This NHL entry draft provides a rare opportunity for the Colorado Avalanche to greatly shape their future in the midst of present success and movement toward contender status. With five picks in the top 78 including the 4th and 16th Overall selections the franchise will receive an infusion of top tier talent which could contribute sooner than later. Focus on getting these picks right in many different areas of need is of critical importance.
While it is tempting to look at roster holes at this juncture the emphasis should zero in on talent first and foremost. With a NHL roster which has long term key pieces in place the Avalanche also have this luxury. Regardless, drafting is for the future as talent evaluation of teenagers is always a projection plus NHL rosters, pipelines and lineups constantly change. Drafting doesn’t happen in a vacuum either as placement in the system and path to success are factors that need consideration as well.
Candidates at 4th Overall
After the heavily anticipated top two forwards in Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko are off the board there are many different names in consideration as possible fits for the Avalanche at four. Each have taken their turn in the spotlight such as the creative puck wizard Trevor Zegras, high IQ playmaker Peyton Krebs and powerful shoot first Dylan Cozens as centers worthy of top five selection. At wing stout sniper Cole Caufield or responsible versatile Matt Boldy could fit the bill as well. However focus has narrowed to a small group who could provide value and upside at fourth overall.
There are few who had a better season than left shot defenseman Bowen Byram with 71 points including 26 goals in 67 games for Vancouver (WHL) and the league lead in playoff scoring with an additional 26 points but he should be in strong consideration for the Avalanche for many different reasons. Byram is an offense catalyst from the back-end but does it through his smooth two-way play and puck rushing ability. On top of that he can shoot to score goals, defend and add a touch of physical snarl. Byram may not have one standout elite trait but his strong skating, hockey sense, puck skill and offensive instincts all in a 6-foot-1 and 195 lbs package projects to be the cherry on top of an impressive young, mobile and dynamic defensive core the Avalanche are building.
Alex Turcotte checks all the boxes which scouts love and would make a good fit in Colorado as well. At center he is a swift skater with a touch of sandpaper and power in his 5-foot-11 and 186 lbs frame but has soft hands and skill with the puck. Turcotte brings a versatility which could help him find a home up and down the Avalanche lineup as he matures. Turcotte dealt with some injury and health issues through the season but when he was on the ice was electric and very productive with 12 goals and 34 points in just 16 games the US National Team Development Program in USHL play. Should he not get selected by Chicago there is a strong possibility Turcotte could be the best available player when the Avalanche are on the clock.
Kirby Dach could be the missing piece the Avalanche have not had in their arsenal for quite some time as a big body right shot center at 6-foot-4 and 198 lbs who could anchor a second line with the possibility for more. Dach’s smooth hands are a standout trait of his as he couples his high skill level with an above average IQ and produced 73 points with 25 goals n 62 games for Saskatoon (WHL). Skating is a work in progress as is typical for larger prospects plus a few inconsistent efforts to iron out but the projection for special upside is the appeal with Dach. He doesn’t have to hit as a number one center in Colorado but the ceiling lies with him staying down the middle and solidifying as a secondary scoring threat.
Vasili Podkolzin is the wild card and potentially the best return on investment on a forward at this draft position. He is a unique blend of relentlessness and skill, an aggressive attacking left shot wing who can also play a dependable 200-foot game. Add in high character and leadership to realize what a tantalizing total package Podkolzin could become. He played for 10 different national and club teams over the course of the season and did not settle down in one place therefore does not have a comfortable production comparison. As a 6-foot-one and 196 lbs left shot wing playing for the SKA (KHL) system in Russia for the next two seasons many have written Podkolzin off for consideration at this juncture but he will greatly reward the team who selects him. The Avalanche could use a winger like Podkolzin up and down their lineup to take advantage of his versatility and tenacity.
If the Avalanche do not fancy either of these four players then they should strongly consider trading down if they want to grab a forward that’s projected more towards the back half of the top ten.
