For most teams serving as NHL farm systems, there is usually quite a bit of roster turnover that takes place each off-season. Players move on to all kinds of new places; through trade or other form of acquisition, graduation to (or demotion from) the ECHL, arrival from juniors, and signings from international rosters, the American Hockey League serves as a kind of revolving door of young talent who are all hoping to take the next step in their journey to becoming future NHL products.
It is no different for the Colorado Eagles, a club entering just its second season in the AHL and currently sitting in the midst of one of these offseason roster revamps. While there are a few returning players, there will be plenty of fresh faces on the ice of the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland this year.
For some fans, that can be a bit sad. It’s often an exciting change, however, and it serves as a key part of NHL development.
“The core of what we’re doing is developing players for the Avalanche,” said Eagles head coach Greg Cronin. “...Ultimately, when you acquire players over the summer, you’re trying to find players that are good character people, good leadership that are going to try to accelerate the strength and development of the young guys.”
The depth of an NHL team is only as strong as the depth of its AHL team. It’s important, as a part of player development, to bring in new talent to surround the core of a team’s top prospects — and for the Eagles, it’s no different.
For Colorado Avalanche assistant GMs Chris McFarland and Craig Billington, the latter of whom is the Eagles’ general manager, that made for a busy offseason full of signings and trades to add a wealth of new talent.
“I think Craig Billington and C-Mac (Chris McFarland) did a good job,” added Cronin of the team’s offseason. “I think Condra is going to be a really good addition; T.J. Tynan has been a great player in the American League for a while; [Dan Renouf] won a championship in Charlotte. I think those are the new faces. And [Jayson] Megna, who I’ve known, he played in the NHL for awhile. They’re going to help us.”
Along with Tynan, Renouf, Megna, and seasoned NHL/AHL veteran Erik Condra, the team also acquired younger talent like Calle Rosen from the Toronto Maple Leafs, a dynamic defender who put up 46 points in 54 games with the Toronto Marlies last season and is knocking on the door of an NHL job. Jacob MacDonald, who the Eagles acquired from the Florida Panthers organization in exchange for Dominic Toninato, also figures to factor into the equation on Colorado’s blue line this season.
Of course, with the graduation of last season’s starting goaltender Pavel Francouz — who will play the backup goaltending role with the Avs this season — the Eagles have an entirely new crop of netminders, too. Adam Werner joins Colorado this season after playing almost exclusively in Sweden, preparing to play in his first full season in North America. The Eagles also signed goaltenders Hunter Miska and Mason McDonald to AHL-only deals, and recently acquired Antoine Bibeau from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Avs former second-round pick Nicolas Meloche.
And that’s just a handful of the new names to get to know in Loveland this season.
With addition also comes subtraction, however. Veteran players like Andrew Agozzino, who led the Eagles in goals (26), assists (34) and points (60) last season, is now with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, as is defender David Warsofsky. Colorado also bid adieu to J.C. Beuadin, Dominic Toninato and goaltender Spencer Martin, just to name a few.
“We don’t have as many veteran guys as we had last year — (Cody) Bass and Warsofsky, Agozzino, those guys,” said Eagles captain Mark Alt. “Those are going to be big shoes to fill but we have a lot of young guys in here who are young, talented skilled players and they really need to step up and fill those shoes.”
Newcomer Condra, who will be the oldest player on the Eagles roster this season at 33 years (and is a veteran of over 300 AHL games and 300-plus NHL games, to boot), is very impressed with the youth and the talent that the Eagles roster has this year.
“There’s three lines that may be coming down here that are still up [in Denver]. You see the skill,” added Condra. “The new guys — I know Tynan and I know Megna a little bit — unbelievable players, and then the young guys that we have here in the organization. They’ve done a good job of stockpiling the cupboards. They’re fast, they can play and I’m excited about this year.”
With both the NHL and AHL rosters starting to take shape ahead of the Oct. 1 NHL roster deadline, we won’t know for sure until then what either the Avalanche or Eagles opening night lineups will look like. One thing is for sure, though — Colorado has plenty of depth within the organization.
“We lacked a little bit of depth last year, as far as maturity,” added Cronin. “[With the added veterans] I think when you have a guy like Bowers and Kaut and O’Connor and Henry, if you’re focusing on that group that are possibly NHL players down the road, it’s just going to help them.”
Excess of depth certainly should help everyone. It’ll push players harder in their development, and as an added bonus, it helps the team’s performance in winning games as well. With plenty of talent taking the ice this season, old and new, exciting times are ahead for the new-look Colorado Eagles.