As the weather heats up so does the competition in what could be the final weeks of the season or amateur career for many Colorado Avalanche non-pro prospects.
RW Nick Henry – Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
Newly minted Colorado Avalanche signee begins his final postseason in junior hockey as second seed in the central division Lethbridge takes on the third seeded Calgary Hitmen starting on Friday, March 22nd. Henry took a little time to adjust to his new team once traded from Regina in the fall but still finished with 94 points and 29 goals which was good enough for 7th in the WHL and a well-deserved Entry Level Contract on March first. His goal totals have not done his shot justice and there’s still upside in that department. Lethbridge would have to bow out of the playoffs early for Henry to see any AHL action this season with the Colorado Eagles.
C Brandon Saigeon – Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Still in search of a professional contract, Saigeon embarks on his final junior playoff run and first with the Oshawa Generals. Saigeon spent most of the season holding a position in the top ten of league scoring but finished just out of that group with 92 points including 37 goals good for 12th in the OHL. After his trade from Hamilton, Saigeon’s scoring slowed as he blended into a better team in Oshawa but has played the same game as an all-situations leader. Next up Saigeon will work to extend his season as the OHL playoffs begin on Friday, March 22nd against Peterborough as Oshawa is the third seed in the eastern conference.
D Cale Makar – Massachusetts (Hockey East)
The storybook season for Makar continues to the semi-final portion of the conference tournament as UMass takes on Boston College on Friday, March 22nd. That journey is only half the destination as the team will secure a bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of the conference outcome. Makar will enjoy several more weeks of his collegiate career in search of and with a good shot at a national title.
Makar is also in the running for the Hobey Baker and with 46 points including 15 goals and counting in 36 games he is a top 10 finalist and favorite to win. He was recently named as Hockey East player of the year just to begin the forthcoming accolades. Makar has stepped up his production, defensive game and physical presence all at the same level and is a treat to watch. His sophomore season has been nothing short of remarkable proving wrong all the doubters (everyone) about his decision to return to UMass and hinting at a special future ahead in the NHL.
C Shane Bowers – Boston University (Hockey East)
Also heading to the Hockey East semi-finals is Bowers and BU team who again is looking to defy the odds as they did last year and win the conference tournament as their ticket to the NCAA portion. They will face-off against Northeastern on Friday, March 22nd as well with the winner meeting on Saturday for the Hockey East title. Bowers hasn’t had the same success on the scoresheet as he did in his freshman season with 21 points including 11 goals in 36 games. However Bowers has played as the top line center most of the year and does much of the heavy lifting. He looks ready to take the next step to pro hockey and hopefully gets the opportunity soon.
LW Sampo Ranta – Minnesota (Big 10)
One of the few Avalanche prospects with their season already concluded, Ranta and Minnesota bowed out in the semi-final portion of the Big 10 tournament at the hands of Notre Dame. Ranta finished an up and down season with 16 points and six goals in 36 games. Nearly making but ultimately getting cut from Finland’s World Junior squad seemed to be a blow to Ranta’s confidence. When he has the big body, skating, skill and heavy game all going Ranta is a lot to handle. This season will be a good building block as he looks to take on more responsibility next year.
RW Denis Smirnov – Penn State (Big 10)
Battling injury and inconsistency Smirnov didn’t take the step forward many had hoped in his junior season. The skill is evident but is just too infrequent and as an upperclassman Smirnov just hasn’t grabbed a big role on the team. With just 22 points and eight goals in 36 games Smirnov is hoping to add to those totals as Penn State participates in the Big 10 Championship on Saturday, March 23rd against Notre Dame. Both teams are on the bubble and likely need a conference title to move on to the NCAA tournament.
LW Cam Morrison, D Nate Clurman, D Nicky Leivermann – Notre Dame (Big 10)
The one stop shop of Avalanche prospects, Notre Dame advances to the Big 10 championship game with three of them in tow. As a junior Cam Morrison holds the biggest role as a top six forward who has scored nine goals and 19 points in 29 games and did most of his work in his office right in front of the net. Defenseman Nate Clurman was a mainstay on the third pair as he dressed in 36 games and chipped in two assists. Nicky Leivermann scored a goal and assist in 22 games as mostly a seventh defenseman when he played. Notre Dame has always played a more defensive brand of hockey and this season they were not as dominant as they had been in the past.