Candidates at 16th Overall
A common idea is to pair the player at this pick with the eventual section at fourth overall to hit as many needs as possible with this rare extra first round choice. Ideally the selections work out that way but the talent of each pick must stand alone both now and in the future.
A plethora of defensemen should go off the board around this pick from a trio of Swedes including smart puck mover Victor Soderstrom, athletic toolsy Philip Broberg and defendable leader Tobias Bjornfot. Other Europeans such as another slick puck mover in Finns Ville Heinola or goal scorer Lassi Thomson plus towering German Moritz Seider who impressed playing professionally. All are fine options with hope for steady play at the NHL level with possible offensive upside.
Cam York might be the best value available on defense at this selection. Adding this left shot puck mover would also indicate an organizational shift to prioritizing dynamic offensive defensemen in the prospect system. His smooth and cerebral style fits the new age defenseman archetype as he chipped in 33 points in 28 games with the NTDP in USHL competition. York’s laid back style meshes with his quick, efficient skating and crisp passing in a 5-foot-11 and 172 lbs frame to make an enticing package for any team selecting in the middle of the first round.
Alex Newhook had a bit of a tumultuous season but finished strong and is one of the best upside options outside the top 10 in this draft class. As a plus skater with crafty hands Newhook is a smart and productive left shot center as he posted 102 points and 38 goals in 53 games on the way to a BCHL MVP season with Victoria. Redemption came at the Under-18 World Championship tournament where Newhook contributed 10 points in a top line role. The skill he possesses squarely places Newhook in contention for the top half of the first round but there is also consideration to just how raw the talent is. As a NCAA path player Newhook will have plenty of time to refine his game and add to his 5-foot-10.5 and 195 lbs frame.
Philip Tomasino is a riser and could find himself the first player drafted out of the OHL in this class. After scoring 72 points and 34 goals for Niagara the identity Tomasino has created is that he plays with incredible pace and speed. A high level of skill and motor exists in this 6-foot and 180 lbs frame as he attacks with his shot, hands and skating. Tomasino needs to work on his defense and game away from the puck to incorporate his speediness in that area — as many skilled teenagers do — but the work ethic exists. Tomasino projects as a possible top six right shot center but is versatile enough to move all around the lineup.
A personal favorite Jakob Pelletier isn’t commonly found in the middle of the first round on draft lists but he possesses everything desired in a complimentary left shot winger. In the era of size is just a number and in a draft celebrating the diminutive player Pelletier’s 5-foot-9 and 170 lbs frame should not move him down draft boards. He is a hard working tenacious puck hound who uses his intelligence and skillful hands to crank out production for Moncton (QMJHL) to the tune of 89 points and 39 goals in 65 games. While Pelletier could stand to find a faster top gear he is elusive and strong on his edges and can play along the boards to attack the net. This hidden in plain sight gem could become a real steal if he gets out of the first round.
Trade Down or Extra Pick
Unless a surprise player projected in the top 10 falls all the way to 16 there likely is value in exploring a trade down scenario and picking up additional assets for this draft or to build up coffers for the future. At the later portion of the first round or even beginning on the second round many interesting options abound including goaltending should the Avalanche fancy Spencer Knight.
Egor Afanasyev could be next in line for the Avalanche of a left shot goal scoring power wing from the USHL in the mold of Cam Morrison and Sampo Ranta taken before him. Afanasyev could also be the best version of this type as 6-foot-3.5 and 204 lbs player who put up 62 points including 27 goals in 58 games for Muskegon plus has a larger than life personality mixed in with the production. A recent commitment to play with Windsor in the OHL next season should help Afanasyev’s draft stock as he is not expected to last long if he gets to day two of the draft.
Candidates at 47th Overall
Talent flies off the board quickly in the second round but a few favorites could last to the Avalanche’s next selection. Perhaps consideration to those on a non-traditional development path might have a higher rate of success in Colorado as they will have the bulk of their development handled elsewhere and step into the organization near ready to contribute in the NHL.
