Part of anticipating the upcoming season is anticipating minor league prospects and players who will be heading to the “show” for the first time and making their NHL debut. The upcoming 2022-23 season is no exception as multiple candidates could be called upon to join the Colorado Avalanche and compete in a game.
It was a smaller group than usual in the 2021-22 season, but not unexpected when just three players made their NHL debuts wearing burgundy and blue. The first was goaltender Justus Annunen who entered a relief game for Jonas Johansson at the home of the Ottawa Senators in a losing effort in overtime. The following game, Annunen got his first NHL start and defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in early December in a thrilling 7-5 final. Later that month, former first-round pick and top defense prospect Justin Barron played two games before COVID-19 shut down the team for the holidays.
A complete unknown at this time last year was the eventual signing of college free agent Ben Meyers who went on to play five games with the Avalanche in April before the end of the regular season. This brief look at NHL action included a special moment when he scored a goal in his NHL debut. Giving NCAA players their NHL debut in the spring is fairly common practice and a carrot to get them to sign right away with NHL games remaining on the schedule, Meyers as a free agent hasn’t. is an exception despite the team focusing on its next post-season run of the Championship.
As usual, possible NHL premieres for the upcoming campaign run the gamut from top prospects to minor league veterans. Looking ahead, the most anticipated debut, if it happens, in the new season or later down the line is former 2021 first-round pick Oskar Olausson. The winger is expected to play pro with the Colorado Eagles this season, so his opportunity may just be a phone call away.
A few other prospects could end up in their first NHL game as well, including anyone under an NHL contract playing in the minors. The most likely candidate apart from Olausson could be Jean-Luc Foudy. Although he’s only 20, due to special circumstances related to COVID-19, he already has more than 100 AHL games under his belt and could be ready for a look at the top level. .
Then there’s always Shane Bowers, who just signed a one-year contract to return as the only 2017 first-round pick to never play in an NHL game. Rounding out the possibilities of the entry-level contract, newly signed Danil Zhuravlyov will begin his first season in North America. Considering he’s already 23, it might be urgent to see if he has any NHL-compatible tools.
As far as minor league veterans go, most who are signed for the impending season have seen the NHL at some point. The only exception is forward Spencer Smallman, who is a former fifth-round draft pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2015, but has never appeared in a game with the team after spending five years with their organization. A fresh start with a new team might be the trick to getting there.
Who would you like to see make their NHL debut with the Avalanche?