It's time to visit the Mile High City of Denver. Here's the write-up for the Colorado Avalanche.
Michael Clarke - Peterborough Petes
It wasn't a great year for Clarke who was expected to build off of his solid rookie season with Windsor in 2011/2012. The Spits struggled, and so did Clarke, and as a result he was shipped to Peterborough as part of the Slater Koekkoek deal. The fresh start in Peterborough didn't do a ton for Clarke as he remained an enigma as a member of the Petes. The biggest thing missing from Clarke's game this year was his nasty side. In his draft year, he often played with conviction; with an edge. This year, that aspect of his game wasn't consistent. He wasn't as hungry without the puck, didn't play as physical and wasn't near the pest he was in his draft year. It seemed like he was trying too much to be a go to offensive guy (in the finesse realm), and drifted away from the hard nosed style that generated most of his scoring chances previously. Next year will be huge for Clarke. He'll have a chance to take hold of the number one center spot in Peterborough (possibly with Nick Ritchie) and I don't think a 50-60 point season is an unreasonable expectation.
Joseph Blandisi - Ottawa 67's
Statistically speaking, Blandisi had a pretty decent season this year. He ended up with 51 points between the Attack and 67's, but actually averaged a point per game with Ottawa. He developed good chemistry with Sean Monahan and I was often impressed with his energy level, no matter how lopsided Ottawa's defeat was. His work ethic without the puck is very strong, and he can be a very valuable energy guy on a scoring line. He wins battles in the corners and opens up space for linemates by filling lanes and outhustling defenders. His hockey sense is actually quite strong and allows him to produce offensively despite not being blessed with heaping amounts of natural skill. Ottawa isn't likely to be much better next year, but he'll continue to be counted upon to be an offensive leader. It's likely he'll stay at wing (he can play center too), and flank either Dante Salituro or first overall pick Travis Konecny (assuming Sean Monahan makes the Flames). I could definitely see him putting up a 60 point season next year.
Garrett Meurs - Plymouth Whalers
Meurs had a terrific year for the Whalers. He was a very consistent contributor for them and was one of their hardest working forwards. He's a scrappy guy who fights for every inch he gets, but he's also pretty skilled. He's got a quick release on his shot, which makes him an ideal linemate for one dimensional skill guys who need people to open up space for them. He'll battle in front of the net for loose pucks and he's developed into a pretty solid board player over the course of his OHL career. Essentially, Meurs has become a very good all around player, which certainly wasn't the case when he was drafted. Next year the Avs could be faced with an interesting decision. Meurs could play in the AHL/ECHL, or he could return to Plymouth where he'd take on a leadership role with the club and be counted on as a go to offensive guy (see what the Avs did with Mitchell Heard). Of course it'll depend on how he performs in camp. I think he's probably ready and capable of filling a 3rd/4th line role in Lake Erie next year, but if there's no room for him, he's better off coming back to the OHL rather than playing in the ECHL. 50/50 I'd say.
Mitchell Heard - Plymouth Whalers
I think the Avs made a great choice sending Heard back to the OHL around midseason. He played the best hockey of his OHL career upon being returned and was a crucial member of the Whalers during their dominating second half run up the standings. He's Mr. Everything for Plymouth. He plays an important role on the penalty kill and is their go to faceoff guy. He can play the role of net presence on the powerplay. And he's a physical guy who improves the energy level of any line he plays on. Night in, night out, he was a factor for the Whalers. Did his game improve a ton? I wouldn't say he underwent any drastic changes (save for playing more disciplined), it was just more along the lines that he was more consistent. Moving forward, he'll definitely be playing pro next year and is likely to take up the role of 3rd/4th line battler/enforcer that he had in Lake Erie last year. He's not flashy, so he may take some time to make an impact offensively, but he certainly has the potential to be an effective NHL role player.
Chris Bigras - Owen Sound Attack
It'll be a big adjustment for Bigras next year in Owen Sound. No Cody Ceci, Nathan Chiarlitti, or Keevin Cutting (as all will graduate). He'll be the team's number one defenseman and it's go to guy in all situations. But then again, that's not saying much because that was the case this year too. It'll just be different next year because he'll be a lone wolf. The defense will run through him. He's such a steady and calming influence on whatever defensive pair he plays on, I think he'll still manage to have a good year. Next year, I'd really like to see his ability to run the point on the powerplay improve. Last year, the Attack brought in Cody Ceci to do that at midseason because Bigras wasn't quite ready to be that guy yet. Next year, he'll have no choice. He has offensive skill, in particular as a puck handler, but he's going to have to have more confidence in using his point shot. He'll also have to look to jump up in the play more often and try to create offense from backdoor plays. The future is definitely bright for him.
Spencer Martin - Mississauga Steelheads
It was an interesting year for Martin. He started off playing out of his mind and had Mississauga up near the top of the Eastern Conference (rather surprisingly). But then things crashed back down to Earth. Teams began to expose some of his weaknesses, in particular his ability to control his rebounds and his focus on long shots, and Mississauga ended up barely making the playoffs (where Martin gave up his starter's gig to Tyson Teichmann). Martin has a ton of potential though and should realize it over the course of the next two seasons. Next year could be another trying one for him though. Mississauga should actually be even worse next year (could end up as one of the worst teams in the league), so he'll have his hands full. The starter's gig will be completely his though, so he'll get to work through the ups and downs. I'd expect the major gains to be made in 2014/2015.