LW Tyler Weiss – Omaha (NCHC)
It took until November for Weiss to get his season going due to an injury suffered in practice but he managed to still chip in 11 points in 25 games. He really started hitting his stride at the end of the season with five points in his last five games including an assist in the first round of the NCHC conference tournament. Weiss’ size wasn’t an issue at the collegiate level and as he gets more experience should have a bigger impact moving forward. Omaha had a tough season going 9-22-3 with just five conference wins and then met powerhouse Minnesota-Duluth in the first round of the NCHC tournament to predicable results in a two game sweep. As part of a young squad Weiss will have the chance to grow with the program for the next several years.
RW Nikolai Kovalenko – Lokomotiv (KHL)
It was a big year for Kovalenko to stick at the KHL level with Lokomotiv all season and he tallied five goals and an assist playing mostly on the fourth line in 33 games. Kovalenko has also contributed two assists in the playoffs including on an overtime game winning goal in the opening contest of the post season. He wasn’t a forgotten young player as many often are in the Russian system as he played around a dozen minutes per game but was also scratched on occasion. Kovalenko brings his relentless pitbull mentality every time he is on the ice and it is no surprise he’s found success playing against men this season. Lokomotiv was just eliminated by SKA in the second round of the playoffs and that would put an end to Kovalenko’s season unless he joins their MHL junior team Loko in their playoff run which currently is in the second round as well.
D Danila Zhuravlyov – Bars Kazan (VHL)
Zhuravlyov‘s post season unfortunately ended before it even started. Once his VHL team Bars Kazan failed to qualify for the playoffs, Zhuravlyov was sent down to the MHL squad Irbis Kazan for four games to finish out their regular season but they also did not make the post season. Meanwhile the defending champion KHL parent club AK Bars Kazan was swept in the first round in their playoff series. Zhuravlyov finished his season with five points in 40 games for Bars where he heavily concentrated on the defensive side of the game playing with professionals as an 18-year old.
G Shamil Shmakov – Sibirskie Snaipery (MHL)
In a similar position, none of Shmakov’s teams or affiliates qualified for the post season in Russia. It was a difficult season for Shmakov as he dealt with injury for much of the first half of the season. When he returned it was tough to get his starting job back from 17-year old Vladislav Sherbakov. All in all Shmakov appeared in 23 games and posted a 2.57 goals against average and .915 save percentage. His season highlight was being named the MHL eastern conference goaltender of the month in November.
C Gustav Olhaver – Tingsryds AIF (Allsvenkan)
Olhaver spent the entire season playing in the second tier Swedish league Allsvenskan and scored eight points in 51 games. This was Olhsver’s last year as reserve list property of the Avalanche and they would need to sign him by June 1st to retain those rights, which seems improbable at this juncture. Tingsryds did not qualify for the postseason and thus Olhaver’s season has concluded.
G Adam Werner – Färjestad (SHL)
Poised for a long playoff run, Werner likely won’t have the chance to join the Avalanche AHL affiliate this season. Werner has been in a backup role in the top league in Sweden posting an encouraging 2.02 GAA and .926 save percentage in 26 games, which places him fifth and fourth rank in the league respectively. Färjestad is the top seeded team in the SHL and begins their first playoff series against eighth seed HV 71 on Friday, March 22nd.
G Petr Kvaca – Motor Ceske Budejovice (Czech2)
It was another successful season for Kvaca in the second tier Czech league as he posted a 1.80 GAA and .924 save percentage in 19 games with the GAA as the top mark in the league. Part of the reason for the reduced workload was that Kvaca was on loan to multiple teams in the top Czech Extraliga including a several month stay with HC Ocelari Trinec. There Kvaca got in two games with positive results 1.97 GAA and .925 save percentage. However an earlier loan to Litvinov did not go as well. He also participated in a Spengler Cup game where the team brought him in just for a shootout. Currently third seed Ceske Budejovice is competing in the second round of the playoffs and are up 3-1 on the second seeded Vsetin. Kvaca has posted a league leading 1.20 GAA and .953 save percentage in five games thus far.
G Justus Annunen – Hermes (Mestis)
Annunen spent the majority of the season on loan to Hermes in the second tier Mestis league in Finland. He played primarily in a backup role and appeared in 22 games with a 2.77 GAA and .891 save percentage. He improved in the second half and got one start with Kärpät in the Liiga at the end of the season which resulted in a 4-3 loss. Hermes will embark on the playoffs as the top seed against 8th ranked KeuPa. However it appears Annunen’s next assignment is to backstop the Kärpät U20 Junior team for the time being and are in the second round of the playoffs.