Avalanche ELC season…what’s left?
As the Colorado Avalanche continue to invest in winning another Stanley Cup the prospect pipeline has been left quite barren. Considering the development system is as dysfunctional as ever none of this may matter but in the interest of examining what remaining rubble exists here are the options if the organization desires to sign any Entry Level Contracts this prospect cycle.
Now that the date of March 1st has passed NHL clubs are allowed to file contracts which begin for the following (2023-24) season. This jumpstarts the ELC cycle as contract slides and early signing bonus payments are not needed in these cases and thus is more economical for teams to start to work on getting their organizational system ready for the next cycle.
Players that have leverage, usually NCAA juniors and seniors, can still get offered a contract that begins in this current season and burning a year which gets them out of the ELC system quicker.
The lone Canadian major junior prospect in the Avalanche system goaltender Ivan Zhigalov could in theory sign an ELC at any time because he began the 2022-23 campaign as a 19-year old and is eligible to play in the AHL as early as next season. When the Avalanche drafted him in 2022 they received two years of his rights so they have options on what to do with Zhigalov in the upcoming season. He could go back to junior and play as an overager at 20 years of age, go play pro in Europe, or play under a AHL contract most likely with the ECHL Utah Grizzlies while the Avalanche decide if they are going to offer him a NHL contract before his rights expire.
All are viable and the third option (AHL contract) is the most likely if there’s any interest in adding Zhigalov to the system. He is still a very raw prospect with a .889 save percentage and 3.58 GAA with Kingston in the OHL but his athletic talents allow Zhigalov to produce some incredible saves.
This is the category where any signing action will likely come from the Avalanche. Defenseman Sean Behrens is of greatest curiosity and it is possible he’s interested in turning pro after a sophomore season that started slow but ended up on par with what he did last year, currently at 21 points in 29 games. There’s no official word on which direction he’s leaning but staying at DU for his junior year and thus gaining much more in leverage and promises seems like the better bet unless Behrens just likes Loveland and wants to get there as soon as possible.
Even murkier are the glut of NCAA forwards who all might sign a contract, or might not. Matt Stienburg is in his senior season at Cornell and was even offered a contract last year but hasn’t played since December thus only has 13 games and six points to his credit this year. As the son of a former Avalanche player his window probably isn’t shut but it’s not a guarantee he gets a NHL contract either.
Colby Ambrosio is the other college forward who could decide to turn pro. With 21 points in 34 games as a junior at Boston College he still could still benefit from another year in the NCAA but usually players who the organization has interest in get offered contracts after the junior year at the latest. He is ready to play at the next level, too.
Sophomore forwards Taylor Makar (10 goals in 32 games) and Andrey Buyalsky (16 points in 32 contests) are long shots to leave college but it is not out of the question either. Both have been more productive than in their freshman seasons but are a long way from the NHL and there’s no need to start the clock in the AHL early. Defenseman Chris Romaine hasn’t even started his NCAA career yet just getting his feet wet with an eight point season in the USHL is years away from a contract as well.
There’s still a faint glimmer of hope that Nicky Leivermann is going to join the organization after his fifth year in college after getting drafted in 2017 but the ship has most likely sailed and he will be able to pursue his own opportunities. Tyler Weiss isn’t even on Colorado’s reserve list after he went unsigned after graduation but he too played a fifth year in the NCAA and could play pro somewhere. It would frankly be shocking to see either sign a NHL contract with the Avalanche.
All that remains is Nikolai Kovalenko (and, well, Shamil Shmakov technically but considering he hasn’t played a single game this season there’s no chance of the netminder signing). Kovalenko finally has enjoyed a breakout season in the KHL as one of the top scorers in the league with 54 points in 56 regular season games. He still has a year left on his contract to remain with Torpedo but there’s a possibility he signs a NHL contract eventually.
That is basically the entirety of the unsigned reserve list, not very inspiring but a couple ELCs could come down the pike. There’s also the possibility of inking a college free agent like Ben Meyers a year ago.
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