It all comes down to this, the 2018 NHL entry draft in Dallas on June 22nd and 23rd. A year’s worth of watching, scouting, analyzing and dreaming will culminate in a couple of days where the Colorado Avalanche will (hopefully) walk away with eight new pieces added to their pipeline. This is the first draft since 2010 in which the Avalanche have more than the standard issue seven draft selections and even get to utilize one of the first fruits of the Matt Duchene trade with an extra pick in the second round.
CANDIDATES at 16th OVERALL
There are many directions the pick at 16 could take and will immediately add a big asset to an improving prospect pool. The Avalanche are suddenly flush with defensemen but could stand to add a bigger two-way compliment with upside like K’Andre Miller or Jared McIsaac or a smaller puck mover like Ty Smith or Rasmus Sandin. There’s always a desire to add responsible centers with size such as Isac Lundestrom or Barrett Hayton. Plus a highly touted player like center Joe Veleno could fall further than expected. Then there’s a position in which the Avalanche have a true need and that is the dynamic scoring winger who could fit that profile such as Joel Farabee and Vitali Kravtsov. A few personal favorites who should be on the board at 16 are:
Grigori Deniskeno fits the dynamic description perfectly and would pose a bigger risk than maybe the Avalanche have taken in recent years. He is a 5’11 172 lbs right shot left winger who played the entire year at home in Russia with the junior team in Yaroslavl (MHL). He had a decent season with 22 points in 31 games but was part of the team that won the league championship and even recieved a recall to the KHL team in the playoffs. Where Deniskeno really shined was in international competition on smaller ice and he turned heads at the World Junior A Challenge where had four points in four games and at the Five Nations tournament. Denisenko is a player who has a nice shot, an abundance of creativity and moves with possibly the best hands in the draft as he brings a very high skill level and skating ability to the table plus he is also physical, aggressive and can throw some big hits. There is some projection with Denisenko concerning his size and the raw production hasn’t emerged from the ability he possesses. Rumor is he’s very interested in playing in North America and the rewards quite possibly outweigh the potential risks to take a chance on hitting a home run with this pick.
Alexander Alexeyev is a beast of a player who has played in Red Deer (WHL) for the past two seasons. He’s dealt with injury and the was unavailable for the Top Prospects Game due to the death of his mother. He is a late 1999 bithdate and therefore couldn’t play in the U-18 did not help his cause either. Alexeyev has all the tools of a high upside left shot two-way defender. At 6’4 and nearly 200 lbs he’s a big physical presence but has the mobility and skill of someone much smaller. Alexeyev also possesses a good shot and puck moving ability as he scored 37 points with seven goals in 45 games. The upside is high and there’s no glaring issues with his game assuming he checked out well medically at the combine. Alexeyev really should be in the conversation with other toolsy high upside two-way defenders in K’Andre Miller and Bode Wilde, who could all get taken anywhere starting in the back half of the first round.
Ty Dellandrea has been a riser all year and it isn’t only due to development in his game but rather having his game exposed on a bigger stage. Trapped in Flint (OHL) on a very poor team but Dellandrea has consistently risen to the occasion when called upon. The Top Prospects Game is where he first really recieved notice after scoring two goals there and then he continued his strong year with a good finish in Flint with 59 points and 27 goals in 67 games and generated over 3.5 shots per game, the highest of any draft eligible forward in the OHL. The U-18 capped off the year for Dellandrea scoring five points in five games including the lone goal in Canada’s elimination against the Czech Republic. Dellandrea is a right shot center standing at 6’0.5 and 184 lbs plus is one of the younger players in the draft class with a late July birthdate. A playmaker, physical, good skater, has the hands and shot to create at the next level, Dellandrea should be in the conversation with other two-way first round centers from the CHL such as McLeod, Hayton or even Veleno.
