Update: The Avalanche just signed Jean-Luc Foudy to his Entry Level Contract today so they must have been just as impressed with his performance as we were.
One of the impacts this unique COVID-19 disrupted season ended up benefiting some of the Colorado Avalanche prospects as they were able to join the Colorado Eagles to play in the AHL and gain professional experience. Some because their leagues such as the OHL not playing at all but the timing of a season which lasted well into May gave others the opportunity to join when their regular teams’ seasons wrapped up. This provided the chance to see many different prospects who were recently drafted or signed to the organization plus a few of the other expected mainstays all competing together wearing the same sweater.
The Eagles experienced an incredible amount of roster turnover and different lineups which consisted of 45 different players including seven goaltenders. Injuries and trades were part of the reason but the taxi squad resulted in a lot of personnel getting swapped out and up to the NHL for a spell. As a result the Eagles were not a strong team this season, though they were competitive enough to finish with a 15-15-4 record which was good for fifth out of seven teams in the Pacific Division and they even won a “postseason” play-in game.
The top Avalanche prospect scorer in the minors was Martin Kaut with a total of 16 points but the fact that he accomplished that production total in only 20 games shows how much of an impact he had. Kaut had finally a big role on both special teams units and on one of the top lines which helped place him in more opportunities to score. A cerebral player with good defensive instincts and a hard shot should be useful in the NHL after he’s put in 117 games in the minors.
Jean-Luc Foudy was not far behind in the final standings as far as production goes with 14 points. The 18-year old should have been in the OHL in 2021 but the delay and eventual cancellation of their season brought him to Colorado two years early after a brief winter overseas in Sweden’s third division. Foudy was impressive right from the start and participated in all 34 regular season plus the two “postseason” games for the Eagles. It is difficult for 20-year old first year professionals to get a regular shift with the Eagles but he was counted on to fill in some key roles all over the lineup and at both center and right wing including on the power play especially when many AHL regulars were absent. Foudy’s incredible speed gave him an advantage even among pros but it was his poise with the puck which made him so effective. He has great vision, creativity and the soft hands to pull off passes that NHLers make plus he was able to routinely battle and win against much older and larger opposing players. It was a very exciting debut for someone who should be a key prospect for the Avalanche moving forward.
Shane Bowers waited all year for a callup that never came and then was injured in one of the last games of the season on a dangerous hit. Nobody will be impressed looking at his boxscore numbers with just nine points in 28 games yet Bowers’ seven goals was tied for third on the team as mostly a third line or complimentary winger. His story is a lot like Kaut’s as a defensively responsible player who uses a cerebral approach rather than the try-hard of a pure energy player which seems to be a tough fit in the Avalanche’s bottom six. As a third year pro next season a decision on his future with the organization will need to be made for both he and Kaut will be in their last year of waiver exemption.
Sampo Ranta jumped right in after his junior NCAA season and did not look out of place in mostly a third line role with some power play time. His size, strength and skating was a lot to handle in the AHL plus Ranta figured out quickly he will make a living wrecking havoc in the crease. Seven points in 14 games in addition to a postseason performance of a goal and assist on 14 shots on goal in two games indicates a strong pro career on the horizon. Ranta got a late season recall to the Avalanche taxi squad and is still around as a black ace, along with Kaut, so it is possible his NHL debut could come sooner than later.
Sasha Mutala, Luka Burzan and Nick Henry cameoed the fourth line whenever they played and at times did all play together. Mutala and Burzan were refugees from the WHL with Mutala departing for the two-month WHL season that eventually materialized but Burzan was allowed to stay in the AHL all year because he was already 20-years old. Mutala registered an assist in his six games while Burzan and Henry each held identical stat lines of three goals and an assist in 14 games. As a second year pro more was expected of Henry but he did not get much opportunity. The AHL pace seemed to hinder Burzan at first but by the end of the season he was commonly the engine that drove any version of that fourth line.
Justin Barron was another player who arrived in the AHL only after Halifax’s season finished in the QMJHL but he made an immediate impact. The Eagles had a weak back end all season and instantly welcomed his puck skill and transition ability which is a perfect fit for the organization. Barron was given a top four role with time on both special teams units and he rewarded the Eagles with four points in seven games. Barron saved his best for last, however, with a three point effort in the “postseason” play-in game the Eagles won including the overtime marker.
Filling more of a steady third pair defensive role was Nate Clurman who also signed an Entry Level Contract following his junior NCAA season. He did not hit the scoresheet in nine games and unfortunately his AHL audition was cut short dude to a lower body injury suffered blocking a shot but Clurman along with Barron should heavily factor into the Eagles blueline next season.
Trent Miner was a huge surprise when he grabbed the starting role partly due to need but also performed very well and had earned the net by the time he had to return to the WHL. His stat line of a 2-3-1 record with a .903 save percentage and 2.86 goals against average, plus a shutout and assist, doesn’t jump off the page but at the time he stabilized an Eagles squad who had a poor start to the season and had backstopped two of their three wins when he departed. Miner followed that up with four consecutive shutouts to start his WHL season with the Vancouver Giants. He like Mutala, Burzan and the currently still competing deep in the QMJHL playoffs Alex Beaucage all need to sign contracts by June first or else the Avalanche lose their rights to these players.
Adam Werner was the forgotten man most of the year when he spent a lot of time on the taxi squad and the Avalanche refused to give him a look in their goalie carousel. When Werner finally settled back into the net in Loveland he put together a good season with a 6-4-1 record including one shutout, a 908 save percentage and 2.55 goals against average. Werner showed improved consistency but with his contract exiting this summer it’s not clear if he’s going to return as the organization has a lot of options in net for all levels in the system.
The final player who joined the Eagles once his main team ended their year was Justus Annunen who got in two regular season plus one “postseason” game with mixed results. He didn’t record a win and had a .900 save percentage with a 2.93 goals against average. Annunen tended to let in an early goal on low shot counts but would get better and more dialed in through the game. He clearly did not have a lot of time to adjust to the North American game, which will happen next season, but Annunen also needs to find the consistency that has eluded him since setting the shutout record in Finland nearly two years ago.
Just to note, Alex Newhook and Conor Timmins each put a stamp on the Eagles in their brief time there with nine and four points respectively. Though they are not official graduates from prospect status and the minor leagues they are currently playing well and getting playoff experience at the NHL level with the Avalanche as we’ve seen.
The Eagles saw a lot of legit prospects suit up for them this season in part due to the unusual timing and circumstances of the season. In the 2021-22 campaign there should be opportunity to have many of the aforementioned prospects continue to find success at the AHL level and hopefully the organization continues to keep them in roles to see special situations and in turn production in the boxscore leading to NHL recalls.