sample at rookie camp playing in a defensive forward role. If the fourth line center position is up for grabs, he might actually be a better fit that Kerfoot. He’s got an outside chance of making the team but is likely destined for San Antonio.
As for the rest of the youngsters, as of right now there simply isn’t any room for them. With guys like Soderberg, Comeau, and Colborne clogging up the depth, the Rocco Grimaldi’s and Julian Nantel’s of the world have nowhere to play.
Colborne and Comeau are going to be sold off at some point this year and injuries will inevitably happen - so there will be an opportunity for youngsters to grab a spot in the lineup. As the season goes on, we are almost certain to see this roster get younger and quite frankly that’s probably a good thing.