Let’s get this out of the way: Mikko Rantanen is, undoubtedly, the Avalanche’s number one prospect and he’ll be getting his own piece. But I wanted to start with Chris Bigras because he’s had a bit more seasoning in the NHL than Rantanen, and because he plays a position of weakness for the Avalanche: defense.
The OHL and AHL
Taken in the second round of the 2013 NHL draft at 32nd overall, Bigras had already won gold medals at the 2012 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and the 2013 IIHF World U18 Championships. Not superbly flashy, Bigras relies on a high hockey IQ that allowed him to put up some incredible numbers for the Owen Sound Attack, setting records in both assists (120) and points (155) among defensemen for his junior team.
It’s probably easy to do that when you have the stealth of a Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit. Watch as no one picks this kid up on either goal.
When he came over to the American Hockey League after his final year in juniors ended, he played well in a short 7-game stint for the Lake Erie Monsters before playing top pairing minutes when Colorado changed their affiliate to the San Antonio Rampage. This year, he’s beaten out a key piece in the Ryan O’Reilly trade, Nikita Zadorov, to get some ice time with the Avalanche as a third pairing defenseman for the stretch run of the season after just 37 games in the AHL.
Per Hockey’s Future, he is currently ranked no. 2 in the Avalanche prospect system, behind only the aforementioned Mikko Rantanen.
Time In the NHL
Defensemen in general can take some time to mature, especially when compared to their forward counterparts. This article about sums up why it’s rare to see blueliners taken higher in the draft, basically explaining that the teams that are drafting higher up either can’t or don’t want to take the time that’s required to mature these guys into the best players they can be.
Lucky for us, Bigras hasn’t had to deal with much of that. While arguably still a higher pick at 32, he wasn’t expected to come in and fix the blueline right away. Instead, he’s gotten some time to hone is game in juniors and the AHL before being asked play on the third pairing for the Avalanche, where he’s gotten better with each passing game.
Take a look at this play for example. You might find it looks oddly familiar…
This very well might be a signature move for Bigras going forward, which is extra impressive when you realize the coaching staff is allowing a rookie defenseman, who has only played since January, to pinch in on the play like that. It’s truly a compliment to his game and his intelligence when someone as ‘green’ as he is instills that much confidence in his superiors. And while it’s more than likely teams will pick up on this sort of thing in the future, that will only serve to open up the ice for players like Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon. It’s a ‘pick your poison’ scenario that’s slowly brewing for the rest of the league.
However, Bigras was diagnosed with a concussion this past Monday, March 7th, after a hit that occurred against the Predators the prior Saturday. He’s missed the past three games with the injury and there’s still no timetable for his return to action. The Avalanche are in ‘do or die’ mode as the season winds down, tied with Minnesota for the final wild card spot, though the Wild have a game in hand. While it should be noted that Semyon Varlamov is certainly capable of stealing a game like he did the other night against Anaheim, a player like Bigras should help take some of the pressure off the netminder while strengthening the bottom pairing, as well as receiving some valuable experience in the process. Whatever the timetable, it’ll be exciting to see this kid progress for a while to come.