When the Colorado Avalanche announced their roster for the Rookie Faceoff Tournament, it looked a little different than most. On top of the well known prospects, we often see these rosters filled out with non-contract invitees - players that look to impress in the hopes of getting an ECHL or even AHL contract with the organization down the road.
This year, the Avalanche have tapped an unusual resource. The team has invited four U Sports athletes in a move not usually seen from NHL teams.
Some of you might ask; What is U Sports?
Essentially, it’s the Canadian version of the NCAA.
Unlike the NCAA, this is not a league made up of NHL prospects that are working towards the goal of a professional career. U Sports teams are often made up of former CHL players that weren’t good enough to move on to the next level.
Most years we’re see a handful of these athletes at rookie camps around the league, for one team to invite four of them is a but of a head-scratcher.
When the Avs rookies hit the ice later this week, we will see forwards R.T Rice (University of PEI), and Matthew Boucher (University of New Brunswick) as well as defenders Matthew Pufahl (Acadia University) and Alex Breton (Concordia).
Have the Avalanche found a market inefficiency?
Probably not, but it’s never a bad thing to be thinking outside of the box.
The organization has already made commitment to a couple of these players. The team signed Rice to an ECHL contract and is expected to start the season with the Utah Grizzlies after two seasons at UPEI.
Having never played major junior hockey, the fact that Rice has been given a professional contract is a huge milestone for the 23-year old. He’s never going to be an NHLer, but the hear hitting Rice could very well work his way into an AHL lineup one day.
Along with Rice, Matt Pufahl also has a contract with the Avalanche organization. Pufahl was signed to an AHL contract in July after playing four years with the Acadia Axemen. The 25-year old defenseman has been on the Avs radar for a long time, having attended development camp back in 2014 after his WHL career had concluded. The former captain of the Everett Silvertips will likely play a stabilizing depth role on the Eagles this season.
Being a lot older than most of the players in attendance, Pufahl is a guy that will hopefully stand out at the Rookie Faceoff Tournament.
Of the four players, Matthew Boucher is the one that I would keep an eye on. The 20-year old left-winger spent four years in the QMJHL, finishing his career with 31 goals in 61 games last season. Having spent the past two seasons as the captain of the Quebec Remparts, Boucher is a smart, skilled player that scouts believe is going to have a hard time at the next level because he is really small.
The son former NHLer (and Remparts head coach/GM) Philippe Boucher, Matthew is set to attend the University of New Brunswick this year, but there is a decent chance he could earn a pro contract that gets him to the ECHL if he is able to impress this week.
We’re likely never going to see any of these guys play in an NHL game, but these four players represent something we don’t often see in hockey - open-mindedness. It shows that the Avalanche are willing to explore unconventional scouting avenues - something that can only help in the long run.