The Avs head to the annual prospect showcase this weekend in Las Vegas where they will join several teams from the Western Conference in playing three games with rosters comprised of prospects and invitees seeking jobs.

Since the Avalanche began participating in this event, things have changed dramatically for the organization as they have gone from being a rebuilding team whose prospects were the future to being one of the model franchises in the NHL whose prospects are kind of on the backburner these days.

That reality is reflected in the roster the Avs are taking to Vegas.

While there are two first-round picks among this group (Calum Ritchie, Oskar Olausson), there really isn’t anyone on this roster who is currently billed as a potential high-impact player. Let’s run through the roster and see who stands out as players to really keep an eye on.

The Draft Picks

Oskar Olausson (1st round, 2021)

Olausson’s career since being drafted has not been very encouraging, to say the least. His OHL stint had some ups and downs and his graduation to pro hockey last season was lacking in statistics and impact. He was more of a depth player for the Colorado Eagles last year and scored only 20 points (11 goals) in 63 games played. He did appear in one game for the Colorado Avalanche but played only 7:02.

This is Olausson’s second full season as a pro player in North America. It’s time for him to start to make a move if he’s going to become a serious contender for a roster spot on the Avalanche anytime soon. That leap should really begin this weekend as he will be a focal point of this roster and his one-timer will be a thing to watch during Avalanche power plays.

Calum Ritchie (1st round, 2023)

The first of Colorado’s two first-round selections this year (Mikhail Gulyayev’s KHL season has already begun so he will not be attending this event), Ritchie is still kind of an unknown because he played most of last season with an injured shoulder and then did not participate in development camp as his rehab from surgery was ongoing at the time.

It doesn’t sound like he’s quite ready to be back on the ice in full but we’ll know more details later this week and get confirmation of his status then.

In theory, Ritchie’s high hockey IQ and professional polish should pop more than his raw tools such as his skating, shot, and playmaking ability. How a healthy Ritchie looks will be one of the main storylines of a prospect focus this season.

Matt Stienburg (3rd round, 2019)

Stienburg finished his college career at Cornell this spring and turned pro with the Eagles, playing four regular-season games and four playoff games. His rights expired on August 15 and he briefly tested the waters of free agency before signing an entry-level contract with the Avalanche on August 18.

Stienburg profiles as a depth player with the ability to make an impact with his physicality, forechecking, and penalty killing. In an organization built on so much speed and skill, Stienburg represents a different skillset entirely and the real strength of his game is his physicality. That isn’t the type of player who usually pops at these types of events but it’s something to keep an eye on moving forward.

Jeremy Hanzel (6th round, 2023)

Hanzel, a defenseman, is one of the more interesting players to keep an eye on this weekend as he was a player who had already gone undrafted in previous years before the Avalanche scooped him up following a dominant year with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds. If Hanzel is to return to Seattle, he will be an overage player and this previously did not work for the Avalanche when they tried it with Brandon Saigeon a few years ago.

Hanzel, however, might be a victim of a numbers game at the pro level as the Avalanche already have seven defensemen they are likely to carry and the Eagles have another eight on NHL contracts that are in the mix for ice time there. Add in the healthy mix of AHL deals as well and Hanzel might be better served returning as a leader on the blueline for the Thunderbirds instead of toiling away in the ECHL for the Utah Grizzlies.

Still, he will be one of the defensemen to watch this weekend as his hockey IQ, size, and skating ability all are intriguing enough to see how he handles a big role at this event.

Maros Jedlicka (7th round, 2023)

The Slovakian forward is a total unknown as he played in the top Slovakian pro league last year and did not attend Avalanche development camp this past summer. He has good size as a 6’2″ forward (he’s listed as a center but we’ll see where he actually plays) and was a productive player with 35 points in 39 games.

Purely to start to fill in the gaps on one of Colorado’s most recent picks, this event will be great for the rest of us to learn more about Jedlicka.

Trent Miner (7th round, 2019)

Our first goaltender! Miner has been stuck in the ECHL the last two years as the Avs have rolled with Justus Annunen and a veteran in the AHL. Miner has done well for himself despite this but is likely facing the same scenario this season as Annunen will be joined by Arvid Holm in Loveland. That leaves Miner once again as the guy waiting for an injury for increased opportunity.

This weekend, however, should be a nice showcase for him as he should be the starter in their first game. His size will always be a question mark as he’s on the small size for a netminder but he’s been a competitive goalie in pro hockey. I hope we get to see more of him this preseason.

Ivan Zhigalov (7th round, 2022)

Another goaltender, Zhigalov is extremely well-traveled already in his career. He played in the MHL in Russia and second Belarus pro league three years ago, moved to Sherbrooke of the QMJHL two years ago, and spent last year with Kingston of the OHL. He originally signed back in Belarus with the possibility of getting loaned to the KHL during the season, but those plans recently changed and he is now headed to Tri-City of the USHL.

