As I’ve done in previous years, I spent my free hours breaking down which prospects are most likely to interest the Avalanche (so that you don’t have to!). The Avalanche of the Rick Pracey Era have consistently espoused a great triangular template of skill level, character, and competitiveness to select their prospects. An often-mentioned counterpart to these you will often hear from team brass is hockey sense. I took note of the prospects who exemplified assets from each category, eliminating those with a red flag in one or more. While new organizational leadership is in place, I've made the assumption here that Roy and Sakic will have a very minor influence on picks and allow Pracey & co. to carry through normally. Also, since we’ve collectively beat the yak to a bloody pulp on who goes #1, I’ll be looking at options from Round 2 on.
This year’s draft gives the Avalanche their best chance to re-stock the prospect cupboard in several years, and not just because of a little something called the #1 pick. For the first time since 2007, Colorado holds all seven picks going into the draft, all in their regular position but the lotto slot (1, 32, 63, 93, 123, 153, 183). It’s good news that we’ve held onto that many early picks in each round, as this is considered a three-round-deep draft (or a three-rounds-plus-two-picks-deep draft if you prefer. And I do).
Although we recently got a little more clarity on who our first pick might be, our second- and third-rounders are difficult to get a read on, even given the inherent unpredictability of the draft. The reason for this, luckily, is abundance. Simply put, there are a lot of top 90 prospects in the Avalanche mold. Other interesting things to note in this draft are high number of NCAA prospects and the deepest crop of QMJHL talent in many years.
As a disclaimer, not only am I not a scout, but living in Colorado, I have not seen any of them play outside of grainy highlight films (I believe some teams in the Q still favor reel-to-reel projectors). I’m simply a hockey fan who does a huge amount of reading, takes what the scouts say, and tries to make something out of it. I am confident that if my thoughts are wrong, they are at least shared by someone else.
Because of the depth of solid prospects and your presumably short attention spans, I’ve decided to split my reviews into two articles: Forwards and Defense. Today, I’ll focus on forwards, with defense arriving in a couple of days.
The Avalanche have shown a willingness to draft forwards in recent years, including using all five picks last year on them. Unfortunately, a lack of talented forward prospects, particularly power wingers, has been an organizational weakness for several years. Defense may have become the most pressing need, both at the prospect and NHL level, but the forward talent available this year could give our offensive crop a much-needed boost. I have a feeling the scouts have a player or two they’d love at 32.
Before I give you my list, keep in mind that the team has shown is a willingness to select over-agers, having selected three of them over the past three drafts (including one I’d never Heard of last year). I have not included any in the following profiles, but a few they could show interest in are Peter Trainor in the Q, Eric Locke in the O, Jaimen Yakubowski in the W, and Miro Aaltonen in Finland.
Regarding the first round, all three top forward prospects mentioned yesterday by Sakic (MacKinnon, Drouin, and Barkov) all fit the skill-character-compete profile. Because some of you are trade-theorists (including our coach), I will name the following first-round projectables (among forwards) whose profiles likely interest the Avalanche, but whom we have slim to nill chance to pick barring a trade: Sean Monahan, Hunter Shinkaruk, Bo Horvat, and Curtis Lazar. Moving on now with the more realistic candidates:
Included are rankings from Future Considerations (my guide of choice), Central Scouting, The Hockey Writers’ Chris Ralph, and Hockey Prospectus’ Corey Pronman. By no means did I limit myself to these sources in my readings, but I feel they make a nice point of reference (more so than including junior stats)
SECOND ROUND CANDIDATES
Morgan Klimchuk, LW, Regina (WHL), 5’11” 180, FC 21st, CSS 25th, HW 19th, HP 33rd: Instinctive, dynamic, and skilled offensive forward. Very good agility, hands, energy, and awareness. Gets back on D but his strength is his smooth offensive game. Strength and physicality could improve.
Ryan Hartman, RW, Plymouth (OHL), 5’11” 190, FC 22nd, CSS 16th, HW 29th, HP 42nd: A very physical and hard working player with versatility and some offensive upside. Strong awareness on both ends with a willingness to hit and play nasty. A solid bet to make it but may lack top-six upside and could be a bit small for his style.
Nicolas Petan, C, Portland (WHL), 5’9” 165, FC 27th, CSS 33rd, HW 26th, HP 32nd: Seth Jones’ teammate led all WHL scorers with 120 points in 71 games. Exciting player who is shifty and creative. Top-notch skating, vision, and puck skills, and finishing ability. His only big concern is size, though he is constantly battling and willing to engage physically to make things happen.
J.T. Compher, C, USA U-18 (USHL), 6’0” 175, FC 29th, CSS 34th, HW 31st, HP 25th: Team USA captain commits with tenacity on both ends. Quick skater and a skilled playmaker who also loves to park himself in front of the net. Plenty of character and intellegence here. Does most everything well, but so far lacks a standout skill.
Connor Hurley, C, Edina HS (MN), 6’1” 180, FC 30th, CSS 45th, HW 57th, HP 38th: The draft’s top high-schooler is Notre Dame-bound. Fast skater with exceptional passing ability. Team leader who works hard without the puck and does whatever it takes. Needs to bulk up some and refine his offensive habits.
Laurent Dauphin, C/LW, Chicoutimi (QMJHL), 5’11” 175, FC 37th, CSS 28th, HW 35th, HP 34th: MVP of the CHL Top Prospects game and star of Canada’s U-18 gold medal game. Shows excellent hands, skating ability and intelligence. A smart passer who is shifty one-on-one. While he competes hard physically, he is easily knocked off the puck as he lacks in strength.
