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Avalanche Prospects Mailbag: Panning for Gold

Are the Colorado Avalanche any closer to graduating a prospect from the system?

2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images

As the calendar soon turns to 2024 now is the time to look at who remains in the Colorado Avalanche prospect system and see how their seasons have gone so far. Most of these players are a while from potentially contributing in the NHL but a path to doing so will hopefully become clearer as the year moves along.

DudeWheresMakar: Would love to hear about how Calum Ritchie is doing now that he’s finally playing games. Is he moving more towards the top 5 pick many thought he would be prior to his draft season?

Calum Ritchie’s return to play in the OHL with the Oshawa Generals was highly anticipated and he has made good on that excitement. In the 13 games he’s been in the lineup Oshawa he’s scored 16 points including five goals as the team has begun to climb out of the basement of the league and are in a position to fight for a playoff spot as they have gone 6-2-2 in their last ten games. Ritchie is a big part of any team success as he is their top center who uses his smarts and skill to be a crafty playmaker and a shooting threat. I’ve liked his commitment to work and hustle in getting the puck thus far early on and that type is attribute will be helpful in hopefully securing a NHL job one day. His ceiling is high and looks every bit of someone who can be that much needed top six center someday.

BayAreaUnitedinOrange: What is the latest with Riley Tufte and what does he need to work on the stay with Avs?

Defense is what usually keeps tweeners in the AHL and with Riley Tufte it is no different. While the inconsistency of numerous call ups and line changes didn’t help, he’s going to have to improve on 38.5% Corsi For and 28.8% expected goals to get a permanent spot with the Avalanche. He’s been patiently waiting his turn in Loveland but the offense has slowed down a touch from his hot start. Still, Tufte leads the team in scoring with 20 points in 22 games.

AvalancheSB: Do you know the nature of Foudy’s injury and if he is expected to play again soon?

Nobody is saying a word about Jean-Luc Foudy and considering we are approaching a year since this injury issue began and nine months since he’s played a game this is becoming a massive concern. He was skating at training camp over three months ago but has still not progressed to taking contact. This is not a typical recovery pattern and even those with significant injuries have returned within this time frame. At this point it is fair to question if Foudy can be helped at all and if he’s going to miss this entire season or perhaps even longer.

TheColourGreen: Thoughts on the Avs’ interesting decision to sign Saige Weinstein but not Jeremy Hanzel? Do you think we lose Hanzel for nothing? What kind of player are we looking at in Weinstein? Also, is there anything there with Gianni Fairbrother?

The signing of Weinstein was quite a surprise because the organization hadn’t signed a rookie camp invite after the conclusion of main camp since Ty Lewis in 2017. I appreciate adding free prospects to the pool but with Weinstein as a defensive defenseman type it is a curious choice since that type of player is near impossible to graduate to the NHL with veterans typically making up the bottom pair. He’s scored a modest six points in 26 games with the Spokane Chiefs in the WHL, though a few of those have come shorthanded. Weinstein will likely have to make his impression in the AHL in a couple years.

As far as Hanzel, he’s leading the Seattle Thunderbirds in scoring with 26 points in 27 games. It just feels like it’s a throw away year for a player ready to play pro hockey. There’s no fear in losing Hanzel right now but the Avalanche do only have one more year of rights to sign him. If there an Entry Level Contract offer this summer and he’s given a real role in the AHL next year then all will be fine but it feels like Hanzel is in purgatory right now even after he’s earned a better opportunity. Good news is both Hanzel and Weinstien’s teams are unlikely to make the WHL playoffs so they should be available to spend some time with the Eagles this spring and hopefully can get into a game or two.

I suspected the Avalanche wouldn’t have much time for Gianni Fairbrother and it’s looking to be the case. He played five games with the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies and been a reserve player for the Eagles at times. The one time Fairbrother got in a AHL game he got hurt again. So he’s probably just going to ride out the last year of his contract.

What happens with University of Denver defenseman Sean Behrens will be interesting to watch in particular in the coming months. As a junior who is soon to turn 21-years old, it is time for him to move on to professional hockey and likely sign a NHL contract this spring once the Pioneers’ season ends. Most juniors will get signed before moving on to their senior year with the looming threat of free agency and the Avalanche in particular don’t have any interest in signing their NCAA prospect seniors. So, clearly the decision point is coming up quickly.

Juniors who are trending up, such as Behrens with 17 points in 18 games thus far this season, will have leverage in negotiations and can possibly get the first year of their ELC burned by signing a NHL contract eligible for the current (2023-24) season or even additional promises of a few NHL games. This is what it took to get Sampo Ranta under contract in 2021 so this is not an uncommon occurrence.

Therefore with these factors lining up, I expect Behrens to become prime trade bait at the upcoming NHL trade deadline. The Avalanche have an asset with a rapidly approaching expiration date and if they can get out of doing the promises and contract negotiation dance they will, just like how they didn’t have to bother with signing Drew Helleson after his junior season at Boston College and got moved to the Anaheim Ducks to do the honors.

If Behrens is not moved to another organization by the March 8th NHL trade deadline then I do expect the Avalanche to sign him because he is worthy of a NHL contract and needs to move forward in his career. There’s no reason for the Avalanche or the player for him to see his senior year in college if he has NHL aspirations with this club.

Behrens is a popular topic!

If he begins to play pro next season as I’d expect I think he has to make the league within two years if he has any NHL viability. That might sound aggressive but Minnesota defenseman Brock Faber was a second round pick who played three years in college and has not played a day in the AHL so it is possible to impact that quickly, in fact it is ideal.

Would seem to me that panning for gold takes a lot of patience and perseverance so I’d predict the best at it to be 13-year pro Brad Hunt. Though he got to play several years in the NHL in varying lengths of time with Edmonton, St. Louis, Nashville, Vegas, Minnesota, Vancouver and now Colorado he has spent considerable time in the minor leagues as an undrafted player. At 35-years of age Hunt is still going strong and is second in scoring on the Eagles, so he’s who I want leading my gold panning missions.

Thank you all for the questions! We’ll continue to update the prospect pool as the season continues.