This upcoming 2021 NHL Entry draft hasn’t been on the minds of many this season due to pandemic impacted scouting difficulties and the success the Colorado Avalanche enjoyed on the way to winning the President’s Cup. The time has come, however, to focus on this important event on the league’s calendar because adding talent is always a benefit to any organization.
As a contender the Avalanche naturally used draft assets in order to boost the team in the short term and are left with a very thin draft class of just four choices even after recently adding a second round pick via trade. The 2021 draft class is looking to become the smallest in franchise history. Prior to this draft signs of a thinning pipeline are emerging as there are only 11 players on the Avalanche’s reserve list (which are rights held non-contracted prospects) and two of them are the already tried and departed Sergei Boikov and Vladislav Kamenev.
Despite this concern a common sentiment is for the Avalanche to just forget it this year’s draft because of the lack of relevance. What the Avalanche still hold are now three higher value top 100 selections. Considering the third round has led to some exciting and potentially impactful recent selections such as Sampo Ranta, Jean-Luc Foudy and Justus Annunen this is a good pick to have remaining in the arsenal. Justin Barron was a nice find at the end of the first round in 2020 so there’s still hope to mine a few more gems with the picks they still have.
Also of note is the scouting group is in transition as they recently replaced tenured Director of Amateur Scouting Alan Hepple with Wade Klippenstein. While the latter might have a few of his own preferences he is still an internal replacement and therefore not expected to deviate much from what the organization has preferred to do. After a few of his own drafts we may get to identify where Klippenstien will leave his mark. He is from the WHL as a former scout from the Brandon Wheat Kings but has been an area scout for all of western Canada.
Candidates at 28th Overall
There are various different directions this pick could go and there’s no certainty in which options will be available but the Avalanche should add at worst a top five prospect to their pool with this selection. Center is a big position of need but determining which teenager is going to remain at that position years into their pro career is futile at best, therefore the focus should be on talent and skill first and foremost with a secondary nod to skating ability.
Goaltending should be another position taken into major consideration despite the lacking draft capital. Hepple wasn’t too keen on the first round goaltenders but here’s a chance for Klippenstien to make his mark with a big splash pick in net. There’s a possibility one of Swede Jesper Wallstadt or Canadian Sebastian Cossa are still on the board when it’s Colorado’s selection. Both have had their turn with a lot of hype and are currently pegged as likely top 20 picks but seeing two goaltenders go early in the first round would still be unusual even for such an unpredictable year.
Despite looking stronger in the future on the backend with Justin Barron and Drew Helleson in particular there could be a defenseman who is too good to pass up and that is another classic injury faller Carson Lambos who only played two games for the Winnipeg Ice in the WHL this season but was able to spend the early part of the year in Finland. Once expected as more of a top 10-15 sort of talent the 6-foot-1 left shot two-way defenseman would be one another upside sleeper for the Avalanche.
As mentioned earlier contrary to popular belief the Avalanche have been very conservative with the European picks, especially those top 100 selections expected to stay overseas. However the Avalanche love a good U18 performance and a couple Russian forwards who impressed at said event in left wing Nikita Chibrikov and center Fydor Svechkov who would both add a dynamic element to the prospect system.
In the North American side a couple standouts from the U18 likely caught the attention of Avalanche scouts in left wings Canadian Brennan Othmann who had a monster gold medal game and Sasha Pastujov who was also a big contributor for the Americans.
RELATED: Eight Avalanche options from the U18
The Avalanche organization could also check off the NHL bloodlines box if they went with power forward Tyler Boucher whose father Brian has ties with the Columbus Blue Jackets under Chris MacFarland.
Rounding out the possibilities are players from the QMJHL including some who managed to play over 40 games in this disrupted season. A trio of intriguing forwards who offer some two way ability but scoring pop are center Xavier Borgault, and left wings Zachary Bolduc and another Newfie in Zach Dean.
As mentioned, a lot of options should still be available for the Avalanche but two names stick out as the best fits and are realistic possibilities.
