The Anaheim Ducks, Colorado Avalanche, and San Jose Sharks gathered their best prospects for the inaugural Rookie Showcase event in Westminster Colorado. The assembly of prospects was excellent and an opportunity for the three teams front offices, as well as scouts from other clubs, to see the best of these organizations. While a handful of prospects had some NHL experience, the event also allowed the players a higher level of competition they would have seen with their junior clubs.
“Any time you get a chance to have competition in your peer setting I think is good from an evaluation standpoint and also for the players,” said Avalanche Assistant General Manager Craig Billington. “To get an early start at their training camp, it's really positive. The facility here it is terrific, and I think it has been a very positive environment for everyone.”
Each team played a pair of games, with the host Colorado winning both matches, the Ducks splitting theirs and the San Jose Sharks falling 0-2.
The Avalanche were rude hosts going 2-0 against the Sharks and Ducks. Spencer Martin played the first half of the San Jose game and went the distance against the Ducks, stopping 43 of 46 total shots. Splitting last year between the AHL and ECHL, Martin should spend the 2016-17 campaign firmly with the San Antonio Rampage.
The story of the Rookie Showcase was the defensemen of the Avalanche. Chris Bigras’ first year as a professional could only be described as a success. Bigras posted 19 points in 37 games with the Rampage and added a goal and two assists with the Avalanche. He has decent size, but his ability to bring the puck up the ice with smooth skating and a dependable first pass will translate. Bigras had a slap shot goal in both games and checks that box as well. Little to no time will be needed at the AHL for him.
Nick Meloche also impressed and was often deployed with Bigras, combining for the most impressive pairing of the tournament. Meloche had a power play marker of his own in the second game.
Nikita Zadorov, who came to the Avalanche in the Ryan O’Rielly trade, tantalized at times with a booming shot and excellent skating. His decision-making at times leaves him and a dangerous hit from behind on Ducks forward Nic Kerdiles showed the questionable decision making.
Up front, JT Compher’s first year of professional hockey should be one to monitor. He mixed it up physically, and the motor does not stop. Seen as an agitator on the ice, Avalanche Assistant General Manager Craig Billington disagreed with that adjective for the former captain of the Michigan Wolverines
Well, he plays a 200-foot game, was captain there in Michigan, and certainly, that's what he brings is an overall compete to his game in all three zones,” said Billington.
"You know, I don't view him as an agitator as much as I do as he is just hard to play against," Billington continued. "Players are hard to play against, might be termed agitators, but really they are just doing what they're supposed to do and compete through the different zones. And he does a good solid job of that."
Mikko Rantanen was injured late in the third period in the opening games against the Sharks. He likely was going to compete for a roster spot with Colorado, but the initial prognosis is he could be out as much as four weeks, missing all of Colorado's main camp if that is the case. He will likely need some time in the AHL to get back into game shape, but should be up with the big club before the calendars hit 2017.
Nic Kerdiles, skill and grit with a good compete level in all zones. Wore an “A” on his sweater and it showed. Small things like talking on the bench, fist bumps the squad as they head off the ice, little things that coaches notice in a player. He took a nasty hit from behind from Nikita Zadorov and stayed down on the ice for several minutes before heading to the dressing room. No immediate word on his condition, but has had at least one concussion in the past. Hopefully, this is not the case this time.
Nick Ritchie when he is skating is a force that is ready for the NHL. When he is coasting or not using his skating, which is very good, he can be invisible for shifts at a rookie pre-season game. Physically he is an imposing presence, and his half-speed hits leave some of these players grimacing. His effectiveness next year will only be limited by his willingness to skate hard. He will likely start the season with the Ducks and last year’s 33 games in the NHL should act as a waypoint on where his game needs to improve.
Tyler Soy was an overage draft pick taken in the seventh round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. The skill with the stick is there, and he mixed it up more than numerous viewings with the Victoria Royals in the WHL but needs to compete for space on the ice as opposed to always floating to a soft spot. Physically getting where he needs to be should be part of his toolbox and something to work on as he heads back to the Dub.
On defense, three players stood out clearly for the Ducks. Brandon Montour’s skating and puck possession are at a different level with against these younger players. The Gulls defender tied for the team lead in points last year and has heaps of offensive upside in his game. The defensive side of the puck is improving, and his skating helps mask his gambles. Josh Mahura defensively was solid and looks to be fully recovered from the knee surgery that kept him out of action last year for the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels. Against San Jose, on three occasions he was the key defender to break-up a play and get the puck going the other direction.
