You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see how the Colorado Avalanche built their Stanley Cup-winning team. They were really bad for a while, they got a lot of high draft picks and they hit a lot of them.
Bruin forward AJ Greer is in the process of proving he wasn’t one of the misses, just a late bloomer. Greer was picked by the Avs in the second round (39th overall) of the 2015 draft, two picks after the Bs brought in Brandon Carlo. The former BU forward spent four years in the Colorado system and won 37 games with the Avs before being traded to New Jersey for the start of the 2020-21 season.
Greer said he learned some hard lessons during his time with the organization in Colorado and appreciates his time there. And although he played with New Jersey against the Avs last year, he’s looking forward to facing some of his old friends on Saturday when the defending champions come to the Garden.
“Obviously it’s always special to play the team you started your pro career with and they drafted me. Of course, the organization didn’t go the way I wanted, but I’m grateful for the opportunity. They drafted me, they gave me the opportunity to play in the NHL. For me personally, the timing wasn’t right,” Greer said on Friday. “I don’t think I understood my game that much when I was younger, but they gave me the opportunity to play in the NHL again and I will always be grateful for that. A great place to play, a great team all around, the guys there are great. I really have nothing bad to say about this place. I got in there at a time when they were going from the worst team in the league to the best team, so I kind of saw how it all happened and it was honestly eye-opening to be the guy who does it every day wanted to learn. You could see the details they conveyed in practice and they emphasized certain things. And it paid off in the end.”
Greer admits he didn’t feel like he was getting a fair shake at the moment. In hindsight, he can see that they gave him some chances, even in his first pro season, but he couldn’t become an NHL regular
“I don’t think about the fact that I was (overlooked), I just think that they weren’t in a space where they could afford to give me enough ice time and enough opportunity. I didn’t play the minutes I wanted. I played an average of 5-7 minutes per game and got called up, played a game and got sent back down. It’s never really been a consistent opportunity,” Greer said. “But even in this business things move fast and you have to be ready. I was a young guy who was a little pissed off because I did so well in the American (hockey) league and didn’t get a chance in the NHL. It was just a combination of things. And honestly, I didn’t play well when I was up there either. I didn’t understand the game, I didn’t understand the game in the NHL… it was just a combination of things and I don’t blame anyone, I just don’t think it was the right thing to do.
As grateful as he is to the organization in Colorado, he’s still a professional competitor.
“Obviously I want to show the player I am now as opposed to the player I was before,” Greer said with a grin.
The player he is now is a solid fourth-line role player on one of the best teams in the league. He found some success early on the scorer chart. In his first four games he had a total of 3-2-5. Since then he has had only two helpers in 13 games. But for now, he’s running with Tomas Nosek and Nick Foligno on a fourth line that’s often tasked with setting the tone for the game. He is third on the team with 42 goals, trailing only Foligno (51) and Connor Clifton (62), despite averaging just 9:36.
“I definitely want more points, but they will come. But I don’t think I’m here to get 50 points,” he said. “As long as I’m doing my job and playing my part. I think that’s the main reason why I’ve had success with last year (at Utica, got him the one-way deal in Boston) and this year just based on the consistency I’ve brought with me.
Coach Jim Montgomery loves what Greer brings.
“He has an infectious attitude on the bench and in the dressing room. But more importantly for his game, his defensive detail has really improved,” said Montgomery. “And I give him credit first, as does Joe Sacco and Chris Kelly for working with him on those details. And I think his puck protection has really improved so he’s one of our better forwards at depth, holding pucks and scoring goals with the puck.
“I think he knows he’s important to our team’s success, even if he only gets eight minutes some nights. They are an important eight minutes.”