Due to immigration paperwork delays, it came a little later than anticipated, but Tuesday night Colorado Avalanche prospect Alex Newhook made his professional debut with the AHL’s Colorado Eagles. The 16th overall pick in 2019, Newhook recently signed his entry-level contract a few days after finishing his sophomore season at Boston College.
While some are hoping he can step up to the NHL level and make an immediate impact—the way Cale Makar did after he left the NCAA a couple seasons ago—Newhook is likely to spend the remainder of the season with the Eagles as he adapts to the pro game.
Newhook finished his first game with a -1 rating and three shots on net as the Eagles fell apart in the third period, losing 6-2 to the Bakersfield Condors. He was moved around the ice, lining up at both center and wing while getting some power play time alongside fellow prospects Martin Kaut and Shane Bowers.
The 20-year-old definitely looked like a kid who was playing his first professional game. He took a hooking penalty late in the second period and at times seemed as though he was caught off guard by the speed of play—something he recognized. “The pace caught up to me a bit in the second,” Newhook told media after the game.
While he was very obviously a rookie trying to gain his bearings in a new league, there were times when Newhook showed everyone why he is viewed as one of the best prospects in all of hockey.
He plays with a speed that is rare, even in the NHL. It’s only a matter of time before figures out how to adapt his game to the higher competition, and once that comes, look out.
For players with the physical talents Newhook possesses, adapting to the next level has a lot more to do with the mind than the body. He will undoubtedly work hard in the weight room to get strong enough for the NHL, but more importantly, Newhook is going to need to train his mind to adapt to the quicker pace. Being able to skate at a high speed is one thing. Being able to think quickly enough to react to the highest-paced games is a totally different skill—and one that takes just as much practice.
Newhook has the hockey sense to get there, it just might take a little time. And luckily the Avalanche can be patient. Their forward group is relatively healthy right now, and guys like Bowers and Kaut are waiting in the wings to get the call if needed.
Unless injuries begin to pile up in a major way, Newhook will almost certainly not make his NHL debut until at least next season. For the remainder of this season, he will be tasked with adapting to the faster paced game while working with Eagles head coach Greg Cronin to learn the organization’s system so he can make a seamless transition into the Avalanche lineup when the time comes.
One thing is for certain, the kid already knows how to dress like an NHLer.