With just a little over six weeks to go the 2019 NHL entry draft will arrive fast and furious on June 21st in Vancouver. The Avalanche currently hold eight selections and five in the top 100 which makes this upcoming draft an important one for the future of the organization. For now a quick pause on the tantalizing present and post season to take a quick peek at some of the fast approaching considerations with respect to the draft. Thank you to those who contributed questions via Discord and Twitter.
The Big Picture
DB Hammer: What makes the next Avs draft a success/failure?
The obvious objective is to obtain NHL players out of each draft with hopefully impact players out of the first round picks and at least one NHL depth player from day two. In the short term the goal should be to get value and upside with each selection in a variety of types and positions.
DB Hammer: If you were GM this year for the Avs what would be your strategy for the whole draft? Is it a good year to bet on talent? Play it safe?
As the Avalanche slowly gather better depth they still haven’t seen much return from the AHL in the form of role players. Therefore I would lean toward some more upside swings that have a better chance of becoming NHL level players in this system. The organization currently has a number of prospects in the pipeline in the NCAA and Europe on longer timelines and should take a harder look in this draft at the CHL and top end Europeans who could venture to North America within a year.
Rudo3: From a strategy standpoint, at what pick do you forego BPA for organizational need?
Best Player Available is always a touchy subject and a tough one to define but starting in the second round is when the lines on pure talent blur and the organization has to think about how the player fits into the system and big picture. Player type, timeline, probability of development success and possible path should enter the equation for anyone who might conceivably need internal development.
Options at Fourth Overall
There are many players worthy of consideration at fourth overall but for me the selection should come down to two players who cover both ends of the spectrum on on both need and fit with plus potential and that’s Vasili Podkolzin and Bowen Byram.
Podkolzin is the chosen one as the controversial pick in this draft class partly because he is under contract to SKA in the KHL for two more seasons and also because he did not put up consistent production in one place as he was a part of 10 different club and international teams including the KHL and World Junior Championship in the 2018-19 season. He’s an aggressive 6-foot 1 left shot and hard working game breaker but is also a captain character, heart and soul type power winger with a great shot, soft hands and a motor that doesn’t quit. He’s the type of dynamic player the Avalanche need to fill out their forward core and has the talent to potentially become a special player with a unique combination of will and talent. NHL Central Scouting has Podkolzin ranked as the second best among European skaters.
Byram is nearly the opposite but just as unusual as a 6-foot 1 left shot do-it-all defenseman that has put up incredible production of 71 points and 26 goals in 67 games with Vancouver in the WHL. In the playoffs Byram cranked it up a notch with 22 points in 17 games. In the age of swift puck movers on the back end Byram is a bit of a throwback as a physical two-way defenseman but one who can also fill the net and intelligently control play from the blue line. Byram would be an excellent fit for the Avalanche to compliment Sam Girard and Cale Makar plus fall in line to take some of the duties from Erik Johnson down the road. Byram had good mobility and puck ability and even if he isn’t elite in those areas the total package projects to be an impact player in the NHL for a long time and thus was ranked second in North America by Central Scouting.
At 4th ?!? D or C ?!?— Ben gravel (@Powerforward68) May 4, 2019
I’m not a fan of targeting position because needs, rosters and even lineups change so much even within a couple years. I’d prefer to go for talent and let the rest sort itself out. That said I hope there are both centers and defensemen in Colorado’s draft plan!
DD: If the Avs miss out on Byram, how will the player they do pick at 4 effect the later pick i.e. getting a forward at 4, then will they want a D at 16/31? Conversely, how does taking Byram at 4 effect that later pick?
First of all, taking Byram at four and out of the equation for several other teams in the top 10 might cause a mini run on defensemen which could help the Avalanche’s cause in taking a higher end forward with their second pick. It will be more difficult to count on getting value out of a defenseman picked later in the draft since the top end of the 2019 class is forward heavy – but that can’t influence their decision if Byram is the right choice at fourth overall.
DB Hammer: Is there any player (realistically) you’d trade the 4th pick for?
I wouldn’t really look to move this pick for a player since the potential impact and career lifespan on a player chosen this high in the draft has a very high value but if someone like Jacob Trouba could be had without adding much or anything to the pick I’d think about it.
16th Overall vs. 28th Overall
Who are your favorite prospects available in the 28-31 spots of the first round?— UptheMags 👉😃👈 (@TGS42084) May 4, 2019
Who is your favorite late round sleeper?
Ryan Johnson would be an excellent selection at the end of the first round. A smooth skating left shot puck mover who stands at 6-foot is the archetype of a modern defenseman. Johnson is still a bit underrated and lands only at 33rd on Central Scouting’s list for North American skaters. Part of that is due to the fact he did not put up huge numbers in the USHL with 25 points in 54 games but has the mobility, IQ and puck skill to pay off as a smart pick down the line.
For a forward another USHL player in Egor Afanasyev would be another good selection. He took a big step this season with 62 points and 27 goals in 58 games and was rewarded with a lofty 16th ranking by Central Scouting for North American skaters. A 6-foot 4 left wing that plays a power forward game but has good skating ability, hands and a scoring touch would be a welcome addition to the prospect pool.
For sleepers I’ll get to that in the next section and I’m saving my true late first round favorite for expanded profile in my upcoming draft guide! Hint, he may be small and French.
There is a fairly tangible drop off from the mid to late first round. At each point the first hope is for fallers from the previous tier but absent that unless the pick is gambling for pure upside then the expectation does change a bit. At 16 the hope is for a middle six forward with upside for a second line forward or a solid top four defenseman. At the end of the first round upsides diminish a bit and the timelines get longer where safe third line and 5th defensemen projections with a possibility for more are typical.