There’s something just about everyone likes about Akil Thomas from his impressive production of 81 points including 22 goals in 68 games for Niagara (OHL) to his speed, motor and skill level. Standing at 5’11 and 178 lbs there is room for him to grow and become an even stronger goal scorer to go along with his playmaking ability. Thomas plays center but does project to more of a wing at the next level and the versatility can be an asset for him. Thomas has an evolving defensive game and consistency is an area where he needs to work but if the total package comes together he could be an impact player at the next level and isn’t quite as raw as some of the toolsy options in the back half of the first round.
There are two scenarios the Avalanche need to be ready for at the top of their draft board. A trade up possibility or if Ottawa decides to pivot out of selecting at fourth overall in order to keep their 2019 first round pick. Both seem very unlikely but the Avalanche need to be ready just in case they are selecting significantly higher in the first round than expected. Trading up is ill-advised at this point because of how far the Avalanche would need to move from their 16th pick and how much value they’d need to give up to do so. Even moving up a few spots in the teens would be expensive and still would not yield a top tier prospect.
Considering Ottawa’s pick at four, it would be incredible to walk away with one of the top forwards in this draft class in Filip Zadina. If he was available at four it would be an easy selection as Zadina should be able to step in the NHL right away and would give the Avalanche something they’ve sorely been missing in a dynamic goal scoring winger. If Zadina is off the board at four then Brady Tkachuk and Noah Dobson should be in consideration or even a trade down.
Making any sort of decision to trade down shouldn’t be made until witnessing how the board unfolds at the draft and if any unexpected players fall. The 16th spot has been historically a good slot to find great talent with recent selections such as Juuso Valimaki, Mat Barzal, Nikita Zadorov and Vladimir Tarasenko. The best course of action seems to be to sit tight and see what’s available. However, if moving down just a few spots would yield a decent mid-round pick in return and still leave open many options to choose from then it should be considered. The draft breaks wide open at the midpoint and the Avalanche could get their guy later or even have these seemingly later first round targets fall in their lap.
Martin Kaut might be one of the biggest wild cards in what’s already shaping up to be an unpredictable draft. Despite playing for Parbudice in the Czech league for 38 games and putting up 16 points, he really got a lot of exposure in international tournaments capped off by a seven point performance in the World Junior Championship. Standing at 6’1 and 174 lbs, he plays a smart and mature game but also has the skill and upside of someone who can play with and compliment top players. Unfortnuately combine tests revealed that Kaut had a minor heart ailment he needed to take care of with surgery right away but won’t be something that will affect his career moving forward. Some say Kaut was a sneaky lock to go top 20 before the combine, it’s possible he is a faller at this point but might be a major benefit to the team who is able to nab him.
Serron Noel is a tempting selection but one that comes with a bit of a leap of faith. A massive physical specimen at 6’5 and 204 lbs, Noel is also a player who can skate well and has the skill, particularly hands, to make plays and score goals. Noel is the total package as far as a big right shot scoring winger that could fit very nicely into the Avalanche lineup one day. His game is still a bit raw and evolving as Noel is growing into his frame but this isn’t a case of selecting the biggest guy available and hoping NHL upside suddenly shows up. He was productive for Oshawa (OHL) with 53 points and 28 goals in 62 games and showed well internationally scoring six points including two goals at the U-18 and also scored in the Top Prospects game. All the ability is present for Noel, he just has to keep putting it all together.
CANDIDATES at 47th (2nd Round)
It is going to be a long wait from wherever the Avalanche end up selecting in the first round to when they arrive at the start of their picks in the second. Several talented offensive defensemen might go off the board at that point including a pair of undersized yet dynamic defensemen in Jonny Tychonick, the charismatic puck mover from Penticton (BCHL) and Calen Addison, the underrated power play wizard from Lethbridge (WHL). Both could easily outperform their draft position and become steals of the draft.
