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Avalanche nab more NCAA free agents

Will the strategy of signing older players pan out?

NCAA HOCKEY: MAR 25 Div I Championship Northeast Regional - Cornell v Boston University Photo by Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On their day off Chris MacFarland and the Colorado Avalanche continued their spending spree on NCAA free agents. This time adding a defenseman to the mix in addition to another forward.

Sam Malinski, yet another NCAA captain, is a right handed defenseman from Cornell University and might eventually meet up with his former teammate Matt Stienburg in Loveland but we’ll see about that later. Due to him turning 25-years old this summer he is on a standard contract and not an Entry Level Contract and therefore receives the bump in minor league pay. The deal is also good for the next two seasons after he joins the Colorado Eagles on try-out for the remainder of this season. Malinski has been very productive on the power play and finished with 26 points in 34 games.

The Athletic’s Corey Pronman had this to say about Malinski.

2. Sam Malinski, RHD, Cornell-ECAC: Malinski has been a top defenseman in college this season. He has excellent playmaking ability. He makes a lot of difficult passes in the offensive zone and has the ability to run a pro power play with his vision and shot. His skating is solid too and he can create with his skill and feet. Malinski isn’t the biggest defender but he competes well enough that I think he has a shot to be a good pro.

Also signed is center is Ondrej Pavel from Minnesota State. The organization must have been familiar with him as they signed captain and teammate defenseman Wyatt Aamodt from the program a year ago. The youngest of the three newly signed Pavel is 22-years old and could have returned to school for another season but decided to move on with a two-year ELC offer. His production took a dip as the team wasn’t as good this season and only scored 15 points in 39 games. Pavel is well-regarded for his mature game and should help solidify the Eagles down the middle if nothing else. He will also join them now on a try-out as the organization figures out how to work in all their new players with only seven regular season games remaining.

It’s clear the Avalanche’s strategy with these signings is to supplement a thin and ineffective development system. With a lack of draft picks in the recent past it makes sense that there has to be other avenues explored to bring players in. However, there are still existing prospects with successful NCAA careers who haven’t been offered contracts over the last couple of years such as Tyler Weiss and Nick Leivermann plus no ELCs yet from that cohort this spring either. The Avalanche also haven’t signed to a NHL contract a development camp or rookie camp invite since Logan O’Connor in 2018 who was already 22-years of age. The last true prospect age free agent signing was 19-year old Ty Lewis in 2017.

These factors point to an emphasis on older players who are at the end of their development curve. If it means little or no time in the development system that’s fantastic but there also isn’t much runway left for improvement other than just getting familiar with the pro game and systems. Ben Meyers was a highly-coveted free agent last year and hasn’t turned out to be a ready-to-go NHLer like anticipated. These types of negotiated deals come with promises for NHL opportunity at some point and giving successful college graduates a look is a better idea than AHL veterans but as always there’s an opportunity cost.

Everyone loves free assets and getting players with options to sign on the dotted line is considered a successful first step. It shouldn’t be a substitute for fixing a dysfunctional development system and a reward for refusing to invest in players with higher upside. The Avalanche went through their European free agent phase in similar fashion at the end of the Patrick Roy era and managed to squeeze a few NHL games out of the likes of Andreas Martinsen, Dennis Everberg and Borna Rendulic but ultimately didn’t produce regular NHL depth players. The aforementioned Meyers and Aamodt from a year ago have been good in the AHL but haven’t helped the Avalanche ease the burden of their salary cap issues. Time will tell if this next class of free agents will hit the jackpot.