The Mile High city.
1. Chris Bigras - Owen Sound Attack
What an absolutely fantastic, breakout season for Bigras. If I was voting, he would have gotten my vote for OHL defender of the year (over DeAngelo, who was also very worthy). A lot was made of Bigras' season two years ago when his offensive numbers regressed. But that was an important year for him, as he focused on becoming a dominant player in his own end, first and foremost. That allowed him to gain the confidence he had this year in his offensive game. This year, he was much more aggressive offensively than he had ever been. Instead of using simple breakout passes, and hanging back in the play, Bigras drove the play and was far from tentative in jumping up as the 3rd or 4th man in on the rush. He became very good at sneaking behind defenses, especially on the powerplay, to get himself in good scoring position. Defensively, he remained a rock. Easily one of the best in his own end (especially intelligence and positioning wise) in the league. So what's next for Bigras? He'll graduate to the pros where it seems like he's going to be given a fair amount of responsibility at the AHL level. Of course, he could always make the Avs, but they seem to have accumulated a fair amount of depth at the position so it makes sense to bring Bigras along a bit slower. I'm still not sure he'll be a huge point producer at the NHL level, but he has the making of a very solid second pairing guy who can play a jack of all trades type of game (~30 point mark).
2. Spencer Martin - Mississauga Steelheads
With Spencer Martin in the lineup this year, the Steelheads were 15-14. Without him they were 10-29. I think that speaks volumes as to how much he meant to that team (and how much management messed up by not bringing in another quality goaltender following his injury). The ACL injury he suffered near Christmas is likely still healing (and being rehabbed), but he should be ready for Colorado's training camp. Before the injury this year, Martin was having a fantastic season, and looked to have finally worked out some of the kinks in his positioning to become a more consistent goaltender. His athleticism and size obviously makes him capable of being a starter at the next level. The real question is, what does next year hold for Martin? With Calvin Pickard and Roman Will already set to handle the AHL duties, it's going to take an injury on the main club or to the above two for him to see AHL playing time. He could, of course, start in the ECHL as many goalies have to do in their first year out of junior. If that's the case, it could allow him to be brought along slowly with less pressure to perform. There's always the option of sending him back to the OHL for his overage season, as the Wings did with Jake Paterson this past year. Mississauga intends to be a pretty competitive team this year and with him in net, they could be a top 4 team in their Conference. This could definitely be an attractive option if his injury is taking a bit longer to heal. It'll be interesting to see how this unfolds.
3. Kyle Wood - North Bay Battalion
Wood definitely had a good season in North Bay this past year, shattering previous career highs offensively. With his size, he could dominate at both ends of the ice if his development goes as planned. His skating definitely continues to get better, and I think was most noticeable on the powerplay, where he's able to move around a little more effortlessly on the point. Defensively, he'll need to continue to work on the agility aspect as he can still be beaten off the rush, but he's made progress. Would also really like to see him start being a bit more physical in his own end, a trait that Stan Butler is great at developing in his blueliners. But his confidence offensively was higher this year, as he took more chances with passes up ice and really improved his ability to start the breakout. And he does a good job of winning battles in the corners, using his size and reach to pin and strip forwards from the puck. As we move forward to next year, Wood is set to become North Bay's number one defender and his development at both ends will be key to the Battalion continuing to find success in the standings.
4. Nick Magyar - Kitchener Rangers
Quite honestly, it was not a good year for Magyar (or for most of Kitchener's forwards). His offensive numbers regressed, and with reason. As a draft eligible player, Magyar flashed an ability to be a workhorse off the rush, and the type of guy who could develop into a puck possession monster in the offensive end. This year, these components of his game did not improve and he remains a very inconsistent (and sometimes invisible) player. His skating continues to need an upgrade, as at times he seems behind the play and is just not quick enough to loose pucks in order to try to keep and maintain possession. I also expected the physical component to his game to blossom, but in fact I felt that regressed, as he played more timid. Next year, Kitchener expects to be one of the best teams in the West, with a team full of veteran forwards like Magyar. However, they're going to need to see massive development from all of them if they want to compete with the big boys. Magyar, in particular, needs a big season. Anything short of a 30/30 year, which keeps him hovering around the point per game mark, would be a disappointment and probably results in him failing to earn a contract from the Avs.