The season's still young and the Avs are far from out of the playoff hunt, but with the draft only 4 months away and over a third of the season already in the books, perhaps it's time to start familiarizing ourselves with some of the potential draftees.
This season hasn't exactly been going the Avs' way. After starting the year without Ryan O`Reilly, the injury bug has been busy going after the Avs' top players, such as Gabe Landeskog, Steve Downie, Erik Johnson, and Ryan Wilson. While the club was likely a bubble team when healthy, these injury setbacks and lackluster defensive play have taken their toll on the Avs' team standings. At the time of this writing, we are currently 14th in the West and 25th overall, good for the #6 Overall pick if the draft were to occur tomorrow.
On the bright side, we're only two wins from making the playoffs. On the downside, we're only 5 points from drafting #1 Overall. It's hard to tell which way this team will go.
Just to be on the safe side, here's a brief a look at some of the top prospects available in this year's draft. With any luck, the Avs can still find a way to wiggle into the post-season, and we can chalk this article up to an early season overreaction. However, if the Tank keeps on rollin' along, these are the players who could be waiting for us at the end of the road.
(Prospect order taken from this composite of the top January rankings)
1. Seth Jones
Right Defense, 6'4", 206 lbs, WHL
Report: Jones is big, mobile, smart defenseman that sees the ice very well. He hits, has a strong shot, is considered defensively reliable, and many scouts think he could jump straight into an NHL lineup. Another perk is that he's a semi-local kid since he was fully converted to hockey while living in Denver. He actually reminds me a lot of EJ, including the fact that both of them play Right D. The resemblance also makes me wonder if he really is as NHL-ready as he's made out to be.
Highlights: 2013 WJC Highlights
2. Nathan MacKinnon
Center (R), 5'11", 179 lbs, QMJHL
Report: In 41GP, he has 69 points (28G-41A) so far this year. He's known for his speed, both with his hands and his feet. He doesn't quite have Duchene's quickness, but he does seem to have his creativity (and his goal celebration). He also doesn't mind fighting off defenders, and has been noted by scouts as having the ability to make space and take over games. The fact he's a right-handed center is a plus as it's somewhat of a rarity in the NHL, but the fact he plays in the notoriously defensive-lax QMJHL may not work in his favor. Some scouts feel as if he still needs to work on his defensive game, making the right pass, and avoiding turnovers from over-handling the puck. He also tweaked his MCL earlier this month and was expected to miss two weeks, although he has not returned to the lineup yet.
Highlights: Nathan MacKinnon
3. Jonathan Drouin
Left Wing, 5'11, 185 lbs, QMJHL
Report: The best way to describe him is slippery. Drouin may have only average skating, but he's extremely agile and an amazing puck handler. Known as a finesse wing who is effective from the outside, he still has the ability to wiggle his way to the net. He's also a playmaker with great vision and likes to be a pass-first guy, even though he's currently outscoring his linemate MacKinnon with 34G/48A/82Pts in only 39GP. However, there are questions about his defensive game as he often breaks out of the zone too early.
4. Aleksander Barkov
Center (L), 6'3, 205 lbs, SM-Iiiga
Report: His size is a definite plus, as is his billing as a solid 2-way centerman. He's currently scoring at near a PPG in a men's league and is very good on draws. His playing style is not flashy, but he his a good passer, puck-handler, and is calm under pressure. He's a pretty solid overall package, but unfortunately, his skating is a bit sub-par.
5. Elias Lindholm
Center (R), 6'0, 185 lbs, SEL
Report: He's a Swedish playmaking center who is billed as a good skater, skilled with and without the puck, creative, a good passer and scorer, and someone with a high hockey IQ. He's not afraid to hit either, and he's had to toughen up as a rookie in the SEL this year. His quiet leadership has been mentioned, and he's regarded as someone mature beyond his years, a hard worker, and a solid 2-way player. His skating stance is a little wide and his upside is a bit lower - more along the lines of Peverley to Zetterberg - which may end up knocking him out of the top 5.
Highlights: 2013 WJC
6. Sean Monahan
Center (L), 6'2, 195 lbs, OHL
Report: This kid fits the Avs mold exactly. He has size, is a fluid skater, an outstanding playmaker, defensively responsible, good at faceoffs, offensively brilliant, and a lethal scorer. He has a late birthday, so he's had an extra year of development. His game is not flashy, but it's very solid and he's put up 24G/43A/67Pts in 49 games so far this year. He's a clutch player, a full-time Captain, and is carrying a pretty meh Ottawa '67s team right now. He can drop the gloves as well - here he is beating up on Mitchell Heard. He was just barely cut from the WJC this year, but Spott said his vision is NHL-caliber right now. Monahan was suspended for 10 games for checking to the head earlier this year, and missing that much time may have dropped his draft ranking.
7. Rasmus Ristolainen
Right Defense, 6'3, 207 lbs, SM-Iiiga
Report: He's a big, mobile, puck-moving defenseman that is still reliable in his end. Like Barkov, he's already playing against men in the Finish Elite League and has had to adjust his game accordingly. He's very calm and poised with the puck and isn't afraid to get physical in front of the net, even though he's not a big hitter otherwise. He has a bomb of a shot and has shown good vision, plus he uses his strength, positioning, and long reach to shut down his opponents. Like most young defensemen, his defensive awareness needs a little work, but his late 1994 birthday means he has a leg up on the rest of his draft class.
8. Hunter Shinkaruk
Left Wing, 5'10, 161 lbs, WHL
Report: This kid is pure offense. He's small, but he's fast and drives to the net. From his highlights, he's very effective on the rush, but he's also a big fan of backdoor plays - he gets to where he needs to be and scores. His shot is accurate and quick, he's an above average playmaker, and he can electrify a crowd when he touches the puck. He's a fluid skater with a high top speed who is also an excellent puckhandler down low. He's known for being a bit streaky, but he scores in bunches and has put up 32G/41A/73Pts in 56 games this year. He's currently wearing a C and is known as a very hard worker who always has a cheery attitude at practice.
9. Valeri Nichushkin
Left Wing, 6'4, 196 lbs, KHL
Report: He may be big, but he's still an incredibly fast, powerful skater with strong puckhandling and the ability to take over a game. His passing is very accurate, but he sometimes gets tunnel-vision and tries to do too much on his own. His style isn't as physical as one might expect from someone of his size, but he's good at dropping his shoulder to protect the puck and make the play. He is known to be inconsistent, easily rattled in physical games, and is often caught flat-footed on defense, but he's really, really fast and has quite a bit of offensive upside. Unfortunately, he also has two years remaining on his KHL contract, so that may raise some red flags as well.
10. Zikita Zadorov
Left Defense, 6'5, 230 lbs, OHL
Report: He's a big, solid, shut-down defenseman with a bit of offensive upside - he's scored 22Pts (5G/17A) in his first 54 North American games. Unlike most guys his size, he's actually fairly quick on his feet and plays a physical style without stupid penalties. He's also not afraid to drop the gloves. His defensive awareness is already pretty sound, although some scouts would like to see a bit more consistent compete level from him. He is a Russian import and is still learning the language, but his coaches all point to him as a leader on the team already.
Highlights: Not a lot to choose from, but I did find this video of a warmup session.