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Mason McDonald joins youth-heavy AHL goalie system

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NHL: Preseason-Edmonton Oilers at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Avalanche let goaltender Semyon Varlamov go in free agency this summer, leaving them with german-born Philipp Grubauer is their starter for the upcoming season.

With the move came the confirmation that Pavel Francouz, the free agent signing they made last year, will move up from the AHL to back up Grubauer in Denver this year — and his promotion was coupled with a release of prospect Spencer Martin to leave the team without any returning AHL options.

They addressed that by bringing Swedish prospect Adam Werner over to North America, then signed former Arizona Coyotes prospect Hunter Miska to an AHL deal with the Eagles to provide a little bit of North American pro experience. Now they’ve rounded that out and created some competition in Loveland with another AHL deal, bringing former Canadian World Juniors National Team member Mason McDonald into the fold as a potential option.

McDonald was drafted 34th overall by the Flames in 2014, brought in with the hopes that he’d be the future of the team’s depth chart.

He struggled once he hit the pros, though, and played just five AHL games during his entry-level deal with Calgary. After an entire season in the ECHL with the Kansas City Mavericks last year, the Flames let him go and left him to hit free agency on his own.

The deal could shore up Colorado’s minor league depth by giving them an option with good ECHL numbers, and there’s a chance that he’ll play well if they need to call him up to Loveland — or that he’ll be able to show some growth to his game if Werner ends up being the prospect who needs the most ECHL time.

It does come as a bit of a surprise, though, given that the Avalanche have almost no NHL experience in their depth chart now. After Grubauer, Francouz has just two NHL games, Hunter Miska has part of one, and neither Werner nor McDonald have any. The fact that the team still hasn’t signed anyone to the depth chart with proven ability to handle some NHL games is a big gamble in the instance that Francouz struggles with the transition or someone gets hurt.

Of course, the summer is still in full swing — so with a handful of veterans still floating around who could sign pro try-out deals somewhere along the way, it’s not an awful move to pick up plenty of depth with potentially high reward.