One option who might still be on the board at the midpoint of the second round is yet another smaller productive defenseman garnering a lot of attention and momentum up draft boards is Nicolas Beaudin from Drummondville (QMJHL). Heading into the year he was thought of as a mid-round possibility and was not invited to the Top Prospects Game but after scoring 69 points including 12 goals in 68 games, people started taking notice. That level of production tied him for second in the league including with likely top five selection Noah Dobson. Beaudin improved his defensive game and started to play heavy minutes for his team in all situations. Skating is still an area he will need to improve in conjunction with his 5’11 172 lbs frame is why he will likely not get drafted until the second day but Beaudin is a smart and agile puck mover with a big upside.
CANDIDATES at 58th (2nd Round)
On the forward side of the coin in consideration for the second round, the Avalanche might be able to go back to their well of finding gems from lower level leagues such as big center Jack McBain from the OJHL or Massachusetts high school sensation dynamic forward Jay O’Brien. Jakub Lauko is also another dynamic and versatile speedy forward from the Czech Republic. All would be great selections in the second round.
If the Avalanche glance back at the CHL for a forward at the end of the second round they could do worse than Allan McShane who seems to have fallen off the radar a bit. He had a good season with Oshawa (OHL) posting 65 points with 20 goals in 67 games and then performed well at the U-18 scoring six points in five games but is inconsistent at times. McShane is a very intelligent two-way left shot center with skill and creativity but doesn’t have great size at 5’11 and 190 lbs or speed so that brings up the risk factor. McShane has a game that needs to grow on people but once it does it’s easy to see all the subtle ways he impacts the play. He’s worth a pick in the later part of the second round and hope that his game takes a step forward.
CANDIDATES at 78th (3rd Round)
If the Avalanche don’t select a goaltender by this point in the draft there might be a revolt. It’s really impossible to determine which direction they might go with goaltending and if they even covet a higher end prospect or will keep going though the slower development path with goalies playing in Europe.
Olivier Rodrigue seems to fit the higher end bill as the top ranked North American by central scouting and is a top CHL goaltender as a starter with Drummondville (QMJHL) posting a 2.54 Goals Against Average .903 Save% in 53 games. Rodrigue has also been a standout with Canada internationally grabbing the starting job and winning gold at the Ivan Hlinka and also performing well at the U-18 with a 1.33 GAA and .949 Save%. He is not a large goalie at 6’1 and a thin frame weighing only 159 lbs, which could scare some teams off. Rodrigue is a very technically sound goalie but can rely on it too much and not trust his natural ability to take over. Still, Rodrigue is one of the better goalie prospects in this draft class.
Past Rodrique it really is anyone’s guess who might have the attention of the Avalanche from two highly regarded Czechs in Jakub Skarek and Lukas Dostal, the best Russian in this class Amir Miftahkov or perhaps even a European overager David Hrenak who plays for St. Cloud State (NCAA).
Kody Clark from the Ottawa 67s (OHL) would fit the bill as an excellent third round selection if the Avalanche take a skater at this point. A right shot scoring winger with budding power forward upside had some inconsistencies playing with a young Ottawa team but still scored 39 points and 18 goals in 56 games. An injury forced Clark to miss the Top Prospects Game and he also missed time after that, which led to him finishing the season with less vigor than it began. Still, Clark is a right shot winger, has the size at 6’1 179 lbs and shot with a nose for the net who could be a perfect fit for the Avalanche and is primed to keep taking steps in his development.
CANDIDATES at 109th (4th Round) & 140th (5th Round)
Where the draft really begins to splinter is after the first 100 picks are off the board. The Avalanche are no stranger to selecting overagers, Europeans and organizational off-board favorites at this point. It is really difficult to imagine who any of those selections could be as they will purposely be under the radar. A few remaining good options from the CHL might be around and worthy of a pick in the middle rounds.
