The Colorado Avalanche are entering an exciting reality of blossoming into a perennial contender but the consequence to that level of success is the elimination of top ten picks from their prospect arsenal. As such, the approach to drafting and subsequently developing late first round draft selections needs to come into laser focus in order to add value in the present and options in future to the organization. It is also much more difficult to predict which players will remain available deeper into the draft and thus strategies will need more flexibility.
A smart strategy would be to target Europeans who can get ample development time playing in men’s leagues overseas leading to delayed and minimized AHL time when they do sign a NHL contract. The same idea could also apply to NCAA prospects who will spend several years developing in a high-level environment outside the system. As such, the Avalanche have options in either avenue.
Candidates at 25th Overall
John-Jason Peterka (7th European ranked on NHL Central Scouting, TSN Bob McKenzie’s final scouts list 23rd) showed he can already keep up at the professional level. A left shot right wing who stands at 5’11 and 192 lbs played in the men’s league in Germany for Munchen and scored 11 points and 7 goals in 42 games. Six points in seven games at the world junior championship didn’t hurt his cause either. Peterka plays with an energetic and aggressive streak using both his strong skating and shot to make an impact. Though more a complimentary winger Peterka could still find himself in a middle six role in Colorado.
Noel Gunler (9th Euro, Bob 28th) has been a polarizing player ever since he was left out of team Sweden’s plans in his draft year resulting in minimal viewings with spotty usage playing for Luleå in the SHL leading to 13 points in 45 games. Gunler is a dynamic sniping shoot first right shot wing who measures in at 6’2 and 176lbs. Most of his drawbacks stem from the slight build and lack of strength which leads to inconsistencies on defense though the will is there. Unfamiliarity might cause Gunler to drop and if the Avalanche can scoop him up they have the chance to obtain a real top six upside hope.
Rodion Amirov (5th Euro, Bob 19th) fell a little under the radar playing in Russia for the Ufa system with 21 games in the KHL where he scored two points due to light usage. He did get some looks internationally in the Canada-Russia series however. Amirov is one of the players getting the most benefit from the delayed draft and ability to begin his Draft+1 season before many of his North American peers as he has already scored five points in eight games in the new KHL season. The 6’0 and 177lbs left shot wing is an elusive two-way force who uses nimble skating and slick hands to create for himself. He projects as an all-situations type of player with possible top six upside.
Dylan Holloway‘s (12th NA, Bob 16th) value seems to jump all over the board as a highly touted prospect who was one of the youngest players in the NCAA on a disappointing Wisconsin squad. With 17 points in 35 games Holloway did not show all his offensive capability in his freshman season leading to some questions about his upside but he did score 40 goals for Okotoks in the AJHL the year prior. Holloway is also a high energy and tenacious left shot forward who can play center. His 6’0 and 203lbs frame allows him to play physical and combine with great speed into a power forward mentality. Holloway is another middle six type of prospect who could also offer value on the defensive side of the spectrum.
With the exception of Peterka all of the above are late 2001 born players meaning they will soon turn 19-years old for the 2020-21 season. Coupled with one year of professional or NCAA experience under their belts, these four are on a faster track to play in the NHL than one would assume picking in this range and could realistically happen within two years.
A defensemen may be an attractive option to many looking at the amateur pipeline and noticing a lack of close to NHL contribution after the (hopeful) graduation of Bowen Byram but the options in this range are a mixed bag at best. Hence why trading down is an appealing consideration if the Avalanche want to go this route and likely get one of the defensemen they prefer along with another early second day pick.
Swedes William Wallinder and Helge Grans are popular considerations for the Avalanche because of their size, skill and skating ability but need to put it all together in the toolbox. Conversely smaller skilled offensive dynamos from the QMJHL such as Lukas Cormier and Jérémie Poirier have skating issues to address along with translating the offense and developing more well-rounded attributes. Thus, the higher end options at defense are not the strongest this draft class for the Avalanche.
The 25th overall pick tends to fall at the end of the third draft tier and could contain a surprise faller especially with several teams making their second or third selection in the first round before this pick. Tenacious skilled forwards from the in WHL’s Connor Zary and QMJHL’s Dawson Mercer would be a welcome sight still on the board at this juncture as they would fit exactly how Jared Bednar wants the Avalanche to play with a lot of pace and puck pressure. Both are late born 2001 prospects who will, again, play as 19-year olds the coming season and likely will turn pro the year after. Either of these players could also contribute to the Avalanche in a couple years and as such might be trade up candidates as well.
