The Colorado Avalanche needed to perform a complete re-tool of the San Antonio Rampage this summer. With just nine players under contract on June 30th, the opening of free agency on July 1st was a crucial step in doing just that. The Rampage needed scoring, forward depth, a veteran defenseman, and a number one goalie. By 4pm, July 1st, the Avalanche managed to check every single box on the wishlist, and then some.
Joe Sakic and Craig Billington ushered out the players who thought they were too good for the AHL, and brought in NHL/AHL veterans who have led teams in the past and know their roles within an organization. At the same time, they were able to reward AHL players for their hard work, signing Reid Petryk and Trent Vogelhuber to their first NHL deals. Finally, they kept an eye on the future, signing prospects A.J. Greer and Julien Nantel to ELC’s.
There was an air of mystery and worry surrounding the rebuild of the Rampage roster. Whether the signings ultimately work out will remains to be seen. The philosophy and effort behind the signings, however, shouldn’t be questioned. They turned an entire roster over and, in the following player snippets, you will find a common theme. These guys will work hard, and they are all solid two-way players that won’t concede a single inch on the ice.
LW/C – Turner Elson
14g-16a-30pts in 63 games with Stockton
High IQ, defensively responsible, good in all areas. Can kill penalties and fill in on power play. 30 pts in each of his first two full AHL seasons. Could battle for top 6 minutes to start.
OPINION: Elson is, by all accounts, smart, gritty, and can chip in offensively. The fact that he can play in every situation in all three zones makes this a very good signing, IMO. He may not light up the scoreboard, but he should do a lot of little things to contribute.
LW – A.J. Greer
1g-4a-5pts in 18GP (Boston U.)
16g-11a-27pts in 33GP (Rouyn-Noranda)
Great size and skating ability. The common theme about Greer is “work ethic”. From scouts, to media in Denver, everyone talks about his work ethic and desire to win. Had a rough start in NCAA but turned it on after moving to the QJMHL and had a VERY good playoffs with Rouyn-Noranda.
OPINION: Likely to be a fan favorite in San Antonio. We love our “worker bees” down here, after all. I think Greer could develop into more than just a grinder. He has the tools to be a scorer at the AHL level and, eventually, an every day NHL player.
LW – Julien Nantel
22g-24a-46pts in 52GP (Rouyn-Noranda)
Another player touted for his work ethic and tenacity. Also a very smart player that can play in all situations. Probably starts in bottom 6 with Rampage with a legit chance to move up the lineup as the season progresses.
OPINION: Of the prospects, probably the most “hit or miss”. Has shown some great play making in the QJMHL, though that remains to be seen how that translates to pro hockey. His work ethic will keep him employed for a long time, though, and if he puts it together, could be a top 6 NHL’er some day.
C – Jim O’Brien
19g-19a-38pts in 56GP (Albany)
6’3″ defensively responsible veteran power forward. With 67 games of NHL experience, and another 322 in the AHL (79g-105a-184pts), O’Brien brings experience and winning attitude to the Rampage roster.
OPINION: O’Brien has a Calder Cup under his belt and played on a very good Albany team last season. He will likely be a leader in the locker room while contributing to the score sheet on a routine basis. AHL playoff teams need players like O’Brien.
RW – Mike Sislo
27g-26a-53pts in 56GP (Albany)
3g-1a-4pts in 18GP (New Jersey)
Sislo is a small(ish) top line AHL forward with great skating ability and some grit. His size has probably limited his NHL chances (42 games) but he has been a very good AHL player picking up 187 points in 304 games. Nearly a point per game performer, playing with O’Brien in Albany last season.
OPINION: Top flight AHL player. Will remain on the top scoring line and PP unit as long as he stays healthy. Should be a 20 goal scorer and one of the offensive leaders.
RW – Trent Vogelhuber
11g-16a-27pts in 70GP (Lake Erie)
Good size and has the ability to do everything a coach will ask of him. May not be exceptional at any one thing, but can do everything well. Winner’s pedigree having won both an NCAA title with Miami (OH) and last year’s Calder Cup with Lake Erie. First NHL contract since being drafted 9 years ago.
OPINION: To borrow a line from Dan Weiss, I think this could be the “under the radar” signing of the summer. Weiss called Vogelhuber Sam Henley with more offense. I think we can all agree that if that turns out to be the case, we will all be thrilled.
LW – Joe Whitney
14g-19a-33pts in 36GP (Bridgeport)
Elite offensive AHL player. Good all around game with more emphasis on the offensive side. Only 5’6″ which limits his game some, but still a dangerous player with the puck. Had 33 points in 36 games with Bridgeport last season before breaking his leg.
OPINION: Assuming he’s healthy, Whitney has the ability to lead the team in scoring. More importantly, like Sislo and O’Brien, he has the right attitude to play in the AHL. He knows his place in the organization and will lead the young prospects on and off the ice.
D – Anton Lindholm
0g-4a-4pts in 30GP (Skelleftea AIK)
5th round draft pick out of Sweden signed his ELC with the Avalanche. Despite his size, plays a physical defensive game. Is considered an excellent skater and intelligent hockey player. Not known for his offense, picking up just 11 assists in 75 SHL games over his career.
OPINION: Could take some time adjusting to North American hockey, but has the tools to be a good shutdown defenseman in the AHL. Just don’t expect much (any) offense.
D – Ryan Stanton
4g-12a-16pts in 60GP (Hershey)
Veteran with 120 NHL games under his belt. Has some offensive flash, but is known primarily for his defense-first game. Plays a rough-and-tumble style and will drop the gloves if needed.
OPINION: Stanton provides a needed veteran presence for an extremely young blue line. Should top out around 20 points.
G – Jeremy Smith
5-14-3 2.94GAA .911% in 23GP (Iowa)
13-5-1 2.02GAA .934% in 20GP (Providence)
Smith was exceptional playing in Providence the last two seasons. Before that, he put up solid to above-average numbers for Milwaukee and Springfield. Clear #1 AHL goalie that gives the Rampage their best starter since Jacob Markstrom*.
*Full disclosure: this name would read Calvin Pickard had he made it past December in San Antonio
OPINION: The Rampage needed a goalie and they got one of the best free agent options available. Will provide a great tandem with whoever is pegged to be the backup.
G- Nathan Lieuwen
14-11-2 2.91GAA .909% in 28GP (Rochester)
Former Sabres prospect has plenty of AHL experience. His numbers have dipped in recent years, but still provides the Rampage with good competition for the backup spot in San Antonio.
OPINION: Good depth signing for the Rampage. If he’s better than Spencer Martin in camp, then he deserves the backup spot. If not, he can toil in the ECHL until the inevitable injury bug hits.
G – Kent Simpson
7-4-2 2.38GAA .926% in 13GP (Adirondack)
3-4-0 4.09GAA .861% in 11GP (Stockton)
Good size and fundamentals. Former Blackhawks draft pick has bounced around in the last couple seasons. Once stopped 49 shots in a relief effort against the Rampage in 2013.
OPINION: Not a terrible option to have deep in your back pocket as a 6th goalie. Likely the backup wherever the Avs place their ECHL players *coughColorado*.