Xavier Bouchard was much more on the radar last year in his 16 year-old season when he put up 34 points in 63 games as a rookie for Baie-Comeau (QMJHL). There was talk of him potentially becoming a first round pick in this draft. Bouchard has the size at 6’4 and 190 lbs plus he’s the son of Rouyn-Noranda head coach Gilles Bouchard and understands the game very well. This season he only put up 21 points in 65 games and it wasn’t due to lost ability but rather pressing too hard and experienced a more difficult season for the team. Bouchard is a physically imposing but mobile with two-way ability and can facilitate offense. He’s a bounce back candidate as Baie-Comeau looks to be a much improved team next year and Bouchard tested extremely well at the combine including recording the longest vo2 score on the endurance bike test.
Another option potentially available in the middle rounds who also performed well at the combine and plays for Baie-Comeau (QMJHL) is 5’10 170 lbs left shot wing Gabriel Fortier. Rumor of very positive interviews coupled with some of the highest test results in pull-ups, vertical jump and the Wingate bike test will get Fortier some attention heading into draft day. Those tests also reflect in how hard of a worker and strong of a skater he is. Production of 59 points including 26 goals in 66 games is a good indicator of his potential going forward plus he has other defensive and gritty attributes in his tool box. He scored two goals on Canada’s gold medal winning Ivan Hlinka team but wasn’t able to play at the U-18 due to injury and may have left Fortier a bit under the radar.
CANDIDATES at 171th (6th Round) & 202th (7th Round)
By this point the targeted list begins to dwindle and teams circle back to see if any CHL players of interest are still left on the board. The Avalanche have found moderate success dipping back into the CHL pool with their seventh round selections as they’ve signed their last three of such to Entry Level Contracts in Colin Smith, Julien Nantel and Travis Barron. They may not find a NHL contributor at this spot but getting at least a solid AHL player past the 200th pick in a draft should be considered a success. With that in mind, it’s tough to predict which draft eligibles with mid-round grades will fall through the cracks but inevitably there will be some.
Norwegian sensation Mathias Emilio Pettersen is a 5’10 179 lbs left shot center who has been a YouTube sensation since he was six years-old dazzling with his skill at such as early age. He was pegged as the next great prodigy from overseas and when he finally crossed the pond to play in North America but his talent hasn’t translated into the production he hoped with 27 points in 57 games his 16 year-old season with Omaha (USHL). MEP was traded to Muskegon and improved this year with 46 points in 60 games. He’s always done well internationally, taking the U-18 Division I-A scoring title in 2017 when he was 16 with 12 points and four goals in five games, besting Dominik Bokk‘s 10 points in that tournament. Muskegon’s run in the playoffs prevented MEP from participating this season. MEP has also been a University of Denver commit for years and no doubt should have been on the radar for quite a while locally. There’s really no telling where MEP might fall on draft day as scouts certainly remember the hype on this talent European who also might slip through the cracks to the late rounds.
One constant in the draft is seeing Russians fall and in conjunction with those who are undersized, need work on skating or play in the QMJHL seem to push them even further down the list leaving for some intruiging value pick-ups later or even significantly later in the draft. This year should be no different with several bigger names such as Alexander Khovanov, the intelligent playmaker in Moncton (QMJHL) who was slowed by Hepatitis A, or Dmitri Zavgorodny, who disappeared a bit in Rimouski (QMJHL) but came alive as a staple on Russian national teams.
One other name not recieving much attention and was not invited to the combine despite being ranked 81st in North America by central scouting is Vladislav Kotkov, a 6’4 206 lbs left winger from Chicoutimi (QMJHL). He had decent production of 21 goals and 49 points in 68 games on one of the lowest scoring teams in the league. Kotkov has the skill, playmaking ability and shot to greatly outperform where he will eventually get drafted as long as he keeps working on his skating and consistency in the coming years.
These are just some of the possibilities the Avalanche could walk away with on draft day and to even peg a couple would be a success. Either way their identity will be known in just a few short day and then we’ll work on getting to know their games, personalities and upside. Fun times ahead!