If we end up drafting at 16, do you entertain the idea of moving back if it could get us a 2nd in the 2020 draft?— Luke Hocking (@JCLCommodities) May 5, 2019
I believe there is value in moving back and this draft is no different. Of course it depends on who is available at 16 and how far back the Avalanche would have to move. In general to move off basically a top half first I would look for a 2020 first. It would be nice to start compiling additional 2020 draft capital at the top end since the Matt Duchene trade assets will dry up at the conclusion this draft and the Avalanche already dipped into the next one after moving out a 2020 third round selection.
Which Goalie you like and what round ?!?— Ben gravel (@Powerforward68) May 4, 2019
To be honest I have not payed much attention to North American goaltenders because the Avalanche have not selected one since 2013. The pattern could always break but it seems to be by design so they have more time to evaluate and sign goaltenders.
If the Avalanche continue their trend of overage Europeans then a pair of Russians could be of interest. Ilya Konovalov is a 1998 born player in his last year of draft eligibility who had a major breakout this season with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in the KHL. In 45 games he posted a 1.89 GAA and .930 save percentage with 10 shutouts. Central Scouting has Konovalov ranked fourth on the International goaltender list so his season hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Similarly, Amir Miftakhov is a 1999 born goaltender who went undrafted last season despite being ranked third by Central Scouting. This time around he’s been dropped to eighth on the International goaltender list but is still in contention for selection. Miftakhov spent most of his season in the VHL with Bars Kazan and posted a 2.40 GAA and .919 save percentage.
Another overage European is Filip Lindberg, a Finn who plays in North America for UMass who also is a 1999 born player who went undrafted last year despite a 13th ranking by Central Scouting. Lindberg had a successful season with UMass with a 1.60 GAA and .934 save percentage who was the netminder who grabbed hold of the net during their postseason run on the way to just falling short in the National Title game. Lindberg also won a goal medal with team Finland as a back-up at the 2019 World Junior Championship.
What all three have in common is the stigma of being a 6-foot tall goaltender and is likely why they were passed over in their draft eligible seasons. However successful runs this season should reopen the door for possible selection. Another reason why the Avalanche in particular could consider these goaltenders is because they were teammates for a large portion of the season with Nikolai Kovalenko, Danila Zhuravlyov and Cale Makar respectively. Konovalov should be the hottest commodity and probably would need selection by the 5th round, the other two a 6th or 7th round pick could suffice.
Forsberger: Who are some mid to late round projected prospects that might be a good fit for the Avs, and what should their general strategy be in that part of the draft?
First, the strategy. The Avalanche only have three of these selections currently and they are all fairly late starting with their own fifth round selection. The NCAA and Russian flier strategy has been adequate in recent years but as aforementioned the system needs some prospects on shorter timelines. Also there’s always value in circling back to the CHL in the late rounds as many players with mid-round grades slip through. Fun fact, the only 6th or 7th round prospects the Avalanche have signed to an Entry Level Contract in the last decade have been drafted from the CHL.
Dillon Hamaliuk is an interesting name to keep an eye on as someone who was gaining potential first round hype before a dirty hit and subsequent knee injury put him out for the rest of the year. Hamaliuk is a 6-foot 3 power forward but with skilled hands and a good motor who put up 26 in 31 games with Seattle in the WHL this season. He is a late birthday so his final year of junior will be spent with the 2020 Memorial Cup host Kelowna following a recent trade. Despite not recieving a rank by Central Scouting due to the shortened season, Bob McKenzie had him nicely ranked 69th at midterm so the Avalanche likely need to pull the trigger by the third round if they are interested even despite the injury.
A late round favorite is left shot defenseman Justin Bergeron who plays for Rouyn-Noranda. I know, shocker. But he is someone gaining some hype within the draft media as a strong overage candidate after a breakout season in the QMJHL and has shown up ranked 153rd for Central Scouting. His 57 points was tied for third in defensemen scoring in the league and he’s currently at a point per game after 17 playoff games. Bergeron is a smart, smooth skating new age type puck mover and was one of the youngest players eligible for last year’s draft with a September 14th birthday. Rouyn-Noranda is guaranteed to play in the Memorial Cup as they are currently playing in the QMJHL finals with host Halifax and Bergeron will likely get good exposure on that national stage.
Do you think the avs are looking at any Russians for the later picks like they did last draft?— Sweaty Yeti (@nicks907) May 4, 2019
Ah, the Russian Pipeline is such an interesting part of the Avalanche draft strategy and prospect system. My hope is the organization decides to up the ante with the inroads they have already made in this area and takes a bigger swing on some Russian players with one or more of their top 100 picks in order to turn the progress they’ve made into a competitive advantage. If they aren’t ready to go for Podkolzin there still are several angles to take with respect to Russian players.
Pavel Dorofeyev might be one of the biggest wild cards when it comes to this draft class as a first round talent who could go anywhere in the first few rounds and Central Scouting has him ranked 12th on the European skaters list. The 6-foot 1 left wing spent the majority of his season in the MHL with Stalnye Lisy and put up 31 points in 19 games including 15 goals but also saw 21 games with Magnitagorisk in the KHL and four in the playoffs. As a late birthday 2000 born player Dorofeyev wasn’t able to participate in any of the u18 international events and is more of a mystery to North American pundits. He possesses a smooth and intelligent game which would boost any prospect pool, especially Colorado’s.
Yegor Spiridonov is another playing in Russia also in the Magnitogorsk system who could be of interest to the Avalanche. He had a productive season in the MHL with 41 points in 43 games and a six point showing at the U18 tournament. As a 6-foot 2 center with two-way ability he’s been compared to Vladislav Kamenev who was also from the same system. Like Kamenev, one could expect Spiridonov as a second round selection as he made a big jump from mid-term to 18th on on the European skaters list.