Fun fact: the Colorado Avalanche have filed just one Entry Level Contract since Bowen Byram inked his three-year pact in July of 2019. That lone agreement belongs to Justus Annunen who signed in April of 2020 but was ticketed to play in Finland this season regardless of the COVID-19 situation. The organization had no new first year professionals in the 2020-21 — or now just the 2021 — season but that should significantly change this spring and into the following offseason.
As a reminder, the significance of the March first date is when future contracts are eligible for execution and filing for the next season, which will be the 2021-22 campaign. The Avalanche love to wait until this milestone to get their business done in regards to handing out future contracts and don’t have to worry about contract slides or payment of any early signing bonuses.
One final note, due to the season start delay in North America now there is little synchronization with the hockey season cycle in Europe which began on mostly a typical schedule in the fall and will commence playoffs in the early spring. The NCAA who largely kicked their campaigns off in November still plan to end their seasons and playoffs on a normal timeline in the spring with an early April Frozen Four tournament.
Therefore, a lot of the players mentioned on this list may be available for the AHL — or NHL — sometime soon when their prior commitments end. The AHL only requires a try-out agreement for any player to participate in the league but any NHL opportunity naturally needs a current year NHL contract. The regular seasons extend through mid-May for both leagues so the chance for games exists in the case of many of these players.
There was a window to sign Justin Barron before the 2020 calendar end which would have allowed his ELC to slide in next season as he presumably begins his pro career with the Colorado Eagles. Due to a “late” November 2001 birthday Barron has played in four QMJHL seasons and is AHL eligible beginning in 2021-22. Since the signing did not happen at that time to take advantage of the slide option, one has to wonder if going back to the QMJHL for an overage fifth year in juniors, which would be unheard of for a first round pick, is an option the organization is considering. If not, Barron should sign quickly and probably be the the first name off of this list. The QMJHL intends to keep playing through the spring so Barron likely won’t be available to finish his season playing pro hockey.
Alex Beaucage has spent his season in the QMJHL as well but has recently endured a trade from Rouyn-Noranda to a contending team in Victoriaville to close out his junior career. With a NHL quality shot in his arsenal Beaucage should be a strong candidate for an ELC to continue developing at the pro level. He could also see a quick signing once the period opens but the Avalanche do have until the first of June to get it done before losing his rights. A long playoff run on the horizon also likely keeps Beaucage out of the pro ranks until the fall.
Sasha Mutala, Luka Burzan and Trent Miner each joined the Eagles on the aforementioned try-out agreement while waiting for the WHL to get their plans together, which might now see each division begin sometime in March. After getting a peek at each of them in action at the pro level the Avalanche should have a good idea by now if they would like any of these three players to continue on with the organizationin the fall. Mutala has the highest pedigree of the three but Miner put an unexpected good foot forward so all three are in the mix but not locks. A decision will need to be made soon as their signing rights expire on June first as well but any player not signed could be had on an AHL deal as an alternate option.
While not expected to sign this year Jean-Luc Foudy is also allowed to receive a contract at any time which would be slide eligible for two years due to his current 18-years old age. It’s worth mentioning since he’s also been with the Eagles for several weeks as an OHL refugee but has surprisingly played “big minutes”, been impactful and held up remarkably well for his inexperience. A contract could be a nice reward for a job well done or he can wait until the end of his junior career in the spring of 2022 like usual as he is not AHL permitted until the 2022-23 season.
Alex Newhook spent most of his sophomore year either on team Canada, in quarantine or recovering from his shoulder injury sustained at the World Junior Championship but has returned to the Boston College lineup. There are several options on the table for him once his collegiate season ends in just a few weeks including remaining in school for his junior year as he’s missed so much game action over the last calendar year. If he is in fact interested in turning pro Newhook could begin his ELC right away and join the Avalanche if they want to be that aggressive with him. If not, it’s possible Newhook officially signs for the 2021-22 campaign and joins the Eagles for the rest of their season on a try-out agreement if he’s amenable to the idea. A decision one way or another is expected soon after Boston College puts a bow on 2020-21.
UPDATE: It took nearly a month before the first domino fell but on March 31st Alex Newhook signed the first ELC upon the conclusion of his college season.
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) March 31, 2021
Fellow sophomore teammate Drew Helleson has had a strong year both at the World Junior Championship and Boston College which has put himself in at least the conversation for a contract right now. With so many other options and continued benefits in school a signing still seems unlikely but the possibility exists to offer Helleson a chance at pro hockey.
Sampo Ranta is ready for a pro career himself following the conclusion of his junior year at Minnesota. Ranta discovered his game and goal scoring touch as a power forward with increased physicality and use of his frame in front of the net. Some AHL time is surely in the cards for Ranta but with his skill set and talent now is the time to move him along to the next stage of his career if it’s going to happen with the Avalanche. If he turns pro Ranta could find AHL time this spring as well on a try-out agreement.
UPDATE: Sampo Ranta soon followed on April 3rd as the second prospect signed this cycle.
Avalanche signs Sampo Ranta to an entry-level contract.https://t.co/ZESmIjuxhf
— Avalanche PR (@AvsPR) April 4, 2021
All the other current NCAA juniors should also get consideration based on the fact that the Avalanche have not signed a college senior skater since Brad Malone which was now a decade ago. Nicky Leivermann has made the best case for a contract with his increased impact and has enough of a pro skill set to see if development at the next level might benefit him. Nate Clurman and Tyler Weiss have also each taken on larger and more productive roles which might position them for a transition to pro hockey but likely could benefit from more time playing their senior seasons at the college level and let the chips fall where they may upon graduation. Still, would not be a shock to see the Avalanche offer a contract now if they truly are interested in any of the three.
UPDATE: Somewhat surprisingly Nate Clurman was the third prospect to get a contract which begins in 2021-22.
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) April 5, 2021
It is finally time to get Nikolai Kovalenko across the pond if it’s ever going to happen. With a three-year KHL career nearly in the books and a contract up, Kovalenko will either renew with a multi-year deal in Russia or try his hand at the NHL. His game has stagnated a bit this season on his club team as he’s been put in largely an auxiliary fourth line role, which could indicate a move to North America is expected, yet he’s still been electric for the Russian national team. The Avalanche could negotiate a release if Yaroslavl falters early in the playoffs, which begins tomorrow on March second, or they could just wait for Kovalenko’s KHL contract to officially expire on May first. The question with Kovalenko has always been what, if any, AHL time he’s willing to do or what types of NHL promises he’s given in order to sign and those answers should reveal themselves soon.
Daniil Zhuravlyov might have opportunity to join Kovalenko under the same type of circumstances and timeline but his KHL deal runs one year longer and therefore is more of a signing option in the spring of 2022.
As the Avalanche are an organization that is very cautious about contracts it is difficult to believe all of the above will get an offer despite the team currently sitting at only 43 of the allowed 50 NHL contracts with several third year pros (Josh Dickinson, Ty Lewis and Travis Barron) not expected to return in 2021-22. Therefore, the three departures plus taking on three additional contracts to put the Avalanche at 46 of 50 going into next year seems like a safe guess for six new players to join the fold. My personal prediction for who those six will be, barring anyone that’s dealt at the NHL trade deadline, comprise Justin Barron, Alex Newhook, Sampo Ranta, Nikolai Kovalenko, Alex Beaucage and Sasha Mutala with a dark horse honorable mention to Nicky Leivermann. If internal graduations fill Avalanche roster holes next season then that could create even more room in the system for new players and contracts — that fact remains to be seen.
This article will update when any ELC signing is made official.