Welcome to the 2017 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. During the summer, I will feature a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted this year. There have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed.
I will link you to those articles; as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2017-18 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as a dark horse to make the NHL. The cut-off for prospects is typically 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: Colorado Avalanche Prospects
Nothing went right for the Avalanche in 2016-17. The season got off to an ominous start when head coach Patrick Roy re-signed late last summer. He was replaced by Jared Bednar. The results just did not follow though. According to the standings, the Avalanche were the worst team in the NHL, by a wide margin. They scored the least goals in the NHL, and gave up the most against. Their -112 goal differential is 49 worse than the next closest club. The season was the worst in franchise history, and that includes some dark days when they were the Quebec Nordiques.
Adding insult to injury, the Avalanche had their worst possible result in the NHL Draft Lottery falling out of the top three picks, and forcing them to fourth overall. Even the bright spots, like Avalanche draftee Will Butcher winning the Hobey Baker Award, came with dark clouds. Butcher has announced that he will test the free agent market on August 15th. A deal with Colorado is said to be highly unlikely, and so we won’t be ranking/profiling him here.
Top Prospect: Tyson Jost
Centre — Shoots Left
Born March 17th 1998 — Kelowna, British Columbia
Height 6’0” — Weight 195 lbs [183 cm/88 kg]
Drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the 1st round, #10 overall at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft
Moving from the BCHL to the NHL in less than a year, Jost has progressed faster than many expected. He started the season with the University of North Dakota, and did not miss a beat with 16 goals and 35 points in 33 games as a freshman. He also played for Team Canada at the World Juniors, picking up four points in seven games. At the end of the college season, he signed with the Avalanche, playing six NHL games and scoring his first goal.
Jost is an excellent skater. He is shifty with good acceleration, agility and edge work. Jost has the ability to fool defenders with his ability to quickly change directions, as well as his ability to change speeds. He has very good top end speed, and when he does get past a defender he can drive to the front of the net. His balance is decent, but this is an area that would improve with added core body strength in the next few years.
Tyson Jost has great hands, and the ability to stick handle in a phone booth. Jost is an excellent playmaker. He protects the puck extremely well, and has the ability to extend plays, and allow a teammate to get open. Once that happens he has the ability to feather a pass through a small opening, putting it tape-to-tape to create a scoring chance. Jost can also be a a goal scorer. He also has a very quick release on his shot, which helps him to fool goalies. Jost could stand to add more power to his wrist shot though, and this may come with increased muscle. He is also willing to go to the net, where he can use his excellent hand-eye co-ordination to tip in pucks, or pounce on rebounds.
Jost battles hard in front of the net and in the corners. This is another area where more muscle would help though, in order to be ready to play that game at higher levels. Jost also has very good hockey sense, and seems to almost always make the smart play with the puck.
Jost shows commitment to back check, and provides good back pressure when defending against the rush. He reads the play well, and has good positioning which allows Jost to create turnovers, which he quickly transitions into offense. He supports his defence with a willingness to get involved physically in the corners or in front of the net.
All indications are that Jost goes to camp with an outstanding chance to make the team and play a clear role on the Avalanche this year. He should develop into an important part of their top six, sooner, rather than later.
#2 Prospect: Cale Makar
The Avalanche drafted Makar with the 4th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Makar. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#3 Prospect J.T. Compher
Wing/Centre — shoots Right
Born Apr 8 1995 — Northbrook, IL
Height 5’11 — Weight 193 lbs [180 cm / 88 kg]
Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2nd round, #35 overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Traded to Colorado in June 2015.
J.T. Compher had an impressive first pro season. He picked up 13 goals and 30 points in 41 games as an AHL rookie. Compher even got in 21 games with the Avalanche, picking up five points. He also played for Team USA at the IIHF World Championships, and acquitted himself well in a tournament with some of the NHL’s best players. Compher had two goals in eight games.
Compher’s skating stride is not pretty, but it gets him where he is going and it is effective. He has decent speed and acceleration. He is very strong on his skates, and has good balance allowing him to fight through checks and get to the net. Compher is difficult to knock off the puck. His agility and edge work have improved since being drafted. He could still use some time working on better skating technique though. This would make him an even better player.
