After the stress of the NHL trade deadline has passed the reward is one of my favorite days of the hockey season and that is the first day to sign future Entry Level Contracts — or better known as the first of March. From this day forward contracts for the 2020-21 season are eligible for filing with the NHL which becomes the unofficial opening of business for the next season. This leads to a flurry of activity around the league and the Colorado Avalanche are usually busy shaping their futures roster in this time frame.
Typically the Avalanche have a group of obvious signings from the CHL ready to go on this date as rights expiring on June first for 19-year olds is the impetus to get them inked. There are no such cases this year and therefore leads to a much more uncertain picture on how the Avalanche plan to infuse talent in the system for the upcoming season, if at all.
The only deadline on expiring CHL rights is in regards to Brandon Saigeon. Drafted in his third year of eligibility from the OHL in 2018 the Avalanche had two years to get Saigeon under NHL contract before his rights are now up on this June first. The story is known of the Avalanche’s conservative approach to his career and development as Saigeon was sent back to play in the OHL for his overage year and now he’s spent the entire year in the ECHL with the Utah Grizzlies on an AHL contract. Whispers of a promise to give Saigeon that NHL deal for following their “plan” for two years have floated around but the Avalanche could just as easily pass as they already have several of these types in their system.
Luka Burzan is a 19-year old WHL player but since he was drafted in 2019 the Avalanche hold his signing rights for one more year. Burzan is probably headed back to junior for an overage year much like the aforementioned Saigeon before they have to make a decision. Still, Burzan is of age to join the professional ranks next year should the Avalanche choose to move him along.
Also on the horizon is try-out season and any junior player is free to join the Colorado Eagles once their junior season ends even without a pro contract in hand. Sasha Mutala seems most likely as his team, the Tri-City Americans, won’t make the WHL playoffs. Alex Beaucage and Burzan could be available after a playoff round or two. As 18-year olds all three may never see AHL ice but practice time and getting familiar with the organization could benefit them.
Bowen Byram can also extend his season once the suddenly surging Vancouver Giants are eliminated from the playoffs just like Sam Girard did after his 18-year old season in spring of 2017. Byram already has a NHL contract and therefore the Avalanche could opt to play him at that time or more likely have him get a few games pro experience with the Eagles just as the aforementioned Girard did with Milwaukee in the AHL.
This year a couple graduating NCAA senior forwards in Cam Morrison and Denis Smirnov are the headliners as those who have a deadline for the Avalanche to get under contract before losing their rights. That date is August 15th and therefore extra time remains to get them signed especially while their collegiate seasons have yet to conclude. Each could sign that amateur try-out agreement if they are out of the NCAA playoffs while the Colorado Eagles are still playing and is a no-risk way to see what a player might bring to the pro level first before an ELC contract commitment. Worth noting due to their age, 22-years old, they are only eligible for a two-year ELC.
If either of the aforementioned forwards signed a NHL contract for the 2019-20 season it would immediately burn a year of that ELC and is an option if the Avalanche fear one of them pressing the issue of holding out to test Unrestricted Free Agency after the August 15th date. This is not a high concern but is a carrot the Avalanche have at their disposal to offer which no other team can.
From here options are more complicated and uncertain. Any number of other prospects could choose to depart the NCAA early and sign a pro contract. The most likely would be Sampo Ranta who is physically ready for pro hockey after two years at Minnesota. Rumors exist that the Avalanche are interested in offering him an ELC and could entice Ranta especially as dynamic talent entering the system is thin.
Alex Newhook is another to pique curiosities but after only his freshman season Newhook does not need to leave school too early and tempt fate by getting lost in the AHL. With each goal he scores will only amplify those temptations however. All the other college Avalanche property in underclassmen Drew Helleson, Nate Clurman, Nicky Leivermann, Tyler Weiss and Matt Stienburg would be a huge surprise if they turned pro and signed this soon but the option exists.
Then finally Europeans are another cohort which could choose to cross the pond and begin their North American careers by signing a NHL contract. The Avalanche hold the rights of Petr Kvaca for one more year but he has started all year in the top league in the Czech Republic and could be ready for an opportunity. Justus Annunen still only 19-years old but is a curiosity after his strong season in Finland but has another year left on his Liiga contract and seems a bit early to move him over. Still, a system light on goaltenders could look to fill spots with either of these drafted netminders.
The Russians who have played the entire season in the KHL in Nikolai Kovalenko and Danila Zhuravlyov are believed to each have one year remaining on their KHL contracts and should become stronger signing options next year. May first is also a date to look for in regards to them, or anyone previously signed in the league, as it’s the day the KHL league year turns over.
If the Avalanche announce any of these player signings this article will be updated with the information.