Jacob De La Rose, C, Sweden, 6’2” 185, FC 53rd, CSS 7th (Eu), HW 49th, HP 27th: Outstanding skater who is a constantly-moving defensive force. Leads by example and always willing to throw his body around. Not given much of an offensive role this year, but plenty of room to grow there with his skating and hard shot.
Jimmy Lodge, RW/C, Saginaw (OHL), 6’2” 170, FC 38th, CSS 21st, HW 33rd, HP 40th: A draft riser who shows high-end skating ability, puck skills (particularly as a passer), and hustle. Loads of potential but needs to bulk up and be more consistent.
(Note: Lodge is in play because Pracey’s staff appears to differentiate between consistency and compete level. They won’t take a guy who is constantly dogging it, but they will sometimes take a flier on a guy with consistency issues who nonetheless generally plays a high-energy game and fits their skill and character criteria. Examples of this include Garrett Meurs and Joakim Nermark.)
SECOND OR THIRD ROUND CANDIDATES
John Hayden, RW, USA U-18 (USHL), 6’3” 210, FC 48th, CSS 29th, HW 72nd, HP 79th: Great character guy who plays a power forward game by constantly going to the net. Has a hard shot and is willing to use his size. Potential top-six skill as a complimentary player. Heading to Yale.
Ryan Fitzgerald, C, Valley (EJHL), 5’10” 170, Cons., FC 55th, CSS 56th, HW 60th, HP 53rd: Son of longtime NHLer (and briefly an Av) Tom, BC-bound Fitzgerald’s hockey sense is highly praised. Always around the play, his skating and hands are strengths. Size is a question, but competitiveness is not.
William Carrier, LW, Cape Breton (QMJHL), 6’0” 205, FC 60th, CSS 18th, HW 36th, HP 41st: Big, strong, fast winger. Strong on his skates and the forecheck. Good shooter who will hit and fight. Questions exist about his skating and consistency. Injury concerns this year may drop him.
Artturi Lehkonen, LW/RW, Finland, 5’10” 160, Cons., FC 42nd, CSS 9th (Eu), HW 37th, HP 24th: Little guy is a pure sniper. Skill-set had him getting first-round buzz early in the year. Reads the play well but his powerful shot is his what excites scouts. An all-zones hard worker. Lacks size and is not super-quick.
Zach Nastasiuk, RW, Owen Sound (OHL), 6’1” 190, FC 44th, CSS 13th, HW 43rd, HP 64th: A projectable developmental player who Central Scouting went mad for. Smart and strong, with a high motor and a very hard shot. Physical with serious character bucks. Skating and offensive upside are his question marks.
THIRD OR FOURTH ROUND CANDIDATES
Peter Cehlarik, LW, Sweden, 6’1” 185, FC 56th, CSS 28th (Eu), HW 61st, HP 50th: Instinctive and skilled Slovak worked his way up to the SEL as a 17-year old. Playmaker who has size and plays all-out, though is not the most physical. Speed could improve.
Matt Buckles, C, St. Michael’s (OJHL), 6’2” 210, FC 61st, CSS 117th, HW 94th: Goal-scoring power forward is a potential steal from a skill standpoint. Competes hard and has a tremendous shot. Needs some development time at Cornell.
Jackson Houck, RW, Vancouver (WHL) 6’0” 185, FC 77th, CSS 65th, HW 115th, HP 91st: Extremely hard-working, competitive, and versatile. Will hit and lead by example. A capable offensive player, but probably a bottom-sixer.
Jake Guentzel, C, Sioux City (USHL) 5’9” 155, FC 74th, CSS 80th, HW 93rd, HP 158th: Tremendous offensive weapons in a little package. Great hockey sense and effort. A UNO Recruit.
LATE ROUND CANDIDATES
Brendan Harms, RW, Fargo (USHL) 6’0” 175, FC 81st, CSS 93rd, HW 172nd: An all-out grinder with offensive skill, he’ll have a few years to season at Bemidji State.
Cole Ully, LW, Kamloops (WHL), 5’11” 165, FC 155th, CSS 92nd, HW 145th, HP 146th: Skilled, fast, and gritty but very slight.
Evan Allen, C, USA U-18 (USHL) 5’10” 200, FC 124th, CSS 157th, HW 136th, HP 130th: Jack-of-all-trades is a project with a hard shot. Heading to Michigan.
John-Sebastian Dea, C, Rouyn-Nouranda (QMJHL), 6’0” 165, FC 101st, CSS 152nd, HW 190th, HP 232nd: Andre Tourigny’s pupil is quick, skilled, and hard-working. Needs to add weight.
Thomas Ebbing, C, Chicago (USHL), 6’0” 160, FC 121st: Heart-and- soul defensive forward with high hockey IQ. Michigan State-bound.
OTHER FORWARDS CLOSELY CONSIDERED
Tanner Sorenson, LW, Quebec (QMJHL)
Yan Pavel LaPlante, LW, P.E.I. (QMJHL)
Taylor Cammarata, C, Waterloo (USHL)
Kurt Etchegary, C, Quebec (QMJHL)
Tyler Motte, C, USA U-18 (USHL)
Sergei Tolchinsky, RW, Sault St. Marie (OHL)
Brian Pinho, C, St. John’s Prep (MA-HS)
David Pope, LW, West Kelowna (BCHL)
Anthony Louis, LW, USA U-18 (USHL)
Vinnie Lettieri, C, Lincoln (USHL)
Tim McGauley, C, Brandon (WHL)
Tommy Veilleux, LW, Victoriaville (QMJHL)
Mason Bergh, C, Eden Prairie (MN-HS)
There you have it, more information than you probably cared for. Please add to the list, discuss, or ask questions. My personal favorites here are Dauphin, De La Rose or Klimchuk in Round 2, and Hayden in Round 3.