His results have just been okay but he is an intriguing player with physical traits that teams really like in goaltenders. He’s still extremely raw and needs reps so we’ll see what he has to offer this weekend. Just me guessing here but I bet we see him get the bulk of the playing time at this event.

The forgotten guy in the Alex Newhook trade

Gianni Fairbrother

A defenseman who missed all of last season with a knee injury, Fairbrother is “the other guy” in the deal that sent Newhook to Montreal in exchange for picks in rounds one and two and Fairbrother.

From the Montreal folks I talked to about Fairbrother, they said he is a competitive player who will go to war in front of his own net and seeks to make life miserable for opponents. He doesn’t have much offense in his game but he will make his money as a quality defender.

That’s an intriguing description because the Avs just don’t need many more natural puck-movers with defensive question marks. They have that market pretty well cornered right now and finding the archetype that Fairbrother represents makes him another guy to keep a close eye on this weekend as he fights for a spot in the pecking order of call-up opportunities.

The college free agents

Ondrej Pavel

Pavel is a thick-bodied forward whose forechecking, physicality, and penalty-killing history at the center position is why he was signed out of Minnesota State but is a darkhorse to make the Avalanche opening-night roster.

We saw him a bit at development camp and it looked like his skill with the puck is going to be a sticking point but the rest of his profile was true to form. He isn’t going to wow anybody with anything he does but he has the kind of quietly effective skillset that Jared Bednar may love at the bottom of his NHL lineup.

Pavel will have a big chance to showcase what he can do this weekend.

Jason Polin

Polin signed after a productive final season at Western Michigan in which he scored 30 goals in 39 games played. He has average size but as a right wing, fills an organizational need and plays a mature, responsible game.

Like Pavel, there won’t be much to really wow you about Polin’s game but he’s a smart player who knows how to play a committed two-way game. I don’t where Polin fits into the organization’s plans but he has a chance this weekend to really push himself up the depth chart with a strong weekend.

Sam Malinski

Of all the players on this list, Malinski is the one who will have the best chance to make an immediate impact at the NHL level. The Avalanche defensive depth is suspect at the NHL level with both Jack Johnson and Kurtis MacDermid better suited as rotational guys and not everyday players and that gives Malinski a chance to shine.

Malinski had immediate success after completing his college career as Cornell’s captain as he jumped into pro hockey and had five points in seven games with the Eagles and five points in seven games in the playoffs, too. He was an offensive engine during development camp and his skating, creativity with the puck, and aggressive mindset will be natural fits in Colorado.

Can he defend well enough to crack the NHL lineup? This weekend is a wonderful opportunity for him to build the momentum to force his way into the NHL sooner than later.

Ryan Sandelin, Kyle Mayhew, Michael Underwood, Bryan Yoon

All four of these guys left college and turned pro this year and the first three are on AHL deals with the Eagles while Yoon is on an ECHL contract with the Grizzlies. Sandelin is the only forward and, for the moment, is the best bet to make the Eagles lineup on a regular basis.

We’ll see how they do this weekend and they are worth mentioning because we have seen guys make this work with the Avalanche, most notably Cal Burke who began on an AHL deal and played in NHL games last season.

Of this group, Sandelin is the guy I’ll be keeping closest tabs on but Mayhew is a pretty fun player whose size will be a major challenge for him to overcome.

Everyone else

There are always a lot of tryouts that fill out the rosters at these events and those guys will primarily see action in the third game next Monday afternoon. These guys are hard to know too much about going in but there are a couple of guys going in that I am intrigued by based on their development camps.

Julius Sumpf

Just 18 years old, Sumpf is a German forward who played last year in the Alps Hockey League and will be making the transition to North America with Moncton of the QMJHL. The Avs had him in development camp and will get another long look at a player who is 6’1″ and 198 pounds and scored 18 points in 23 games played last year.

Sumpf’s age makes him unique in this environment as not many players this young attend these kinds of events unless they are draft picks. That alone makes me curious to see how Sumpf does.

Ivan Ivan

Look, he has a cool name, okay? The only way this could have been better was if his jersey number was 11. We can’t have everything in life, I guess. As a player, though, Ivan just turned 21 and had 90 points in 64 games for Cape Breton of the QMJHL last season. He’s on an AHL contract with the Eagles and has back-to-back 30-goal seasons the last two years. Size isn’t the issue it is for some of the other guys in this event (Yoan Loshing is just 5’9″, for example) and he’s a player who had interest from teams other than Colorado.

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A.J. Haefele was born in Aurora, Colorado, raised in Katy, Texas and is the Colorado Avalanche beat reporter for DNVR. AJ helped launch the network back in 2015 and has filled roles as a team leader and Editor-In- Chief, along with co-hosting the DNVR draft podcasts along with his other duties. You can hear him every weekday on the DNVR Avalanche podcast. Follow AJ on Twitter - @returnofaj

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