Avalanche Give Bowers One More Chance

When the Colorado Avalanche signed Shane Bowers to a one-year extension, the move didn’t draw a lot of attention. But this one-year deal might be the most important contract of Bowers’ professional hockey career, as it might be the last chance for the former first-round pick to make an NHL roster.

Bowers was a first-round pick back in 2017 and came to the Avalanche that year as part of the three-team trade that sent Matt Duchene to the Ottawa Senators. He’s toiled in the American Hockey League (AHL) since then, battling injuries and inconsistency along the way.

Here’s a look at how Bowers can make an impact and potentially turn this one-year deal into another NHL contract:

Bowers Must Remain Healthy

Injuries have stalled the 23-year-old forward’s career, and playing a scattered schedule has killed any offensive momentum he might have built up. Injuries have held Bowers to only 65 games over the past two seasons, and he’s managed just 13 goals and five assists in those two campaigns combined. That type of output isn’t going to get anybody’s attention – healthy or not.

Shane Bowers
Shane Bowers (courtesy United States Hockey League)

Bowers has shown that he can perform when healthy, though. In his last season with the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League (USHL) in 2016-17, he played 60 games and racked up 51 points. He followed that up by playing in 77 games over the next two years with Boston University, totaling 28 goals and 53 points in those seasons. If he can get back to playing every night, he might be able to get his offensive groove back.

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Injuries are a two-way street, as many players deal with injuries throughout a hockey season. If Bowers can stay healthy, and get a call-up while someone else recovers, he has to make it a tough decision for the Avalanche to send him back down. But he has to remain healthy. Not only does he need the games to solidify some consistency, but it’s impossible to get called up if you’re getting scratched at the AHL level due to bumps and bruises.

Follow Nichushkin’s Blue Print

If Bowers is trying to figure out a way to get his offensive mojo back, maybe a conversation with teammate Valeri Nichushkin might be in order. Nichushkin faced a similar plight when he signed with Colorado back in 2019, and he turned it around to make 2021-22 the best season of his career and got a great contract out of it.

Valeri Nichushkin Colorado Avalanche
Valeri Nichushkin, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Nichushkin came into the league in 2013 with the Dallas Stars. After three unremarkable seasons, he was playing in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). He came back to the Stars for the 2018-19 campaign and promptly scored zero goals in 57 games. The Stars cut him loose and the Avalanche signed him to a three-year deal. Nichushkin was serviceable for the first two years but then exploded for 25 goals and 27 assists for 52 points – all career highs.

Nichushkin was also crucial in Colorado’s playoff run, and his big season translated into an eight-year contract worth a total of $49 million. That should show Bowers that a return to prominence can be done. Nichushkin hadn’t scored more than 14 goals in a season before 2021-22, and those came in his rookie campaign nearly a decade ago. Bowers is only 23, but his offensive prowess has to return and start turning some heads if he wants to get the kind of contract security Nichushkin played himself into last season.

Avalanche’s Depth Might Be Tough to Crack

The Avalanche might not give Bowers the best opportunity. Coming off their first Stanley Cup in 21 years, they have been one of the NHL’s top scoring teams for the last few seasons. For him to get any regular time in this lineup, he’s going to have to look indispensable. However, it looks like it will be tough for him to crack the lineup – even in a bottom-six role.

Team Canada Shane Bowers
Team Canada’s Shane Bowers skates with the puck during the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

The top of the lineup looks like Fort Knox to any prospect trying to squeeze in. Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen make up the top line. They’re followed closely by the likes of Nichushkin, J.T. Compher and Artturi Lehkonen – who all had breakout seasons in 2021-22. Returning veterans Andrew Cogliano and Darren Helm will be joined in the bottom six by up-and-comers Alex Newhook and Logan O’Connor, which doesn’t leave much wiggle room if everyone stays healthy.

That means Bowers is going to have to be sharp early in the season, and the consistency will have to be there every night in the AHL for him to turn some heads with the Avalanche brass. The deal was a one-year, two-way contract worth $750,000 at the NHL level, and $100,000 at the minor league level. That’s a small investment for Colorado, but it could pay big dividends for Bowers if he can get back on track in 2022-23.