LOVELAND, Colo. – After back-to-back championships in their last two ECHL seasons, the Colorado Eagles were undoubtedly going to drop off as they took a step up to the American Hockey League. Now, entering year number two as an AHL franchise, the Eagles are well removed from their AA-tier ways and much more familiar with the process of a farm club at the AAA level.
Last season, Colorado made the postseason as the four seed in the Pacific Division. While their quick three games to one exit at the hands of the division champion Bakersfield Condors was a speedy send-off, the chemistry of a solidified team after one year of play looks to be more promising than the fragmented roster joining the club last year (both the Avalanche and St. Louis Blues sent their prospects to the San Antonio Rampage in 2017-18 before all Avs prospects went to the Eagles in 2018-19).
NUTS AND BOLTS
2018-19 Record: 36-27-5 (.566)
Division/Conference Finish: 4th in the Pacific Division, 11th in the Western Conference
Playoff Finish (if applicable): Lost to the Bakersfield Condors in the first round, three games to one
Record vs. Division: 30-21-1 (.587)
Record vs. Conference: 36-27-5 (.566)
Goals For Per Game: 2.81 (24th in AHL)
Goals Against Per Game: 3.01 (17th in AHL)
Power Play:13.8% (31st in AHL)
Penalty Kill: 84.1% (6th in AHL)
How much will much-heralded Shane Bowers contribute in his first full season of play? The 20-year-old rookie played in four regular season and four playoff games for the Eagles last year after finishing up at Boston University, and expectations are high for the centerman to be an integral part of the Eagles offense in 2019-20. Bowers’ on-ice awareness and breakaway speed could possibly earn him first-line minutes.
What can be done about the abysmal power play? The Eagles 40 goals on 289 power play chances yielded a paltry 13.8% conversion rate — dead last in the AHL. Yet, their penalty kill ranked 6th in the league, so a complete overhaul on special teams isn’t needed. A veteran presence a la Erik Condra could help boost Colorado out of the power play doldrums this season, but the staff will probably need to tinker a bit with combinations before a scoring increase on the man advantage manifests itself.
Should the all-new netminding crew be a concern? Antoine Bibeau, Hunter Miska and Adam Werner will all hypothetically make their goaltending debuts for the Eagles this year. Bibeau (acquired from San Jose for Nicolas Meloche on September 27) and Miska (signed with Eagles on July 12) both have multiple seasons of AHL experience, while Werner is a highly-touted Avs prospect coming out of the top-tier SHL (Sweden). Somehow, the Eagles have gained both youth AND experience from last season’s goaltending corps, which may seem to only benefit Colorado after allowing 3.01 goals/game last season.
Head Coach Greg Cronin on September 30:
“We lacked a little bit of depth last year, as far as maturity. [With the added veterans] I think when you have a guy like Bowers and (MARtin) Kaut and (Logan) O’Connor and (Nick) Henry, if you’re focusing on that group that are possibly NHL players down the road, it’s just going to help them.”
Calle Rosen – The 25-year-old defenseman brings two seasons in the SHL (Sweden) and two years with the Toronto Marlies to the table for the Eagles. Considering that he helped lead the Marlies to the Calder Cup Championship in 2018 and was second on the team in assists in 2018-19 (his 39 helpers led all defensemen, as well), there’s no question the most unheralded part of the Tyson Barrie / Nazem Kadri trade this past July could turn some heads while on the Eagles’ blue line.
Shane Bowers – Already covered at length in the “Trending Topics” section, it’s worth noting that Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar and Bowers both made their pro debuts late last season after collegiate careers in Massachusetts (Makar from UMass, Bowers from BU). The mirrored hope for both players is that they make an immediate and continued impact this year for their NHL and AHL clubs, respectively.
Michael Joly – The 2018 Kelly Cup MVP for the Eagles back in the ECHL, Joly continues to earn his keep at the AHL level, scoring 15 goals and earning 15 assists in 47 games last season. Should the Gatineau, Quebec native continue his upward trend of scoring and stay healthy, he could crack the second line for the Eagles and maybe give the team a much-needed boost on the power play, as well.
GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
David Warsofsky and Andrew Agozzino – The 29-year-old defenseman and 28-year-old forward both wore the “A” as alternate captains for the Eagles last season. As announced in a joint press release on July 1,, both skaters signed two-way deals with the Pittsburgh Penguins and will play for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2019-20.
Cody Bass – The 32-year-old, renowned AHL tough guy announced his retirement on August 28 after 452 AHL games and 75 NHL games under his belt.
Spencer Martin – The 24-year-old netminder signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning on July 1 after three years in the Avalanche organization. He was assigned to Syracuse on September 23, then to the Orlando Solar Bears on September 28.
SIN BIN SWAMI SEZ…
The Colorado Eagles are bound to improve after their feeling-out process from last season. Not only do I believe they will make the postseason again, but I also think that they’ll achieve a higher spot in the divisional standings, as well. I say Colorado locks up the third seed with a solid 85 points and defeats San Diego in the first round of the playoffs. However, the Eagles will fall to the Condors in the postseason for the second year in a row, this time in the Pacific Division Final.
WHAT SAY YOU?
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Follow C.C. Hawkley on Twitter (@SinBinEagles) for his season-long coverage of the Colorado Eagles!