The ultimate hope of either a trade up or a massive fall is elite goalie prospect Yaroslav Askarov who should be long gone by this pick but as a player who is currently in the KHL’s SKA system and at a position which is tough to value in the first round, stranger things have happened. Askarov should absolutely be the target if the Avalanche move up in the first round in any capacity because he is a franchise goaltender caliber talent and would solve that question on the roster for at least a decade. He is already a decorated international medalist and has accumulated four career games in the KHL with a .961 save percentage. How far to move up is the ultimate question as the Avalanche lack draft capital without a second round pick nor any extra selections plus Askarov could go off the board in the top ten. If Askarov gets close to the 24th selection there should be a plan to nab him, however.
Candidates at 75th Overall (via Toronto)
It will be a long wait prior to the next time the Avalanche are set to select since their second round (and third round pick acquired via Arizona for Carl Soderberg) pick went in the Andre Burakovsky trade. A lot of talent will go off the board in the 50 pick wait until this slot comes up and the Avalanche will have to attack what is left with purpose. One bit of good fortune is this selection ended up about ten spots higher than their own third (which was used in the Derrick Brassard trade ages ago) due to the Nazem Kadri trade return and should provide the Avalanche with a solid mid round selection.
Jaromir Pytlik (46th NA, Bob 74th) is a high motor competitive right shot center who split his season between the national team in the Czech Republic and then the Soo in the OHL where he put up 50 points in 56 games. Pytlik has a good deal of size and mobility at 6’2 and 200lbs. There’s a wider difference of opinion on how much of his skill will translate to higher levels but Pytlik has enough positive attributes to bet on the upside at this portion of the draft.
William Cuylle (34th NA, Bob 45th) is the classic type of faller who ends up going in the middle rounds at best but makes for a gamble on a player who once had first round billing. He is a 6’3 and 204lbs left shot power forward with a heavy shot who battled consistency issues but has enough talent to make this beyond a flier pick. He scored 42 points and 22 goals in 62 games with that shot for Windsor in the OHL. Cuylle is also one of the few power forwards with size who do not have skating issues in this class.
There are also several nepotistic choices up for the draft this year which need mention and will probably get a hard look at this spot including NCAA bound forwards Ryder Rolston, David Sacco and defenseman Kyle Aucoin. Hard working, lower skill with NHL bloodlines in connection to the organization are Avalanche catnip. Not that there isn’t a time or place for these guys but at 75 with such a thin top end of the draft let’s hope the aim is higher and less conservative.
Candidates at 118th Overall, 149th Overall, 167th Overall (via Florida), 211th Overall
Clear Hail Mary territory in rounds four through seven and unfortunately makes up the bulk of this draft class with four of six selections falling well after the top 100 mark. The Avalanche will need to dig deep and mine for skill, talent and upside.
Rather than mention a few late round types who should still be on the board when it rolls around to the Avalanche, this is more an idea of which sleepers to keep in mind who have not received much public attention. All three are upside defensemen with good mobility and puck moving ability. Grabbing one of them could make up for not going (and reaching for) defense earlier in the draft.
Samuel Johannesson (33 Euro, Bob N/A) was actually draft eligible last year but finally got some visibility in the 2019-20 season when he played 44 games for Rögle and scored 11 points. The 5’11 and 176lbs right shot defenseman had his breakout in the SHL where people saw a possible total dynamic package of skill, skating and IQ. Johannesson could project to the NHL quickly with another year or two in Sweden polishing his defense.
Joni Jurmo (20 Euro, Bob N/A) stands at 6’4 and 190lbs already but is a fantastic skater and can move up the ice quickly. The left shot defenseman played in Jokerit’s system putting up 28 points in 43 games. Jurmo has a lot of raw tools, the best of which are utilized in an aggressive mindset to generate offense but will need to compose his game to put them together. Still, there is a lot of talent and ability for someone who could be available in the second half of the draft.
Wyatt Kaiser (37th NA, Bob 81st) is a 6’0 173lbs left shot defenseman who has become a sleeper on many lists and therefore he may not qualify for that billing much longer. Kaiser played primarily for Andover High School in Minnesota scoring 43 points in 31 games. He possesses the attributes one would most like to see in a modern defenseman with intelligence, skating, puck skill and ability to move the puck. He may not project as a high offensive talent at the next level but should be able to facilitate it.
Will any of the aforementioned become new Colorado Avalanche prospects? Find out on October 6th and 7th.