Mailbag: All things prospects and NHL entry draft

With the calendar flip to the year 2020 and the holiday break pause for many players it’s time to look at a few bigger picture questions surrounding the Colorado Avalanche prospects and the upcoming NHL entry draft. Thank you for submitting questions either via twitter or Burgundy Review discord!

*

Forsberger: Who are some prospects that might be good picks, and good fits for the organization, at the spot where the Avs will pick this year: 31st overall. 

There are a lot of directions this could go and the Avalanche’s draft outlook is uncertain more than ever, that’s if they pick in the top 100 at all. Players slotted between pick 20 and 31 (the Avalanche’s likely range if they keep their first round selection) are generally in the same third tier. Naturally fallers from the previous tier are more likely available with a higher pick in that range. Some of those names are a group of two-way but skilled forwards expected to go off the board before the Avalanche select but they also all can’t be top 15 picks either. Dawson Mercer from Dummondville (QMJHL), Connor Zary from Kamloops (WHL) and Dylan Holloway from Wisconsin (NCAA Big 10) all combine a high level motor with work ethic, can put points on the board and would be great fits in Jared Bednar’s system.

Those who are a stronger bet to fall into the 20s or lower are defenseman Braden Schneider from Brandon or Kaiden Guhle from Prince Albert (both WHL). Both are in the Avalanche mold of sizable and physical defensemen but with enough production and puck skill for the modern age. Would the Avalanche take a first round defenseman with a non-top four pick to strengthen a rapidly shrinking portion of their prospect pool by taking either one of these blueliners?

Injury fallers are another familiar cohort for the Avalanche as both center Hendrix Lapierre from Chicoutimi and defenseman Justin Barron from Halifax (both QMJHL) were considered top ten talents in preseason but have seen their stock fall and then went down with a concussion and a blood clot respectively. The Avalanche could be in a prime position to scoop up either of these fallers and bet on a big upside since they already possess a plethora of role players.

*

DB Hammer: Take the top Avs prospects and say who you think they’d have the biggest potential to replace on the team.

I’ll preface this by saying I don’t see prospects as slotting into a spot in the lineup or as a particular replacement (plus if they did they should be an injury callup understudy). The team is best comprised of the most talented players with the details sorted out later. That said I’ll play along for comparison’s sake considering both style of play and future role.

  • Martin Kaut – Colin Wilson
  • Shane Bowers – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
  • Conor Timmins – Mark Barberio (when he plays)
  • Bowen Byram – Erik Johnson
  • Alex Newhook – Tyson Jost
  • Sampo Ranta – Andre Burakovsky
  • Nikolai Kovalenko – JT Compher

*

Nathan Chapman: which prospect has surprised you the most this year both good and bad?

First of all I’m still legitimately shocked that Shamil Shmakov left Russia to play in the USHL. With his eligibility in that league up after the 2019-20 season his future is still very much up in the air. Now there’s word a back injury might keep him out long term and assignment to the NAHL which just raises even more questions about where Shmakov goes next.

I’ve come to expect the minor league system favoring veterans and older developed elsewhere prospects but the scoring woes for all in the AHL have been an unpleasant surprise. Currently the top Colorado Eagles scorer has 22 points and that’s not in the top 60 of AHL scorers and this is even after the Eagles have enjoyed a winning steak. It is impacting everyone’s production and unfortunately that’s what it takes to get noticed.

On the positive side, Danila Zhuravlyov sticking on a very strong KHL Kazan team was a bit unexpected. Then on top of that he gets regular minutes and already has surpassed his production from last year with eight points and a goal is a very nice surprise.

*

There’s a lot to unpack in Ryan Clark’s article in The Athletic ($) about Martin Kaut‘s development experience. First of all, It is very disheartening to read of such isolation and loneliness. With around a dozen veteran leaders on the team I’m curious how this happens. Second, talk of Kaut’s future role as a 3rd/4th liner feels like admitting defeat on a 20-year old and also points to mixed messages on the pressure to score. If they want Kaut to be a solid defensive bottom six type he can do that today and it is imperative that he begin to get NHL reps in that position to become a legitimate option down the road. Third, the situation just begs the question of why they still do not have a director of development and why they expect Colorado Eagles head coach Greg Cronin to just handle it in his spare time and feel that is adequate.

However there is good news as Kaut has started to perk up since returning from his injury eight games ago. He’s scored four points including two goals and in typical Kaut fashion they are all primary points and mostly even strength. He’s also been involved in the play and shooting the puck with 2.5 shots per game. Another positive is seeing him so involved in the penalty kill and very effective at it as well. The boxscore will never tell the full tale on Kaut and looking for him to light it up isn’t understanding the full context of Kaut and the Eagles’ situation but there are steps being taken forward here.

*

Nikolai Kovalenko I’m certain will play for the Avalanche unless something crazy happens. He will have three full years of KHL experience under his belt by the 2021-22 season and should bypass the AHL or at most make a brief stop. Kovaleno also has the chance to become the first ever second generation Avalanche, following in his father Andrei Kovalenko’s footsteps, whom he idolizes. He also plays with the tenacity and intensity that Jared Bednar loves combined with a versatile game which can easily slot in on the third or fourth line. If there’s anyone who will be afforded an opportunity it’s Kovalenko.

Honorable mention to Sampo Ranta. His athletic gifts will be too tough to ignore and the Avalanche will have to break protocol to give him a whirl at some point. His talent is something I’m willing to bet on.

*

With Cam Morrison and Denis Smirnov the Entry Level Contract commitment would be two years due to their age (22) so that reduces the investment. However neither are sure bets to get a contract but I’d still hedge to Morrison. The organization seems to maintain interest in him plus with his size should hold up fine in the AHL and at least find a role there. However I don’t see much NHL upside there due to skill, IQ and pace restrictions. Smirnov hasn’t grown much in a high octane program over the years and the Avalanche should pass. His skill set of a diminutive limited scorer is not difficult to find in established AHL veterans. Morrison and Smirnov’s teams should also last long enough into the spring to limit any AHL try-out opportunity.

Brandon Saigeon is a tough case of a guy who has waited two years for a NHL contract but until he makes an impression I could see the Avalanche just move on from him. They have enough ELC talent they don’t utilize as it is but Saigeon is also not unlike those others buried on the Eagles’ fourth line or in Utah. It might come down to a promise they choose to fulfill or not. My gut says no but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Avalanche finally sign him and think of this all as a perfectly viable development path.

This is also a good place to point out that the Avalanche don’t have anyone else expected to sign in the spring unless there are early departures from NCAA or Europe. There is a rumor the Avalanche are interested in offering Sampo Ranta a contract to leave Minnesota. The only other possibility might be Luka Burzan who is AHL eligible in the 2020-21 season but could easily fall into the Saigeon path and go back to the WHL for his overage year as the Avalanche hold his rights until June of 2021. Beyond that there’s a real lack of talent infusion on the horizon and nothing on system defense.

*

The primary benefit to the NCAA development path is delaying and often shortening time in the AHL. Since the Avalanche hold rights to their NCAA prospects through their graduation that could mean at age 22 or later and much closer to their readiness for the NHL. Another positive is advancing their defensive game which has already shown in prospects who needed help in that area including Sampo Ranta and Alex Newhook plus extra time in the weight room. In general, dividends from their recent focus on the NCAA remains to be seen.

*

Credit Colorado Eagles for the photo

queenjk

Aka tigervixxxen, prospect junkie.

One thought on “Mailbag: All things prospects and NHL entry draft

%d bloggers like this: