DENVER – Like many (if not all) of the AHL’s teams this past season, the implementation of the NHL taxi squad was an unwelcome but necessary burden. Many top-tier talents were pulled from the parent club’s affiliate to an emergency squad of four to eight skaters due to COVID-19 concerns during the 2020-21 regular season.
Now that rosters are more than likely going back to normal for the 2021-22 season, let’s take a look at the Colorado Eagles for next season. Signings and re-signings are trickling in, so I wanted to give my opinion on some skaters that I think should return this coming season.
First, let’s review who’s already been announced as leaving or staying this offseason (as well as those already under contract for this year’s coming campaign):
- Alex Beaucage* – First year of entry-level contract
- Shane Bowers – Last year of entry-level contract
- Callahan Burke – Re-signed with Eagles on a one-year AHL contract (June 17)
- Nicolas Henry – Last year of entry-level contract
- Martin Kaut – Second-to-last year of entry-level contract
- Jean Luc-Foudy – First year of entry-level contract
- Jayson Megna – Re-signed with Avs on a two-year, two-way NHL contract (June 16)
- Sampo Ranta – Second-to-last year of entry-level contract
- Benjamin Tardif* – Signed two-year AHL contract on June 14
- Ryan Wagner – Re-signed two-year AHL contract on June 24
- Andreas Wingerli* – First year of entry-level contract
- Justin Barron – First year of entry-level contract
- Nathan Clurman – Second year of entry-level contract
- Jacob MacDonald – Last year of two-way NHL contract
- Keaton Middleton – Last year of entry-level contract
- Justus Annunen – Second-to-last year of entry-level contract
- Jonas Johansson – Re-signed with Avs on a one-year, two-way NHL contract (June 29)
- Trent Miner – First year of entry-level contract
- Hunter Miska – Last year of two-way NHL contract
* – Rookie signing
- Matt Abt (D) – Signed with Lukko (Liiga) on June 11
- Kevin Davis (D) – Signed with Stjernen Hockey (Norway) on June 8
- Alexandre Fortin (F) – Signed with Laval on July 5
- Miikka Salomaki (F) – Signed with Orebro HK (SHL) on June 23
- Travis Barron – RFA
- Sheldon Dries – RFA
- Charlie Gerard – UFA (AHL)
- Ty Lewis – RFA
- Liam O’Brien – UFA Group 6^
- Kiefer Sherwood – RFA
- T.J. Tynan – UFA
- Michael Vecchione – UFA
- Kyle Burroughs – UFA Group 6^
- Dennis Gilbert – RFA
- Brett Lernout – UFA (AHL)
- Daniel Renouf – UFA
- Ian Scheid – UFA (AHL)
- Conor Timmins – 10.2(c) RFA**
- Peter Tischke – UFA (AHL)
- Peyton Jones – RFA
- Adam Werner – RFA
^ – Group VI Unrestricted Free Agent. Basically, a player’s contract has expired who is 25 years or older (O’Brien is 26; Burroughs is 25), completed three or more professional seasons, and hasn’t played over 80 NHL games (for more, see CapFriendly’s definition).
** – 10.2(c) restricted free agent means that Timmins can only negotiate and sign with the club that holds his signing rights — the Colorado Avalanche. He will be unable to negotiate a contract with any other team (for more, see CapFriendly’s definition).
Whew, okay. Now it’s time for my picks and who the Eagles (or Avalanche) should focus on re-signing.
A bit of a preface here…currently, there are eleven forwards, four defensemen (five if you count Timmins’ unique contract situation), and four goaltenders projected to play with the Eagles next season (not including Bowen Byram or Alex Newhook, because we all know they’re both NHL ready). Logan O’Connor is on a one-way deal with the Avalanche this season, so he will more than likely not don an Eagles jersey this coming year.
WHO THEY NEED TO RE-SIGN
Forwards Tynan, Sherwood, and Dries
Contract Type: NHL Two-Way Contracts
I’m just clumping these three forwards into one category because they are all worth re-signing on two-way NHL deals. Tynan and Sherwood’s chemistry, especially on the power play, was invaluable for AHL Colorado. Unfortunately with the taxi squad in play last year, one or both of them were unavailable to play a number of times for the Eagles in 2021.
Tynan earned the Les Cunningham Award as AHL MVP in 2021, an accolade cementing him to the masses as one of the best playmakers in the league. In 27 games played, he scored eight goals and notched 27 assists for 35 total points (19 points higher than the next closest Eagle). Two of the eight goals were on the power play, as were 12 of the 27 assists (second in the AHL in both PP assists and total PP points).
Sherwood played 16 NHL games with the Avs and 10 AHL games with the Eagles last season, earning 10 goals and six assists for 16 total points for AHL Colorado. Although a small sample size, his 1.6 points per game bested Tynan’s 1.3 pts/gm, and Sherwood was tied for second in team scoring. With Tynan as centerman and Sherwood as right winger, the top line for the Eagles down the stretch was extremely formidable, albeit short-lived. The two were involved on every one of each other’s goals during their last three games together against Texas in early April.