Zachary L’Heureux is a player from back to the familiar Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL where the Avalanche had just selected Justin Barron from in the 2020 draft. Familiarity with both his game and those around him seems to give the Avalanche comfort as well as knowing he had one of the longer draft eligible seasons at 33 games in which he put up 19 goals and 39 points. L’Heureux stands at 5-foot-11 and 196 lbs with a good frame and while he is not a blazer is a decent skater. L’Heureux is as much of a threat to pass or shoot as he has played both the center and left wing positions and is not just a power forward who relies on size and strength to create offense.
The conundrum is that while L’Heureux offers a fiery brand a competitiveness and physicality he can be a hothead and get himself into trouble as evidenced by his multiple suspensions this season. Still, if the Avalanche are serious about adding edge to their game they need to learn to live in the grey area and draft guys who have those attributes already on full display as a prospect. L’Heureux offers an attractive package of skill, upside and intangibles which should be difficult to pass up if he’s on the board late enough into the first round for the Avalanche to select him.
The most likely cohort for the Avalanche to give a strong look towards is the NCAA bound group and in particular those who had close to a full season in the USHL. Mackie Samoskevich from the Chicago Steel in the USHL would fit the prototype of what they are looking for as another skilled dual threat pass and shoot left wing. He stands at similar size to L’Heureux at 5-foot-11 and 190 lbs but does not quite yet have the consistency at bringing the edge from a compete standpoint. Where he makes up for that is on the creativity side and Samoskevich scored 37 points with 13 goals in 36 games this season in the USHL and will hope to help develop his defensive side at the University of Michigan. He projects as a dynamic forward with a lot of upside for growth and refinement into possibly a top six player when he is ready for the NHL.
And finally, no draft is complete without the hope of a faller and Chaz Lucius would fit that description along with both aforementioned goalies. Lucius is a 6-foot-1 and 185 lbs power center who scored 20 points including 13 goals in 13 games with the US National Team Development Program. While he’s expected to go closer to the 10-20 pick range Lucius is a name Avalanche fans should root to fall down the board to 28th.
RELATED: 2021 NHL Mock Draft 1.0
Candidates at 61st Overall
It was a nice surprise to add this pick to the arsenal thanks to the Ryan Graves trade giving the Avalanche a much more impactful draft with now three picks in the top 100. if they don’t use this pick as a commodity prior to day two of the draft there could be a lot of talent left on the board even close to the end of the round.
Kirill Kirsanov‘s rankings are all over the place running the gamut from the first through third round projections but if the Avalanche look in the direction of the blueline especially in the second if they select a forward in the first round he would be a very solid option. Kirsanov’s season took him to many leagues and teams including the World Junior Championship, MHL, VHL and the KHL where he spent the bulk of his season with SKA and he scored three points in 29 games. Kirsanov is a polished and well rounded 6-foot-1 198 lbs left shot defenseman already possessing pro-ready size and refinement. He is an intelligent puck mover who can chip in some offense. Don’t let the low point totals in the KHL lead to assumptions that Kirsanov doesn’t have the puck skill or speed to be an effective NHL defenseman.
Candidates at 92nd Overall
No doubt the organization is familiar with Jayden Grubbe, a right shot power center from Red Deer in the WHL. He stands at 6-foot-2 and 201 lbs. An already abbreviated junior season was cut short for him when he suffered a knee injury just five games into his first season as captain but it looked like he was ready to take a step forward as he was much more involved in the offense in his sophomore campaign and has scored three points including a goal before the injury. His type of game is physical and aggressive with a high level of compete but enough skill required for the next level. The Avalanche love to take a shot on players who slipped under the radar due to injury and Grubbe is a prime candidate.
Candidates at 220th Overall
Pretty much Mr. Irrelevant here but with a truncated draft class this selection can’t become as much of a throw away as it typically would be. Some players from the OHL who did not play at all in the 2020-21 season could slip through the cracks and make nice value gambles.
Brett Harrison is one example from the Oshawa Generals could fit the bill. He is a big 6-foot-2 left shot center who was part of team Canada at the U18. He was one of the better rookies in the OHL a year ago when he scored 37 points including 21 goals in 58 games. While his skating needs improvement there is enough skill and ability to process the game to take him as a prospect especially this late into the draft.