The Avs rookies will be reporting for camp in 3 weeks and I’m confident that we know 95% of the potential roster candidates for the Eagles inaugural season in the AHL. It’s time to start laying out who will be there and some expected roles.
The main unknowns aren’t with the players really, they are with the coaching staff and the Avs development and minor league management staff. While the Eagles staff from last season’s Kelly Cup Championship all move up to the AHL, the Avs felt they needed a veteran voice so they hired Greg Cronin to be the head coach. David Oliver has been involved with the Avs development staff and minor league teams for the last decade but has left to be an assistant in New York with former Monsters coach David Quinn. No replacement as Director of Development has been named yet and I’m not sure if that spot gets filled anytime soon. The effects from a coach that’s new to the org and not having David Oliver around are anyone’s guess at this point so take these projections with that in mind.
I’m going to pigeonhole the forwards into a few categories, which may not be entirely fair, but it is what it is. These categories are fluid and will begin changing as soon as skates hit the ice in September. As of right now this is what we have:
Tier 1: Potential Avs Players out of Camp
As of right now, one of these guys will be on the Avs to start the season for sure. The first 3 are all in the final year of their entry level contracts so it’s go time. Those that don’t get a spot immediately will be in the running for the early callups.
Dominic Toninato – Played mostly with the Avs last season and I think a spot on the big club is his to lose for now. He’s a solid defensive center that has some scoring ability at the AHL level. If he does end up with the Eagles I see him taking a role against the other teams top lines, PK and similar use.
AJ Greer – Played 17 games in Colorado but missed around a third of the season overall with various injuries. Two big goals for Greer this year are stay healthy and finally get instruction in the areas he needs to improve on to make the next step. Namely, getting more comfortable without the puck/in the d-zone and on the penalty kill. Right off the bat you can see Greer and Toninato as a good match for being complementary linemates.
Vladislav Kamenev – Suffered a gruesome arm injury in his first game with the Avs and lost most of the year. By the time he got back they were involved with the playoff run and didn’t have time to break in a rookie. He’s a highly skilled playmaker in the AHL and solid defensively. Nothing left to prove at this level really, he needs to be in the NHL by season’s end.
Martin Kaut – The Avs first round pick in June is a bit of a wild card here. There are plenty of reasons both for and against leaving Kaut with the Eagles the whole season. He’s got size, speed and skill and has been playing in a men’s league for a couple years now. At this point there are a lot of rookies that could be part of the NHL plan in 2019 so maybe spreading that out is smart. He would be the only right-shot RW in Colorado if he ends up there. On the other hand leaving him in Loveland means his ELC slides a year and he gets to learn North American ice before taking what should be a big role in the coming years. Tough decision. If he does stick around he will likely be the most skilled forward and expected to take a big role in scoring.
Andrew Agozzino – Don’t groan, I don’t actually think he’s going to make the Avs but this is the appropriate bin for him. Aggz has spent most of his pro career in the Avs system and is a proven scorer coming off a down year in Eric Veilleux’s terrible system. A return to his proper spot on the wing with logical linemates should see him back to his usual three points every four games pace or close to it. Keys: Don’t play him at center or give him large defensive responsibilities.
Tier 2: Depth and Development
This group is the non-rookies that will be filling in around the guys in Tier 1 and hoping to step up.
JC Beaudin – Last season’s slow pace of improvement was a disappointment but not out of the ordinary. At each level of his career he’s had slow starts when moving up a level and caught fire in the 2nd year, which is what everyone is looking for this Fall. What he needs more than anything else is regular playing time and a logical role. I like JC better at center but the lack of right-shot forwards in the org may mean that playing RW is the proper path. He’s a smart 2-way playmaker, something that absolutely didn’t work in EV’s non-system, so I’m really looking forward to watching he and others set up plays rather than everyone shooting at the net from everywhere.
Julien Nantel – Took a step back last year, playing 18 games in the ECHL as opposed to just 5 in his rookie season. I got the impression that he and the coach didn’t see eye-to-eye on things. He’s my pick for a bounceback campaign and I might be one of the only folks that think the NHL isn’t completely out of reach yet. Even though his offense hasn’t come around at the pro level he’s very quick and good defensively. Look for him to take a bottom 6 energy line role and be a staple on PK.
Sheldon Dries – Signed to an ELC after playing for the Stars on an AHL contract, Dries is a “Cy Young” scorer as evidenced by his 10 goals and no assists in the Calder Cup playoffs last year. At 24 he’s a borderline prospect, not sure if the ELC was just what it took to get him signed or whether the Avs have plans here. If nothing else it will be nice to have the 3 goals and 1 assist on 26 shots he had vs San Antonio last season on our side.
Scott Kosmachuk – Signed after spending last year in the East with Hartford and the 3 before that in the Jets org, he’s got some scoring and experience and counters the abundant left-handedness in the system.