Shea Theodore’s inclusion in the Rookie Showcase pushed him to the top prospect in attendance. Skating, size, poise with the puck, there is nothing he couldn’t do and only the Ducks glut of defenders is keeping him down the depth chart.
Sam Steel struggled to catch-up to the speed and skill of the competition in the first game but looked more comfortable in the second. Nothing to worry about with an 18-year-old player, but it was noted. Max Jones enjoyed a busy summer. He was invited to the National Junior Evaluation Camp for Team USA but was a cut, not necessarily keeping him out of the World Junior Championship, but will need a solid start with the London Knights to get back on the radar.
In goal, Kevin Boyle looked solid overall playing the full 60 minutes against the Avalanche and the opening period against the Sharks. His has the size of an NHL goalie and his numbers in the NCAA once he transferred to UMass-Lowell. With the Ducks goalie pool wide-open after the trade of Frederik Andersen, Boyle will compete with Matt Hackett and Dustin Tokarski in San Diego.
San Jose Sharks
Marcus Sorensen continues to impress with his hockey sense, speed and overall quickness on the ice. Against the Avalanche, he sped around the defense and fed a streaking Jeremy Roy for the Sharks single tally in the game. When he was caught, he took his hits but often was able to use his elusive skating to keep out of danger. Sorensen skated on the left wing with center Danny O’Regan, and right wing Kevin Labanc was the most dangerous line for the Sharks in the first game as they peppered the Colorado goalies with 36 shots.
Blue-chip prospect Timo Meier also only played one game, which was against Anaheim. He and Adam Helewka joined center Rourke Chartier. While the team was held off the scoresheet, they combined for a number of dangerous chances in their first competitive game together. Meier was a final cut last summer for the Sharks, and his summer preparation appears to have him right back in the running for the upcoming season.
“It was good I wanted to work hard and be ready to come here and show what I’m capable of,” said Meier of his preparation between development camp and rookie camp. “Now getting back out there it’s a lot of fun, First game it’s a little bit of an adjustment, you got to find the feeling and get back at it. it was a lot of fun getting the first [game].”
Meier, the Sharks first round selection in the 2015 draft, played well overall. He came to Chartier's defense after a low hit and was buzzing all over the ice. At times he was trying to do a bit too much, but a player trying to make a difference is always welcome. Meier and Sorensen will likely compete for an opening with the Sharks as they look to add skill and speed to the roster.
Other forwards for San Jose that made an impression were 2016 seventh rounder Joachim Blichfeld and Noah Gregor, both playing in the WHL this year. Blichfeld skated on the fourth line with Jermaine Loewen and Jake Marchment, but his skill could still be seen and rang a hard wrist shot off the post against the Avalanche after creating a shooting lane. The Danish winger is quickly acclimating to the North American game and has a pair of goals in preseason play for the Portland Winterhawks. Gregor didn’t figure into the scoring but against the bigger, older competition did not look out of place. He was able to keep up with the play and be where he needed to be. Rudolfs Balcers talent with the puck showed in the Sharks second game. It was the best viewing to date for this skilled player who is skating for the Kamloops Blazers this year.
[Balcers] is a scorer and when he has the puck on his stick things happen,” said San Jose Barracuda Head Coach Roy Sommer, who was the Sharks bench boss at the Rookie Showcase. “He's got a quick release. He had a really good camp in juniors before he came here, he's just got to keep improving on his game.
Defensively, Jeremy Roy and partner Cavan Fitzgerald were the best pairing for the Sharks in the opening match. Both players are excellent skaters and smart in terms of their defensive and offensive positioning. The story on the Sharks blueline was the continued play of camp tryout Tyler Nother. Nother, who went undrafted in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft played in only against the Ducks, but recorded an assist and also scored on a lucky bounce off the stanchions he was able to deposit into a vacant net. After the game, he joked that he was due for any easy one. Nothing was easy about his play, standing out as the best defender for the Sharks in camp. His zone exit passes were crisp and played on the power play as well. An entry-level contract is hopefully waiting for Nother as he lands back in San Jose before he heads back to the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL.
– Zachary DeVine (@zakkthebear)