The race to see which forwards will start the season in Denver for the Colorado Avalanche seems to have been narrowed down to the handful of skaters head coach Jared Bednar keeps referring to in his press conferences.
Vladislav Kamenev, Sheldon Dries and Logan O’Connor have all gotten significant air time in Bednar’s conferences. Throw Dominic Toninato and AJ Greer into the mix as well, as they’ve both enjoyed solid camps and come with some NHL experience under their belts.
After his performance in the most recent preseason game against Vegas, though, perhaps the Avalanche’s most recent first round selection - Czech forward Martin Kaut - shouldn’t be left out of the conversation.
As the youngest Avalanche still standing in training camp, eighteen-year-old right wing Martin Kaut has been long tabbed as a lock to spend the season just up the road with the AHL’s Colorado Eagles.
With his Entry Level Contract eligible to slide if he spends nine or fewer games in the NHL this coming season - and as a player who is willing to stay in North America and play in the minor leagues - this seems like an easy decision. Kaut could use the time to get used to the North American game, lifestyle, and language before really pushing for a NHL job next season.
Still: waiting a year doesn’t necessarily have to be his destiny.
Kaut has steadily improved over the course of training camp and preseason. At first he was a bit tentative with the puck, but still able to fall back on stronger elements of his game like forechecking and defensive play. With the introduction of more structure in camp, Kaut showed that being given time to get more comfortable helped him shine in drills - and now, he’s looking like the minors won’t be much of an adjustment after all.
Preseason saw Kaut begin on a line with Alexander Kerfoot and Tyson Jost, where the young duo gave him the space to make some nice plays while he began adjusting to NHL speed.
By the second preseason game, though, Kaut was on the wing again with Kerfoot - only this time, the pair skated out with JT Compher. The line shuffle paid immediate dividends, as 61 seconds into the game Kaut fed Compher a gorgeous cross-ice pass for the Avalanche’s first lead of the preseason. His passing also contributed to Carl Soderberg’s power play tally, and led Avalanche analyst Peter McNab to declare Kaut was the best player on the ice in the first period of the contest. Kaut finished the game with one assist and a 54.17% Corsi For rating.
Aside from some silly options, like sending Kaut to the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings to play major junior (or even back home to Pardubice in the Czech Republic), Kaut’s only two options are to play in Colorado, either with the Avalanche or the Eagles.
Although some AHL time might benefit Kaut, it may end up unnecessary to keep him there. And holding him to nine games just for the sake of an extra contract year, when he’s shown improvement over a short course of time and already has experience playing in a professional men’s league, would be counterintuitive. Keeping Kaut from accruing a season and roughly limiting him to under 40 games on the NHL roster would preserve a year’s credit prior to him hitting free agency - and even if a year of his ELC would count, the 40-game limit seems like an acceptable compromise with the freedom to get him in significant NHL game action.
The other factor in consideration when potentially keeping Kaut in the NHL, of course, is his fit and role on the team. He has spent the entirety of training camp and preseason on the “second line” with Jost, Kerfoot and Compher, which hints at Kaut’s future place in the organization.
Still, that isn’t where he would likely begin playing in the NHL. Coach Bednar isn’t looking to place Kaut in more of a bottom six role at this time, and the cliche “big minutes” argument about playing in the AHL is actually a fair point in his case.
Right now it still seems like the best option for Kaut is to remain patient and give him some time in the minor leagues. However, the Avalanche should be willing to buck against preconceived plans if, in fact, they need someone to fill in on that “second line” with Jost and Kerfoot. If Kaut is showing a quick adaptation and mastery of the game on North American ice with the Eagles, there’s little reason to keep him there other than playing time. In any event, hopefully Kaut gets a few more preseason games to keep getting game experience at the NHL level, show off his skill set, and to just give fans a few more days of his infectiously warm and adorable personality.