When Pavel Dorofeyev will hear his name called is anyone’s guess as either an early smart gamble or later as a steal for the 6-foot-1 and 176 lbs left shot wing. He is a intelligent shooter who slows the game down in multiple facets to make an impact. As one of the few late 2000 born players in this draft class Dorofeyev was not able to compete internationally with his draft peers and has been somewhat a mystery and difficult to slot in this class. Dorofeyev split his season with 31 games in the KHL with Magnitogorsk and their MHL club Stalnye Lisy where he put up 31 points including 17 goals in 19 games. With professional experience under his belt already Dorofeyev could remain in Russia for an additional season and then have a shot at the Avalanche roster in the following year.
Brett Leason is one unique player in this draft class as a 1999 born 6-foot-4 and 210 lbs right wing who was passed over twice and is now up for possible first round consideration after dramatic development over the last year in particular. For Prince Albert (WHL) Leason saw his production this season climb to 89 points with 36 goals in 55 games plus five points for Canada at the World Junior Championship. Leason is ready for pro hockey and could step into the NHL right away or after a very short stay in the AHL. This type of timeline in addition to his size comprises a large portion of his appeal but Leason is not without skill as a hard working power forward with puck ability and a great shot. The NHL team that selects him should see Leason as a third line contributor quickly.
Ryan Johnson will be an in demand commodity if he slips into the second day of the draft as the new era type of smooth skating and cerebral puck moving defenseman. With only 25 points in 54 games with Sioux Falls (USHL) the hope is Johnson’s offense will expand into the puck skill he already possesses. The 6-foot and 170 lbs left shot defenseman has room to grow into his frame as well. Johnson has pedigree on his side as his father Craig played over 500 the NHL and is currently a development coach for the LA Kings. As a player on the NCAA track, Johnson should spend two to three years developing in that environment and should gain enough polish to make his NHL debut shortly after.
Candidates at 63rd Overall
Beginning of the third round is a great place to look for some limited exposure fallers and upside gambles. The QMJHL crop is a good place to mine at this point as well for those reasons with a few tempting options. Starting with powerful sniper Nathan Legare who put up 45 goals in his draft year shouldn’t be getting just a fraction of the attention Arthur Kaliyev attracts. Russians in the league also are a good bet to get overlooked with smart goal scoring center Nikita Alexandrov and explosive crafty defenseman Artemi Kniazev fitting the bill.
At this point Maxim Cajkovic qualifies as a post-hype sleeper. After exploding on to the scene with an incredible performance for Slovakia at the 2018 Under-18 tournament with 11 points Cajkovic was widely regarded as a potential first round pick. A setback followed playing for bottom feeder Saint John (QMJHL) although he still managed to easily lead the team in scoring with 46 points in 60 games. With Cajkovic the 5-foot-11 and 185 lbs right wing provides an incredible set of hands and skill level as the team drafting hopes he irons out some immaturity in his game. Well worth the risk for upside at this stage in the draft as Cajkovic should be more comfortable in North America and on a team with improved talent next year as well.
Dillon Hamaliuk is the classic limited viewing injury case which may bring value and the Avalanche love to pounce on these types of under the radar players. Hamaliuk was building a resume for a possible second round selection until a dirty hit left him with a season ending knee injury just 31 games into the campaign for Seattle (WHL) where he had scored 26 points. The result left Hamaliuk unranked by Central Scouting but with an invite to the combine as teams clearly are still intrigued by his skill set. The 6-foot-3 and 194 lbs left shot power forward has good hands and plays a very physical game. A recent trade to upcoming Memorial Cup host Kelowna will guarantee Hamaliuk a long season next year to help replace some lost development time much like in Nick Henry‘s situation, which the Avalanche found favorable.
Candidates at 78th Overall
When a draft class is set to skip a round such as the Avalanche will prepare to sit out the fourth round then the organization must be prepared for the wait with this their final top 100 selection. Many favorites will disappear in the next 62 picks so this should be the time to take one more big swing on a player who could become a sleeper.