Compher is a talented agitator who plays an irritating game. He is always yapping and always in an opponents face after the whistle. Compher has the ability to get opponents off their game and draw penalties. Compher always seems to have a nose for trouble, finding himself in the middle of any scrum that starts when he is on the ice. He is not afraid to go to the dirty areas of the ice, and wins board battles and establishes position well in front of the net. He also drives the net hard. Compher takes a goalie interference penalty or two for his efforts, from time to time.
Compher also has the skills to back up his chirping and agitation. He has the vision, and passing ability to be an extremely effective play maker. Compher is a very good stick handler and can protect the puck well and control the play off the cycle. Compher combines this with a very good shot and release, and he knows how to put the puck in the back of the net. He also has the hockey sense to always find himself in the right place at the right time.
Compher is defensively strong. He brings his tenacious, hard working, physical game to the defensive end of the ice. He is willing to sacrifice for his team and puts his body on the line to block shots. His hockey sense, and ability to diagnose plays is very good and he often finds himself in the right spot in the defensive zone as well.
With a pro season under his belt, J.T. Compher will look to make the Avalanche out of training camp this year. He has a good chance to do so, and could even get a regular third line role with the team. Even if he has a poor camp and goes back to the AHL, expect to see plenty of Compher as one of the first call-ups.
#4 Prospect Conor Timmins
The Avalanche drafted Timmins with the 32nd overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Timmins. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#5 Prospect Chris Bigras
Defense — shoots Left
Born Feb 22 1995 — Orillia, ONT
Height 6’1 — Weight 190 lbs [185 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by Colorado Avalanche in round 2, #32 overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Coming off a solid season where he got in 31 games with the Avalanche in 2015-16, much was expected out of Bigras in 2016-17. While he couldn’t make the big club out of training camp, he went down to the AHL and started the season well in San Antonio. However injuries got in the way and cut short his season to just 45 games. He scored five goals and 19 points.
Bigras skating improves each year and its taking his game to the next level. His top end speed and acceleration are now well above average. While he could use some improvement still, this is not a liability, but a real strength right now. He combines that speed with very good edge work, footwork and agility. This makes him difficult to beat one-on-one. When coupled with his hockey sense and positioning, it also allow him to cover a lot of ice. Bigras makes decent pivots, but could be a little bit quicker and crisper in this area as well. Bigras has good balance. He is stronger on the puck than he was in his draft year.
Bigras is an extremely smart player with outstanding instincts and positioning. While he is not flashy, he consistently makes the smart play in nearly all situations and in all three zones. Extremely poised with the puck. He makes hard, crisp tape-to-tape passes, both on the breakout and on the power play.
He has learned how to pick his spots and when to take offensive chances, often joining the rush as a trailer, and even taking some opportunities to lead it. Still he loves to use his passing skill to get the transition game going and then follow up on the play. Bigras is quick and efficient with the puck. This means less time spent in his own end and more time spent in transition. On the power play he is a heads up play maker. His shot improved due to added upper body strength, but is not a howitzer. He has great ability to keep it low and on target though, leading to tip ins and rebounds.
Bigras is solid in the defensive zone. He uses his strong positioning and good instincts to their full advantage. He maintains good gap control and is rarely beaten in one on one situations. Bigras keeps his man to the outside and forces him away from the net. In this way he forces attackers into bad shooting positions. He blocks passing lanes effectively as well. Bigras works hard in board battles and in clearing the front of the net. He has gotten stronger over the last two years. He isn’t a huge hitter, but will take the body when necessary to make a play.
Bigras will go to camp looking for a full-time spot on the Avalanche blue line. It will likely come down to a battle between Bigras and Duncan Siemans for a spot on the third pair. Bigras has a chance to make the team, and then move up as he gains NHL experience.
#6 Prospect Nicholas Meloche
Defense — shoots Right
Born Jul 18 1997 — Rosemere, PQ
Height 6’2 — Weight 197 lbs [188 cm / 89 kg]
Drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in round 2, #40 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Nicolas Meloche had another solid QMJHL season, despite the distraction of being moved at the leagues trade deadline, again. He started the season for the Gatineau Olmpiques, but finished it for Charlottetown Islanders. Meloche but up 16 goals and 47 points in 61 games. The move for Meloche was intended to boost Charlottetown for a long playoff run, but it did not work as the Islanders were ousted in the third round of the playoffs. Meloche had seven points in 13 games
Meloche’s skating is the biggest weakness in his game. His start-up and stride are choppy and awkward which take away from his speed and acceleration. He has improved a bit over the last couple of years, but still needs more. He could spend some time in the off-season working with a quality skating coach and working on his footwork. Once Meloche gets going, his stride gets better and so does his speed, but the first couple of steps are a concern.
