When the Avalanche made the Colorado Eagles their AHL affiliate, it was a move that functioned to bring the organization — and its development pipeline — closer in proximity. But above all, with that proximity, it allows the organization to better forge and foster an identity, up and down the pipeline.
Logan O’Connor is proof of this, and he’s just the tip of the iceberg, really.
Due to a rash of injuries that have once again decimated the Avs, it’s players like O’Connor and a handful of other Eagles players who have come in and plugged some pretty significant holes.
Take for example the Avs 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild last Tuesday. In that game, there were seven Eagles players, most of whom have spent significant time up in Loveland working weekly with Avalanche coaches like Nolan Pratt, who are now able to easily make the 50-minute drive from Denver to Loveland, thanks to that proximity.
Pratt, in conjunction with Eagles head coach Greg Cronin, makes that drive down I-25 and leads a weekly on-ice session with the Eagles. These sessions focus on skill-based drills while also learning some of the Avs systems, which the Eagles have adopted.
Same coaches, teaching the same systems, which naturally leads to some conformity in the organization’s identity, and an understanding of the way the organization wants to play night in and night out. That way, when there’s a call-up from the AHL to the NHL, players have a solid understanding of the Avs systems.
“Moving our affiliation up the road is one of the best choices our organization has made,” Bednar said last season. “Everyone’s kind of on the same page when it comes to the way we want to play as an organization and the structure of our game…I just feel like that’s been a homerun.”
O’Connor echoes his coach’s sentiments, and his recent play is further validation of this fact.
“There’s a great coaching staff down there that really preaches details,” O’Connor said. “I think you can see that in our game. All of us players, we try to harp on those small details because for us that’s how we’re going to make it at the next level.”
O’Connor, who scored his second goal in as many games in the Avs 2-1 win over Minnesota, has been joined by an aerie of his fellow Eagles over the past couple of weeks, including Jacob MacDonald, who head coach Jared Bednar called one of the better D-men during last week’s win against the Wild.
“I’m really proud of him,” Eagles head coach Greg Cronin said of O’Connor. “He’s done a great job, and to me he’s a reflection of the organization, and the way he’s come through our developmental model is awesome.”
Again, Logan O’Connor is just the tip of the iceberg, though he’s quickly become the poster child — if you will — of the Eagles-Avs development model. MacDonald, Sheldon Dries, Kiefer Sherwood, Conor Timmins and Hunter Miska were all there for the win, chipping in some significant contributions along the way. In total, former Eagles graduates made up a third of the Avalanche’s roster against the Wild.
“It’s been awesome,” O’Connor said of seeing the growth of his fellow Eagles. “We’ve definitely climbed through the ranks with each other, spending time last season in the American League with the Eagles.
Logan O’Connor’s play so far this season, and what we saw from him last year, is likely putting Bednar in a position where he’ll have to make a tough call on whether or not to send O’Connor back to the minors when his roster finally does become fully healthy. It’s a good problem to have — this wealth of riches — and it’s a testament to the organization’s depth and commitment to player development. And with a growing triage report of injuries — and now a growing list of Covid-protocoled players — there’s a good chance we’ll likely see a few more Eagles call-ups throughout the season.
“It’s pretty cool to see guys you went to war with last year, and now we’ve all elevated our games to put on the Avs sweater,” O’Connor finished. “It’s pretty special. It says a lot about the organization down in Loveland and what they’ve done to develop players.”