1995 was the year that the Quebec Nordiques relocated their franchise to the Rocky Mountains returning NHL hockey to Denver Colorado. While it was a kick in the junk to fans in Quebec City, getting the league back in a strong U.S. hockey market was obviously a positive for the league. The fact that the Aves were a contending team and actually won the Stanley Cup the next year likely made things worse for Nords fans but it probably helped cement the team in its new home market for years to come.
I personally like the fact that the Avalanche haven't forgotten where they came from with small gestures like having the old Quebec jersey present at Joe Sakic's retirement; that shows a level of class we haven't always seen with other clubs.
Colorado has captured the Stanley Cup twice in it's tenure, in 1996 and then again in 2001. While the Colorado Rockies were somewhat of a laughing stock, the Avalanche have been a power in the league almost every year since the move from Quebec. Where once they were able to rely on free agency to build their winning teams, now they've proven they can have success through the draft which is the goal of every team in the salary cap era. Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly, T.J. Galiardi and Brandon Yip have all played significant roles with the team this year as rookies.
Here is a look at some of the up and coming talent in the pipeline of the Colorado Avalanche...
Top Forward: Ryan Stoa
Lake Erie Monsters (AHL)
HT: 6'3 WT: 213 lbs Stats: 41GP 18-19-37 Pts
It's quite unfortunate that Ryan Stoa is currently sidelined indefinitely with a shoulder injury; the Avalanche could use a player like him and with the success the team has had with its youth this year, Stoa could fit right in. The former Golden Gopher was in his 6th NHL game of the year when the injury occurred, resulting from a hit by Dallas defenceman Mark Fistric on January 29th.
Stoa was a 2005 2nd round pick by Colorado who completed 4 full years (minus his junior season lost due to injury) before turning pro this year. The big, powerful forward has all the tools and with 46 points in 36 games last year at Minnesota, Stoa has proven that he's got the skill to match his physical potential. My understanding is that the Avalanche would like to see a bit more fire in the way Stoa plays though, that he's not as aggressive as a player his size can be. Perhaps that's just something that comes with time as a player adjusts and learns what he is capable of doing at the highest level. (Photo: Donnie Pagel/Lake Erie Monsters)
Top Defenceman: Kevin Shattenkirk
Boston University Terriers (HE)
HT: 6' WT: 198 lbs Stats: 28GP 4-18-22 Pts
For a while this season Shattenkirk was the leading scorer at Boston University. No disrespect meant here but if he's leading your club in scoring, there's probably something wrong. Kevin Shattenkirk is a wonderful defenceman, someone any NHL team would love to have in their system but at no point should he be expected to be an offensive leader at the pro level. In January we talked with him about that and his season at BU and he admitted that he was giving the gears to some of his teammates for the fact that he was at the top of team scoring.
Shattenkirk was taken 14th overall in 2007 and he's looked worth of that lofty selection ever since. He's played for USA at the World Juniors, he's helped BU win a National NCAA championship and now he's captain of the Terriers in his junior year. Colorado fans have every reason to be excited for what he will bring to their team in the near future. (Photo: Elsa/Getty Images)
Top Goalie: Kieran Millan
Boston University Terriers (HE)
HT: 6' WT: 188 lbs Stats: 22GP 11-11-0 3.16 GAA .885 SV%
The Edmonton native had a tremendous freshman year at BU helping them win the National title but it's proven difficult for Millan to build on that success as a sophomore. The team isn't as good as last year but neither has Millan been as his stats would suggest. However, since the Christmas break he has been much better and has posted a 8-2 record including a huge win against rival Boston College at the outdoor game at Fenway Park.
A 5th round pick by Colorado last June, Millan was an overage selection after slipping through one draft while still playing for Spruce Grove of the AJHL. An inspired freshman season helped get him drafted and a strong second half could solidify him as the organization's top goalie prospect. (Photo: Dennis Pause)
Most Underrated: Tyson Barrie
Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
HT: 5'10 WT: 191 lbs Stats: 51GP 14-48-62 Pts
For most of the season Tyson Barrie has been at the top of league scoring in the defencemen category. As of this moment he's tied for that honor with Kevin Connauton (VAN) of the Vancouver Giants as both have 62 points although Barrie has appeared in 7 fewer games. He's definitely undersized and therefore will have a tougher time making it to the NHL than he would if he were 3 inches taller. However, at just over 190 lbs, Barrie is able to win his fair share of battles, at least at the junior level, and is far from a pushover in front of the net.
In his draft year, Barrie was overshadowed by Ryan Ellis of the Windsor Spitfires. Without trying to suggest that the two players are equals or have the same sort of upside, I never understood why there was such a huge discrepancy between them when it came to rankings. Ellis was taken 11th overall last June but he's lighter that Barrie who was somehow around for Colorado in the 3rd round. The Victoria native is very smart, mobile and runs an affective power play. (Photo: Kelowna Rockets)
Buzz Worthy: Stefan Elliott
Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
HT: 6'1 WT: 191 lbs Stats: 58GP 20-33-53 Pts
Not only does Colorado have the top scoring blueliner in the WHL right now but they also own the rights to Elliott who, with 53 points, currently holds down the fourth spot and is in spitting distance of third. The smooth skating Vancouver native is having a career year in the WHL with the Blades, a team that has been ranked in the CHL top 10 for 17 consecutive weeks.
Also Making Noise: Former Miami RedHawks forward Justin Mercier made his NHL debut back in December but didn't stay long. Now he's back with the big club and has collected a couple of points during his current 6-game recall... Back in October we spoke with David Oliver, Director of Player Development for the Aves, who spoke very highly of several players including Colby Cohen and T.J. Hensick... forward Kelsey Tessier was traded at the QMJHL deadline from Patrick Roy's Quebec Remparts to the Moncton Wildcats. He has 7 points in 8 games since the trade but hasn't played since January 28th thanks to a shoulder injury which isn't expected to keep him out for much longer.