It's the dog days of the off-season and with training camp more than a month away, we are all itching for hockey to return. When it comes to predicting the look of the 2011-12 roster for the Lake Erie Monsters, there are some things that can be determined, whereas many positions are currently up in the air. As is typical for most American Hockey League (AHL) clubs, drastic roster changes year to-year are common place. After making the post-season for the first time in franchise history, the Monsters will have a different look heading into the upcoming 2011-12 season. While some roster positions are dependent on who makes the Avs opening night roster, we can give a general idea of who will be lacing up the skates in Cleveland this fall.
Similar to the Avalanche, the goaltending position will look vastly different for the Monsters next season. Out are veterans John Grahame and Jason Bacashihua, in are Cedrick Desjardins and Trevor Cann. Desjardins was most recently with the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. He posted a 15-6-1 record last season with their AHL affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals. Before that, the undrafted free-agent was with the Montreal Canadiens organization.
For Trevor Cann, this season marks an important one in his future with the Colorado organization. Cann enters the final year of his entry-level contract, but has yet to establish himself beyond the Central Hockey League level. Cann will likely backup Desjardins barring any other additions by the Avalanche. With Calvin Pickard, Kent Patterson, and Kieran Millan set to join the professional ranks within the next year, Cann needs to show improvement after an injury riddled and inconsistent first two years as a professional.
Last year it was Kevin Shattenkirk and Colby Cohen; with those two players now with different organizations, Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott bring a new dose of excitement to the Monsters blueline. Each player has won WHL Defenseman of the Year and will bring much needed offense, especially on the power play. While it's possible that one of them could start the season in Denver, it's likely both will get major minutes in Cleveland to start the season.
Joel Chouinard, Cameron Gaunce, Jonas Holos, and David Liffiton are all returnees from last season. Gaunce and Holos spent some time in Denver last season and will compete for spots in the Avs lineup, but with the number of defenders under contract, they will likely be Cleveland bound. Liffiton was limited to just 18 games with the Monsters last season due to injury. Chouinard showed some promise by putting up 17 points in 35 games, but similar to Liffiton, was slowed down by injuries. Gone from last year's squad are Ray Macias, Travis Gawryletz, Shawn Belle, and Matt Generous, who ended the 2010-11 season with the Monsters. In addition to Shattenkirk and Cohen, Kevin Montgomery also found himself traded (to the Edmonton Oilers for Belle).
In addition to these defenders, the Avalanche also have Erik Johnson, Ryan Wilson, Jan Hejda, Matt Hunwick, Shane O'Brien, Ryan O'Byrne, and Kyle Quincey under contract. Kyle Cumiskey remains unsigned and while Duncan Siemens has signed his entry-level contract, he is not eligible to play in the AHL this season. Unless the Avs plan on carrying eight defensemen, or barring a trade, someone like Cumiskey (assuming he eventually signs a contract), or Hunwick, or Wilson could find themselves starting the year in Cleveland.
While the goaltending heading into the 2011-12 season appears to be set for the Monsters, the defensive unit is a bit more up the air. The Avs could move someone out via trade, but regardless, the Monsters will have a new look. Potential roster spots could go to players who will attend camp on an invite or are eventually signed to a minor league contract.
David Van der Gulik
The Monsters will be looking to replace leading scorer Ben Walter, who put up 70 points, and now is with the Calgary organization. Also gone are second and third leading team scorers in Julian Talbot (45) and Matt Ford (42). Mark Olver does return after a 40 point/ 58 game freshman campaign. The team can also expect solid veteran contributions from Greg Mauldin, Patrick Rissmiller, and David Van der Gulik.
The 2011-12 season can be looked at as a make or break year for forward Ryan Stoa. Stoa, a 2005 draft pick, has had solid production in the AHL for the last two seasons, but has yet to prove he can stick in the NHL. Stoa may start the year in Cleveland, but by the end of the 2011-12 season he needs to find his way to the Avs roster and be a consistent performer or he may find himself with another organization.
Justin Mercier like Stoa has something to prove, but the former sixth round pick was never expected to produce much on the NHL level. Still, 23 and 28 point back-to-back seasons in the AHL have been a bit underwhelming. Already solid on the penalty kill, more will be expected in even strength situations.
Other holdolvers from last season include Zach Cohen, Mike Carman, and Luke Walker. Patrick Bordeleau has spent the last two seasons with the Monsters and earned a two-way contract with the Avalanche for the 2011-12 season. With the Avs choosing not to re-sign David Koci, Bordeleau could start the year in Denver, but a late addition or poor camp performance could place him with the Monsters.
Newcomers up front include veteran Evan Brophey, who was most recently with the Chicago Blackhawks organization. Brad Malone, who had a taste with the Monsters in the spring, should bring some needed grit and tenacity. Yet, perhaps the most exciting addition could be former first round pick Joey Hishon.
Hishon ended his playing season this past spring with a concussion. Now "healthy," Hishon looks to make the Avs opening night roster, and will have a fight on his hands. By signing 2011 first round pick Gabriel Landeskog (who is currently not eligible to play in the AHL), the Avs have all but assured he'll be starting the season in Denver. The Avs also added forwards Chuck Kobasew and Joakim Lindstrom. Lindstrom is on a one-way contract. While it doesn't prevent him from playing with the Monsters, it will be a surprise if he doesn't start the season with the Avalanche. Also, the Avalanche expect a healthy Peter Mueller, who missed the entirety of the 2010-11 season. Barring an outstanding training camp, Hishon may find himself wearing a Monsters jersey in October.
Despite the inevitable roster changes, the Monsters find themselves in a position to return to the playoffs. They retained head coach David Quinn, who was interviewed for a coaching position in college hockey. They have a solid netminder in Desjardins. The defense is young, but having Liffiton back healthy should help to solidify the blueline. The offense will need the continued development of Olver and for Stoa to turn it up another notch. Yet, much of Lake Erie's success will have to do with the health of the Colorado Avalanche.