Let’s call this the Memorial Cup shopping list. A pair of players who undoubtedly benefited from the exposure at the event but are still expected to fall to the middle portion of the draft. Alex Beaucage was a combine participant and could hear his name called the first of the two. It was a very successful season for him with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies contributing 79 points and 39 goals plus a QMJHL league and Memorial Cup title. Beaucage is clearly a goal scorer and has a NHL level shot but plays a more cerebral game despite having a 6-foot-2 192 lbs frame.
Another forward with size is Aliaksei Protas who was part of the WHL champion Prince Albert Raiders. The Belorussian stands at 6-foot-5 and 205 lbs inexplicably he wasn’t invited to the combine after scoring 40 points in 61 games in his first North American season and ranked 44th by NHL Central Scouting. Protas is a intelligent left shot center who skates well for his size. There’s some intriguing untapped upside with Protas who could be available even deeper into the draft.
Candidates at 140, 171 and 202th Overall
Now in flier territory this is where goaltenders, favorite European gems, sleeper NCAA bound players and passed over CHLers come into play. The latter in particular is an important category to keep in mind as the only 6th and 7th round selections the Avalanche have signed to an Entry Level Contract in the last decade have hailed from the CHL. At this point the Avalanche should also take into consideration that they currently do not have any traditional CHL path players in the system or many candidates to sign to ELCs in the upcoming couple of years.
Ilya Konovalov checks off many of the Avalanche favorite boxes when it comes to drafting goaltenders. As a 1998 born Russian the 6-foot and 194 lbs Konovalov is in his last year of eligibility after getting passed over in previous three drafts. He really gained in notoriety when he took the starting job in the KHL with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv and posted a 1.89 Goals Against Average and a .930 Save % in 45 games including 10 shutouts.
Amir Miftakhov is a 2000 birth year and another 6-foot tall re-entry goaltender who played professionally for Bars Kazan in the second tier professional league VHL with a 2.40 GAA and .929 Save % in 33 games. Both goaltenders have received significant development in the Russian system and when they are ready to sign and play in North America they should contribute sooner than later. The Avalanche have another reason to be aware of these goaltenders as they were on the same team with Nikolai Kovalenko and Danila Zhuravlyov respectively.
On the NCAA track a pair of defensemen who also played with Avalanche prospects could be someone that caught the eye of the scouting staff. Ben Brinkman at Minnesota as a teammate of Sampo Ranta had a solid freshman year with seven points which went under the radar as one of the few first time draft eligible players already at the NCAA level. The 6-foot and 215 left shot defenseman is more of the steady two-way variety with the offense a work in progress. As the youngest player in the NCAA this season Brinkman fit in and gained valuable experience which could help him contribute at the pro level quicker.
Marc Del Gaizo shined at UMass as Cale Makar‘s now former defense partner who was draft eligible last year as a late 1999 born player. After scoring 29 points in his freshman season on the National runner-up Del Gaizo could find himself drafted and by one of the teams who surely watched him plenty. His aggressive offensive style in a left shot 5-foot-10 and 188 lbs package is something the Avalanche could use in their system to build an arsenal of puck moving defensemen.
Ethan Keppen is a tough player to peg as he received some attention as a sleeper pick but also doesn’t seem to have much support on ranking lists. He was one of the most productive players at 5v5 in the OHL for Flint which suggests upside if the struggling team ever turns the corner but he has already reached production of 30 goals and 59 points in 68 games this season. He is a left shot power forward with a good motor who needs to improve his quickness but Keppen is an intriguing package in a 6-foot-2 and 212 lbs frame.
Other than unpredictable fallers Josh Williams may be one of those overlooked upside picks from the CHL available later on in the draft. He seemed on track for a early round selection after a good showing at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup with six points including five goals but then struggled to gain momentum in the regular season. Williams dealt with a family issue and a trade mid-season in the WHL as well. The result was 33 points in his draft year and subsequently forgotten. Williams might be a worthy gamble to bet on skill and that the 6-foot-1 and 190 lbs smooth scoring right wing will gain some stability and confidence in the coming year.
Credit DrGoalie31 for the photo