Patterson Prepared for Crease Duel
Coming off a very successful career with the University of Minnesota, Colorado Avalanche prospect Kent Patterson has a golden opportunity to jump right into the ultra-talented American Hockey League.
Not only did he post a 28-14-1 record with a 2.32 goals-against average and .907 save percentage as a senior, but he was extremely consistent. Only once did he suffer a three-game losing streak, and his only two-game losing streak was nipped in the bud with a shutout in the following game (vs. Bemidji on 2/18/11).
In his first 10 games of the season, Kent went 9-1-0 and pitched five shutouts. He allowed just 16 goals in that stretch of play, which lasted four weeks. For his efforts, he was named the national Player of the Month for October.
Patterson would go on to win the Top WCHA Goalie title with a 2.06 GAA in league games, and he was also a three-time winner of the WCHA Defensive Player of the Week award. His 28 wins were also the most by a Gopher since Robb Stauber won 34 games back in 1987-88.
In terms of him turning pro, maybe Kent’s most impressive achievement was stringing together 63 straight starts for Minnesota. That’s 3414:13 total minutes, before it was finally snapped in the third period against Wisconsin back on March 2. Do the math and that takes you back to early-December, 2010.
Yeah, I’d say he’s ready to take the next step in his career. But where exactly does he land?
Photo Courtesy of Avalanche Prospects
The Lake Erie Monsters currently have a four-way crease duel for two roster spots, and only Calvin Pickard has any type of pro experience — a mere two games. The other combatants include Finland’s raw-skilled Sami Aittokallio and Boston University graduate Kieran Millan.
Two NCAA graduates, one promising Finnish prospect, and a Western Hockey League workhorse — but not a single experienced goalie in the mix.
To me, especially considering how talented the AHL will be this season, that’s sheer madness.
And I’m very curious to see the method behind it.
Whether or not I think it’s “madness” to toss four pro rookies into the AHL fire, however, is a moot point. It’s happening, and camp is already underway.
So who has the best odds to land a roster spot in Lake Erie, and since the Avalanche still lack an ECHL affiliate, who is destined to toil in the Central Hockey League with the Denver Cutthroats?
To be honest, this battle is wide open. From my experience covering Avalanche training camps over the past six seasons, I can tell you there’s really no “inside track” for any goalie except Pickard. He comes into camp as the most promising prospect, he was drafted higher than the other three, and he’s the only one with any kind of AHL experience.
Aside from Pickard’s short stint with Lake Erie last season, all four goalies are in the same boat. They’re all new to this sort of experience, yet they’re all talented enough to handle themselves in the AHL. Neither guy deserves to slide all the way down to the CHL, but again, that’s a discussion for another time.
In terms of the method behind this madness, it’s only fair to point out that just by giving four quality rookies a chance to fast-track their development, one is surely destined step up and run with the starting gig. You never know what you have in a prospect unless you give them opportunities, so at least the Avs have opened the door for each guy to excel.
If nobody grabs the reigns, there are plenty of veteran goalies out there to sign.
When trying to predict who might end up where, one area that really matters to me is overall experience and maturity. And while age is just a number, it certainly helps to have a few extra years of high-level play under your belt.
That’s where I feel Patterson has a significant advantage.
Patterson is not only considered a mature 23-year-old goalie, but his game is very well-rounded as a result. Two years in the USHL plus four years in the NCAA have allowed him to not only learn what it means to balance school and life with hockey, but he has many years of high-level coaching and training as well.
Millan has the same advantage, and he’s actually older than Patterson by 16 days, but if I had to choose one of the two for an AHL gig, I’d go with Kent. I’ve tracked both goalies since they were drafted by the Avalanche, and I feel like Patterson has a bit more long-term upside.
So combined with his structured coaching from Stauber’s GoalCrease over the years (see video above), I feel like Kent’s game has the tools needed to handle some of the rigors and pressures of being an AHL rookie. I think he could thrive, and I think he could be a solid piece of the puzzle for the Monsters.
The X-Factor in all of this is Aittokallio. I’ve written countless reports and articles on his game, and I’m very confident when I say he has the highest ceiling (of all four goalies) in terms of talent and upside.
While Sami does have a few seasons of pro experience in Finland, he hasn’t played very many games. Calvin turned 20 back in April and played in 241 regular-season WHL games. Sami turned 20 in August and has played in just 28 SM-liiga games in three seasons. But the SM-liiga does bring experience that you can’t get in juniors.
Sami’s performance in the 2012 World Juniors for Team Finland was outstanding, and that big-game experience will help him be a big game goalie as he evolves, but raw talent can only take a goalie so far.
Combine that with the transition he’ll need to make to the smaller ice and the North American style, and tossing him into the AHL fire could melt his skin, or it could forge his game and make him stronger than ever. It’s impossible to know for sure how it will work out, and only time will tell.
Pickard turns pro as one of the most durable WHL workhorses in the history of the league, and his two games of pro experience to close out last season with Lake Erie does give him at least some form of familiarity that the other three goalies can’t claim. But at 20 years of age, is Pickard ready to handle the rigors of being in the AHL on a full-time basis?
My guess? We’ll see a tandem of Pickard and Aittokallio to start in Lake Erie.
But Patterson is going to fight to the bitter end, and from watching the video above and talking to scouts familiar with his game, I know he’s not going to settle for anything less than an AHL gig. If he does gets cut, he’ll be one of the last guys getting sent down.
There are many more far-reaching issues and complications here for the Avalanche prospects, but the focus right now is on establishing a tandem that can successfully compete against the ultra-talented AHL.
With four guys coming from four unique backgrounds, and all four guys bringing different assets to the table, Lake Erie’s training camp has a far-reaching impact on Avalanche goaltending. How these four goalies compete now could play a major role in what type of opportunities they earn over the course of their entry-level contracts, and what type of odds they have of breaking into the NHL.
But don’t lose sight of Patterson’s AHL odds — he has the potential to surprise and the skill foundation to succeed.