Bigras' goal: join Avs blue line
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Chris Bigras challenged for an Avalanche roster spot two years ago at age 18. Now, at 20 after completing the best season of his major junior career, the goal is to complete the mission and earn a roster spot in the fall.
A highly-skilled left-shooting defenseman, Bigras had 20 goals and 51 assists in 62 games last season for the Owen Sound Attack in the Ontario Hockey League and finished second in voting for the league's best defenseman. After Owen Sound was eliminated in the playoffs, where he had a goal and two assists, Bigras moved up to Lake Erie in the AHL and collected four assists in seven games.
"That was huge for my development to play against bigger and stronger guys for a few games, to experience the pro lifestyle," he said during a break at Avalanche development camp. "It was huge for me going forward. My thought process is making the team come September, that's where my focus is at."
Bigras describes his game this way: "A two-way defenseman, jump into play when I can, the focus for me is a strong first pass on breakouts."
Yeah, the Avalanche could use a guy like that.
Bigras is well aware that the Avalanche have eight veteran defensemen under contract with newly-acquired Francois Beauchemin and Nikita Zadorov, and holdovers Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, Nick Holden, Brad Stuart, Zach Redmond and Nate Guenin.
"It's something you look into, but at the end of the day everyone has to earn a spot," said Bigras, who is from Elmville, Ontario. "I'll probably have to leap a few players in order to make it this year. It's not something I try and concern myself about. I just try to focus on getting better every day. It just makes for a better compete level come camp."
Bigras, who is 6-feet-2 and 194 pounds, has hooked up with a new strength and conditioning coach, Andy O'Brien, whose clients include Avalanche forwards Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon, and Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby.
"I'm trying to take steps in the gym getting stronger," he said. "I've also been working with a (skating) coach back home. Skating is something that you can always get better at. The faster you are, the better off you'll be."
A second-round pick (No. 32) in the 2013 NHL draft, Bigras made quite an impression on Patrick Roy, who was in his first season as Avalanche coach, during training camp before the 2013-14 season. Though tempted to keep him, the Avalanche felt Bigras was just too young and returned him to Owen Sound for more seasoning.
"I had a strong first camp, didn't know what to expect, so I just tried to learn as much and do what the pro guys were doing," Bigras said.
He had four goals and 22 assists in 55 games his second season with Owen Sound and was named the OHL Western Conference best defenseman in a coaches poll. He played in seven games for Canada in the World Junior Championships but didn't register a point.
Bigras didn't have an exceptional camp with the Avalanche last year and used another return to Owen Sound as "extra motivation" to have his best season yet.
"I got off to a decent start and I put up some good numbers throughout and I thought I was able to dominate some games and feel pretty comfortable at that level," he said. "It just gives me the confidence this year knowing I can move on, feel comfortable with what I've done so far and keep working toward the next level.
"I felt a lot more comfortable in my D zone, just being able to handle myself down low so I could jump in more offensively. I found a good balance, which I wasn't able to do in the past. I was too defensive and not getting as much offensive numbers or I was too offensive. "
This is Bigras' third Avalanche development camp and he's leaned on defense development consultant Adam Foote for advice every chance he gets.
"He's an extremely good mentor, one I look up to," he said. "He's very open to any questions that you have."
One question come training camp will be: can Bigras supplant a veteran to earn a place on the Avalanche blue line?
"I'm coming in expecting to make the team," he said. "I need to come in with that mentality. I'm going to work hard all summer with working out, skating, nutrition, sleep, with the help of all the Avs development crew here and try to make that big jump."