Dries has been a steady presence for the Eagles since joining the team from Texas prior to the Colorado’s inaugural 2018-19 AHL season. In his three years within the organization, he’s played in 48 NHL games and 93 AHL games. His 5G+5A=10 PTS total for 2020-21 was a down year, but playing through a global pandemic could be very well to blame for that. Of these three, Dries may be the most likely to test the waters elsewhere. At 27, he may be looking for one last crack to stay on an NHL roster, and I wouldn’t think Colorado would be the place to do it.
Forwards O’Brien and Vecchione
Contract Type: One-Way AHL Contracts
One guy proved to be a game-changer on the ice, while one’s injuries limited him to only half a season of play. Both deserve to return to the Eagles organization in 2021-22.
O’Brien brought a gritty presence to the forward corps in lieu of a departing A.J. Greer, who was dealt to the Islanders organization for d-man Kyle Burroughs on Oct. 11, 2020 (more on Burroughs later). O’Brien’s presence was palpable watching in-person, as the team seemed to get a jolt of energy and fortitude whenever his shift hit the ice. Another taxi squad standby last season, he played 12 games with the Avs and 12 with the Eagles, earning three assists with the former and 4A+4G for the latter.
Vecchione played 18 games for AHL Colorado this season while serving a short stint on the Avs’ taxi squad in late April / early May. He missed a 14-game stretch from March 14 to April 27, but finished the season with four goals in six games, including a hat trick against Ontario on May 9. Given the opportunity to showcase his talent, Vecchione signing his first AHL-exclusive contract with the Eagles would give the team a solid Top-6 returning veteran forward on a team filled with young, up-and-coming prospects.
Defensemen Burroughs and Renouf
Contract Type: Two-Way NHL Contracts
With rookies accounting for half of the returning Eagles defensemen (J. Barron and Clurman), AHL Colorado could use more seasoned skaters on the blue line. Why not bring back former Bridgeport captain Kyle Burroughs and two-time Calder Cup Champion Dan Renouf? Both Burroughs and Renouf saw time with the Avs in 2020-21, and with the Avalanche having a bit of a youth movement in their own d-corps, having some experienced leadership and championship pedigree doesn’t hurt in the slightest.
Burroughs played his first NHL game with the Avalanche on April 5, notably dispatching Minnesota Wild forward Nick Bjugstad in short order during a third period fight. The Avs called Burroughs’ number four more times for a total of five NHL games this season, on top of the 11 AHL games played with the Eagles during the 2021 regular season. Another taxi squad standby this past year, he should get more of an opportunity to play with AHL Colorado in 2021-22 (if and when the Avs should sign him).
Renouf played more games with the Avalanche (18) than he did with the Eagles (five) last season, netting three assists for the Avs and 1G+2A for the Eagles. With parts of six seasons and 279 games in the AHL, pairing the left-side defenseman with one of the two right-side rookies in either Barron or Clurman could prove to be advantageous. Having a solid seventh-D option for the Avs in a pinch doesn’t hurt, either.
Defensemen Gilbert and Scheid
Contract Type: One-Way AHL Contracts
The Colorado Eagles are going to need to sign some more defensemen to AHL contracts, and two d-men I believe deserve a roster spot in Loveland come next season are Dennis Gilbert and Ian Scheid.
A low-risk option for the second or third defensive pairing on the Eagles, Gilbert doesn’t make a lot of noise on the scoresheet in either the positive or negative column. In 17 games with AHL Colorado in 2021, his stat line read 1G+7A but also a total of four PIMs and a minus-one rating. Gilbert was part of the Oct. 10, 2020 trade that brought him and Brandon Saad to the Avalanche in exchange for Nikita Zadorov and Anton Lindholm.
Ian Scheid has had to work for opportunities ever since college at Minnesota State. A walk-on at MSU his freshman year, he became a scholarship skater his sophomore year followed by quaterbacking the power play in subsequent seasons. Signed to a two-way AHL deal in July 2020, my opinion is that his play for the Eagles both at even strength and special teams earns him a one-way contract this season. He’s also another low-risk option, but with higher reward — five goals, eight assists for 13 total points (led all Eagles d-men) with just 8 PIMs and a plus-three rating.
Contract Type: Two-Way AHL Contract
Another college prospect I wrote about in the 2020 offseason, netminder Peyton Jones initially signed a two-year deal with the Eagles on April 30, 2020. With CHL restrictions relaxed and expanded NHL rosters in full effect, Jones and six other goaltenders started in net for the Eagles in 2021. He had a hard time adjusting to the AHL level of play, going 0-2-1 with a 3.62 goals against average and .876 save percentage. Jones did slightly better at the ECHL level, going 8-6-3 with a 3.12 GAA and .886 SV%.
Signing a one-year, two-way NHL deal with the Avs on Jan. 21, 2021, his AHL deal was negated and Jones is now a restricted free agent at the highest pro level. However, with the Avalanche goalie pipeline filled with the entry-level contracts of both Justus Annunen and Trent Miner, a solid one-year, two-way AHL contract should be in order for the Penn State alum. If all else fails, an ECHL deal with Utah could be a decent alternative to stay within the Colorado affiliation tree.