Michael Joly – Owned the ECHL in both the regular season and the playoffs last year and is a returning hero for Eagles fans. Never really looked at home in EV’s system and definitely isn’t the same player at the AHL level. There are a variety of ways the season could go for Joly. Best case is that he gets the scoring touch in the AHL he had last season in Colorado and carves out a solid role for himself. It’s entirely possible he ends up with the Utah Grizzlies too. No clue how this one plays out.
Grayson Downing – Like Joly, he’s on an AHL contract and other than the fact he’s 26 I’m not sure what the thinking was here. He hasn’t been very durable over his pro career, never been on a winning team, scoring is ok but nothing special. Until he shows otherwise this looks like a pointless roster clog.
Cole Ully, Josh Winquist, Tim McGauley – All players on AHL contracts who spent the majority of last season with various ECHL teams. They’ll be in Eagles training camp with some of the Grizzlies forwards looking to earn a spot or get rated for callups later on.
Tier 3: The Rookies
Now we get to the fun tier. Not necessarily below the Depth/Dev tier, we just don’t know exactly what we have yet. Kaut is part of this one too but his pedigree and CV vs pros puts him above.
Travis Barron – Although he’s the 2nd youngest forward on the projected roster he’s already familiar to most Eagles fans thanks to his role in last year’s Kelly Cup. He also had a quick 2 games with the Rampage and didn’t look out of place in the AHL at all. He likely begins the season in the bottom 6 somewhere playing an energy/grinder role.
Igor Shvirev – When the Avs drafted him with a 5th round pick last summer, the feeling was that it was a great pick with a very low chance of paying off. Lo and behold, after a season of averaging about a minute per game in the KHL he signed with the Avs. This fellow is someone we’re all excited to get a look at and could move into Tier 1 quickly. Like his good friend Vlad Kamenev he’s skilled and plays a 200 foot game.
Ty Lewis – The org invited him to rookie camp, asked him to stay for main camp and eventually signed him to an ELC last Fall. They were rewarded with a 100-point winger in the WHL last season. Besides being a prolific scorer, he’s a hard worker and son of a coach. When you look at successful AHL teams, they rely on rookies getting better as the season progresses and Lewis is a great candidate for that role. On the ice I’m looking for him to start on a secondary scoring line.
Josh Dickinson – The ECAC is much maligned so Dickinson isn’t getting the attention of some of the other rookie signings but he should. He comes to the Eagles after a very solid freshman season on a very young and rising Clarkson team so there’s a mental fit here already. He excelled last year both on the power play and the penalty kill then capped off a 26 point season with 2 points in 5 games with the Rampage. He might have to pull off a big training camp to make the opening night roster but once in place he should be yet another solid 2-way center.
Logan O’Connor – The surprise signing of the summer, he impressed the staff at development camp then signed a contract out of nowhere. Set to be the captain at DU, he instead gets a head start on his pro career. O’Conner is one of the only players on this list I have no firsthand knowledge of so we’ll see where he fits in. He’s also a rare righty, which is in his favor.
And there you have it, 19 players for 12 spots. Taking a guess at line combos at this time of year with a coach that has no words on record about taking the job is a bit of folly but it’s fun. Here are a few that could happen:
Greer – Toninato – Kosmachuk? Pretty sure on the first two anyway
Who knows on the 2nd, Beaudin centering Aggz and someone else maybe
Lewis – Shvirev – Kaut This is a dream line, it has to happen right?
Barron – Dickinson – Nantel Could be good, this is a future thing
What we have here is a very young (~22yo avg before cuts) group of forwards, one of the youngest in the AHL. I think with some smart usage of what they have it’s a reasonably competitive roster. Maybe not playoff calibre but not worst in the division, which would be a major step up from the last 3 years. That’s not good news for Eagles fans who are used to winning teams but an adjustment period is needed bumping up a level and affiliating with an organization that has found even small amounts of success in the AHL elusive for the last decade.
The question here for the forwards is scoring and we don’t have a lot to go off of. Last year’s production was really poor but that system will be out the window. No guarantee this year’s will be any better either. All three bench coaches have been primarily defensive coaches so the best case is that they can take the Avs NHL system, quickly adapt it to suit the personnel and level of play and get the players to execute it.
What I expect from this bunch is an upgrade in areas like developing scoring chances closer to the net and finishing ability. How often they do those things is a bigger question for me. There’s a lot of speed here and using the Avs system should make them able to take opportunities in the neutral zone and be a solid counterattack team. Getting a read on how they’ll react defensively is a little bit of guesswork, the defensive skills are there in many of these guys but much of this is going to depend on the defensemen, which looks to be a strength on paper at least.
In our next installment coming soon we preview the defense, then right before Rookie Camp the goalies and coaching staff.