On Friday, the Avalanche finally got restricted free agent defenseman Kyle Cumiskey under contract. The Denver Post reports that the contract is a one-year, two-way deal worth $708,000 at the NHL level, and $105,000 if he is assigned to the American Hockey League.
He was selected in the seventh round of the 2005 draft (No. 222 overall) by the Avs. The only thing that has differentiated Cumiskey so far is his skating ability. He is by far one of the fastest skaters on this Avalanche team and, for that matter, in the NHL.
Despite his speed advantage, Cumiskey enters training camp as one of the Avalanche players with the most to prove.
He hasn't shown the ability to consistently make good decisions in his own zone. In his last five seasons, split between the Lake Erie Monsters (AHL) and the Avalanche, he has earned a minus-11 rating.
While he is still young (24), and defensemen typically take longer to mature into reliable players than forwards do, Cumiskey needs to start proving he can be a night-in, night-out contributor in the NHL.
That won't be an easy task when you consider the new-look Colorado defense he'll be trying to earn a starting job with this year.
The Avalanche have made clear their intentions to get bigger, stronger and tougher to play against in their own zone through the acquisitions of Ryan O'Byrne, Jan Hejda, Erik Johnson and Shane O'Brien. At 5'10", 185 pounds, Cumiskey doesn't fit that bill.
He'll also face steep competition for any roster spots available to smaller, faster, more offensively-minded defensemen. Jonas Holos and Kyle Quincey will be looking for starting jobs, along with a very skilled group of prospects looking to crack the NHL in Stefan Elliott, Tyson Barrie, Cameron Gaunce and Duncan Siemens (for more info on these prospects, click here).
Cumiskey only appeared in 18 games for Colorado last season, hampered by a nagging concussion injury.
Assuming he can stay healthy this season, he needs to step up and prove that he belongs at the NHL level. It will take more than a great set of wheels to crack the opening night roster this year.