photo courtesy of Melissa Wade
They may be out of the playoffs, but one thing the Colorado Avalanche have going for them is a strong crew of young talent, some already on the team, some poised to join in the next couple of seasons.
Wojtek Wolski, Paul Stastney, John-Michael Liles, Marek Svatos and Peter Budaj have already made names for themselves. Kyle Cumiskey and Brad Richardson have the potential to make major impacts in the coming seasons while Ryan Stoa and Cody McCormick continue to develop in the minors.
Now joining their ranks is TJ Hensick, the star player for the Michigan Wolverines, who led the NCAA in scoring with 69 points in 41 games. The Avs have signed him to a three year entry-level contract. Unless he is stellar in training camp this summer, he will likely start play next season in the AHL with other Avs prospects still learning the ropes.
Hensick was a Hobey Baker finalist this season, but he was not among the final three candidates for the trophy---despite leading all collegiate players in scoring and acting as alternate captain for his team. The one reason given for this slight is Hensick's unfortunate 10-minute misconduct for barking at the refs during the Wolverine's playoff game against North Dakota on March 24. Despite a relatively clean year played in a leadership role, Hensick was denied the ultimate award in college hockey for a single misconduct.
But is Hensick a loose cannon like some now insist? It would be tough to argue that. Hensick turned down a previous offer from the Avs and delayed his professional career long enough to graduate from a major university. His reasoning is both mature and sound:
"I've got to face reality," he said. "There's a good chance I'll play in the AHL for a while. I hope I play well enough to get to the NHL and take advantage of the chance. But it's tough to play at that level for a long time, which is why I wanted to get an education, something to fall back on if I get to my late 20s and don't make it."
Hensick's mentality says a lot about him. While many NHL players, especially from Canada, skip college to play major junior hockey or play just a couple of collegiate seasons and then sign pro contracts (see: Paul Stastny), Hensick chose to stay in school and complete his degree. His decision proved wise for his playing, too, since his senior year on-ice performance was his best yet.
Colorado's potential free agent signings during the summer will likely dictate whether or not Hensick will get a chance on the team next season, but it is highly unlikely that he won't eventually join the Avalanche roster. He's fast, hard-working and has an excellent offensive "IQ" on the ice. A little more development in his defensive game and a little bit more muscle and he's pretty much good to go.