His pivots and edge work are not bad though, and he’s able to avoid getting beat with speed due to that, as well as his excellent positioning and gap control. He also shows the ability to poke check the puck away from attackers. Meloche does have good power and strength on his skates though, he is tough to knock off the puck, and wins his board battles and clears the crease effectively due to this strength and balance.
Meloche also plays on the power play. He has a very hard and accurate slap shot. He understands the importance of getting it through shooting lanes, and keeping it low and on net, as he is able to give his teammates the opportunity for tip-ins and rebounds. Meloche makes a strong first pass, helping to start the transition game. He can make the long pass to spring an odd-man rush. He has decent poise controlling the puck and making plays in the offensive zone, but he’s more of the trigger man on the power play than a true power play quarterback. Meloche is willing to pinch down the wall to keep a puck in and keep plays alive, but is smart in doing so, and does not get caught deep very often.
Meloche has excellent size, and he’s certainly not afraid to use it. He plays a gritty game in the corners battling for pucks, and in front of the net working to clear the crease. He also is willing to throw big hits when he gets the opportunity, but avoids getting himself out of position looking for those checks. Meloche has outstanding positioning and defensive awareness for a player his age, reading and anticipating plays well, and almost always keeping good control and defensive posture. He is not afraid to block shots, and does a great job using a long stick to cut down passing lanes. Meloche is also willing to drop the gloves if necessary to come to the aid of a teammate.
Meloche is now done his junior career. He will go to camp looking for a spot, but making the Avalanche full-time seems unlikely. Expect to see him spend some time in the AHL before he is ready to move up to the NHL.
Sleeper Prospect Andrei Mironov
Defense — Shoots Left
Born July 29th, 1994 — Moscow, Russia
Height 6’2″ — Weight 176 lbs [188 cm / 80 kg]
Drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the 4th round, #101 overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft
Mironov was limited by injuries last year, appearing in just 18 regular season games for Dynamo Moskow, and getting four points. He also played in nine playoff games, picking up three assists. Mironov showed enough to be invited to play for Russia at the World Championships and picked up one goal in six games. With Dynamo’s money problems and reports that they did not pay players last season, its no surprise that Mironov has signed with Colorado, and is ready to start a North American pro career.
Mironov is a decent skater. He has good speed in both directions. He also has good pivots and edgework. This makes him difficult to beat in one-on-one situations and off the rush. Mironov uses his skating to keep the play in front of him, maintain good gap control, and force attackers to the outside. He has good lower-body strength and balance.
There is not a lot of offence here. Mironov is just not poised with the puck, and is not one who looks to gamble to create offensive opportunities. He does make a good first pass to start the breakout and transition game though. His slap shot is hard, but he needs to work on making sure that he gets it through to the net, and be a bit more accurate.
Mironov is a prototypical stay-at home type. He uses his size to throw hits when given the opportunity and can clear the front of the net. The bigger european ice surface doesn’t lead to as many battles along the boards as seen in North America, but Mironov has acquitted himself well in these situations. Good positioning, a long stick, and the willingness to block shots also help Mironov in his own end.
Expect Mirinov to start the season in the AHL, as he adjusts to the size of the North American rinks and the different angles that requires in playing defence. He could move up the depth chart quickly, and contribute to the Avalanche before the end of the season.
The Avalanche’s fall in the standings has allowed them to rebuild the system in recent years. Defence is becoming a particularly strong area with the four defencemen profiled, plus Anton Lindholm, Josh Anderson, Sergei Boikov, and Nate Clurman also in the system. Between the pipes Spencer Martin is progressing nicely. There is also depth in Petr Kvaca and Adam Werner. Forward prospects with NHL potential include A.J. Greer, J.C. Beaudin, Cam Morrison, and Nick Henry. 2017 draftee Igor Shvyrev was one of the top playmakers in Russian junior leagues. If the Avalanche can sign him, they will have a steal.
Main Photo via Getty Images Sport