Who’s in contention for number 3 in net?
The Colorado Avalanche aren’t necessarily known as a team of reclamation projects. They’ve been one of the league’s premier collectors of talent in all areas over the last handful of years, combining shrewd drafting with savvy trades to offer a seemingly endless supply of top talent at all positions.
Their goaltending depth chart, as a result, stands out a little bit.
As training camp got underway this past week, the Avalanche offered a goaltending depth roster that looked a little different from the rest of the lineup.
At the top, they offer a pair of goaltenders with impressive stats sheets in Darcy Kuemper and Pavel Francouz. The pair, who are both fully healthy and cleared to start the season, are expected to serve as Colorado’s elite-tier tandem in wake of the surprising departure of last year’s starter, Philipp Grubauer.
Their health, though, remains an area of question. The newly-acquired Darcy Kuemper, who cost Colorado a first-round pick next season and Connor Timmins, will turn 32 this season — and has struggled with a small myriad of injuries over the last handful of years that have kept him from being able to play a full season completely unimpeded. There’s also Francouz, who is now also on the wrong side of thirty — and missed the entirety of last season with an injury, which has left Avalanche fans unable to watch him play for over a calendar year now.
Given their status as an extremely talented-but-injury-prone tandem without youth on their side, the Avalanche are likely looking just a bit more closely at the rest of their training camp lineup in net to see who stands out above the rest. Which, of course, leads to the real battle in the crease: as training camp progresses, who will stand out as the team’s most likely candidate for a number 3?
THE RETURNEE NUMBER THREE: JONAS JOHANSSON
When the Avalanche traded for goaltender Jonas Johansson last season, Buffalo Sabres beat writer John Vogl described him as “the worst goaltender he had ever seen in a Sabres sweater” — and his numbers at the time suggested that he was brought in as a reclamation project only.
He certainly appeared to be every bit the reclamation project during his NHL debut, which came against the Arizona Coyotes not long after the Avalanche acquired him. But in a pleasantly surprising move, he ended up finding his footing behind Colorado’s more stable defense — and while he still had some areas of his game that will need cleaning up, he managed to offer up glimpses of the controlled, crisp game that had put him on the radar of a number of goaltending scouts back when he was still a prospect.
From a technical standpoint, Johansson offers up a fairly attractive game that should stand out at training camp; his trouble with the Sabres, after all, came not with him moving too much but with struggling to read broken defensive plays in front of him. But as one of the biggest goaltenders on Colorado’s roster — and not one of their most mobile ones — it will be important to see how his conditioning has held up over the summer. One of the strengths of former number three Hunter Miska has been his conditioning; he’s shown to be a workhorse who shows up ready, which works in his favor. For Johansson, he’ll have to show that he’s ready to shine if he wants to hold his spot as the first candidate to bring up — but barring any disappointments for the coaches, he looks like the guy with the call-up spot to lose.
THE FORMER CALL-UP GUY: HUNTER MISKA
It’s hard to see the Avalanche giving the first call-up of the year to Miska, given the struggles he dealt with at the NHL level during his abbreviated stint as Grubauer’s backup last year. He struggled so immensely, in fact, that the team brought in not just Johansson, but Devan Dubnyk, as well, to slot in behind Grubauer en route to their postseason appearance.
At the AHL level, Miska has done well since arriving on a minor league deal a few seasons ago from the Arizona Coyotes; he managed to establish better reads and consistency with the Eagles, benefitting from a boost in his save percentage en route to earning a promotion back into NHL contract territory before his first full season with Colorado was complete. But Miska had played just one NCAA season before opting to go pro with Arizona — and while the decision was made due to health concerns with his father at the time, his game sometimes showcases a lack of finesse and some struggles with depth management that burned him when an NHL offense managed to get some movement with the puck before a shot.
He’s had a full summer to work on his rebounds and staying a bit more conservative within the blue paint, which could prevent some of his sitting-duck moments from last season that cost him goals and the team some games. But unless Johansson really struggles at camp — or to open up the season — Miska will have to come from behind in order to earn himself a call-up in the event of any injuries.
THE HEIR APPARENT: JUSTUS ANNUNEN
The next big thing in Colorado goaltending is still expected to be the arrival of Justus Annunen in the NHL in the coming few years, and the struggles that Annunen dealt with last season — missing the start of the year for injury and then more or less having to run to keep up the rest of the campaign — aren’t very likely to have hurt that.
It is clear, though, that Annunen needs a reset on last season. He struggled to put up league average numbers with Finland’s Karpät during the regular season, and his arrival in North America for a small-sample stretch with the AHL’s Colorado Eagles showed that the 2018 draftee still has a little bit of a learning curve left to adapt to.
At his very best, Annunen is a smart, conservative goaltender who utilizes quick lower-body movements and surprising speed to get in position to absorb shots head-on, which compensates for a slightly lower agility level and somewhat smaller reach due to an average stature. He’s struggled with some conditioning issues so this training camp is crucial for him to prove to the Avalanche that he hasn’t missed a step.
THE DARK HORSE: TRENT MINER
The Colorado Avalanche made a steal in 2019 when they snagged Brandon, Manitoba native Trent Miner with the 202nd overall pick at the Entry Draft in Vancouver, BC.
Miner is generously listed on HockeyDB as standing at 6’1 and 179 lbs, and the perception of goaltenders under 6’3 as being ’undersized’ has led to a number of quality prospects falling down draft boards. That, combined with a perception that the WHL can sometimes breed defense-heavy lineups, likely contributed to Miner nearly missing out on getting drafted altogether.
He’s been a strong contender for the WHL’s Vancouver Giants over the last few years, though, and made the most of a tough final season in juniors with a standout performance as Vancouver’s favored starter through 15 games. He then made a short — but pretty — debut for the AHL’s Eagles at the end of the regular season, going 2-3-1 in six appearances after wrapping up his last appearances for the Giants. It’s likely that he’s going to stay in the AHL this year, although there are a lot of spots to battle for there — so with Annunen getting plenty of chances to shine in prospect showcase games, Miner will need to stand even taller than normal to really earn his spot.
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