The 2014 NHL Entry Draft is upon us this weekend. With my own long work commutes, a one-year-old at home, and my spare time spent watching every second of the Avalanche’s wonderful season, I’ve spent less time reading up on this draft than any in several years. Nonetheless, those of us who call ourselves teachers are afforded a calming respite known as summer break, and it wasn’t long before I was demonstrating my high compete level by cramming through the draft guides once again. Feeling much better about the whole discussion, I thought I’d go ahead and share my thoughts.
Some would say I picked the perfect year to skip out on the speculation, as this year’s class is widely considered to be the slimmest pickins of the last several (to say nothing of the much-hyped 2015 McDavid-Eichel crop), but there are still talented players to be had right in the wheelhouse of our 23rd pick. Before we jump into the players, let’s review what types of players the Avs might be targeting.
If you’ve followed Colorado’s past drafts, you’re very familiar with Rick Pracey & co.’s preference for players with high skill, character, and competitiveness (a trinity I like to call the McKinnity). We tend to concentrate on North Americans and the CHL in particular, though this may be changing a bit under the new regime. Adding an extra challenge to finding the right player, Coach Roy has been vocal about his desire for the team to get bigger.
As far as positional strength goes, several sources cite forward depth as our biggest organizational weakness. The system lacks big forwards and top-six level offensive talent. Luckily for us, there is an overwhelming ratio of forwards-to-defensemen in the projected first round. We addressed defense a lot in last year’s draft, and the system looks pretty deep, but we could certainly take a couple more fliers on defensemen given the state of the big club’s blueline. We have more decent prospects in net than most teams, especially with the additions of Spencer Martin and Roman Will.
The 23rd pick
Avalanche Warning: Slides Possible!
#23 is an unfamiliar spot for us, but intriguing nonetheless. Yes, given the 22 fewer options available, we won’t get what we got last year, but the uncertainty of who’ll be left, and who we’ll take, is considerably higher. This year’s class is said to have a tier of 8 or 10 players expected to go first, with many other slots, from #10 on into the early 2nd round, in a more malleable position. If this holds true, we should not lose sight of that guy high on the draft board, as the evenness could make for some fallers. If the Avs are not in love with a particular player in their range, they could simply let the apples fall and maybe have a highly-rated player fall into their lap. Three players in the Avs mold, but likely out of range, that we should keep an eye on are Robby Fabbri, Jake McCann, and Dylan Larkin.
Fabbri has top-of-the-draft skill and non-stop effort. The only way he falls is if teams doubt his size.
McCann is a smart, playmaking, two-way center. High hockey IQ and leads by example.
Larkin is an excellent skater, intelligent, responsible defensively, and a leader. His stock may be rising.
Alex Tuch and Sonny Milano, two forwards from the USNTDP could easily be included in this conversation.
Avalanche Conditions Are Likely In This Region!
Should the Avalanche be targeting a power winger to who fits their criteria, they may be in luck with the following three. They will likely find at least one, and possibly all three within range. All three are potentially capable on the second or third lines. My choices in order of likelihood:
Adrian Kempe, C/W, 6’2", 190, Modo (Sweden). In my opinion, the Avs’ most likely target. He is fast and physical, plays the boards, forechecks, kills penalties, and gets into plenty of scrums. Some offense here, too, as he drives the net and has a heavy shot. He plays for Forsberg’s club, so we have good recon despite our usual European reluctance, and we know how the Avs love their family ties. Only two days from being too young for this draft, but he already plays his tough style well in a men’s league. The downside is he’s not a big stickhandler or playmaker.
Connor Bleackley, RW, 6’1" 200, Red Deer (WHL). Captain of the Rebels at 17, Bleackley is the kind of high-effort, character forward who fits the Avs template to a tee. A gritty player with a non-stop motor. He goes to the net and makes a living on the boards. An agile skater, a good puck-handler and a hard shooter. Disruptive on the defensive end. Not that fast and may lack top-end offensive skill, but safe to say he’ll carve out a role somewhere on hockey IQ and effort.
Nikita Scherbak, RW, 6’2" 170, Saskatoon (WHL). Elusive, top-notch skater with great hands and passing ability. Makes good reads on offense and plays a rough style when needed. Great offensive awareness and a solid wrist shot. His defense is improving, but is far behind these other two. On the other hand, his ceiling is definitely higher. His calling card is his offensive skill and projectable power game.
Brendan Lemieux is a real option here given the Avs’ partiality to their own, but appears to lack the upside of a first-rounder, though I hear great things about his agitating abilities (Go figure). There may be some smaller options here like Kevin Fiala, or a defensemen. I’m predicting one of these big forwards if they’re still available and no one falls.
Warning: Weakened Snowpack May Lead To Unexpected Avalanche
The other first round scenario is the Avalanche stretch for someone not prognosticated in the first round. You could argue that this is less likely in a poor draft. I’m inclined to believe that it such a reach may be more likely in a poor draft, as it makes players across the rounds closer in talent. They see flaws in the top picks and someone is out there that seems a perfect fit. In the Avalanche’s case, Reto Berra has taken the place of our second-rounder, so we may want target someone in the first who we can’t snatch in the following round.
I will throw out the names of Nicolas Aube-Kubel from the QMJHL, a little guy like Brayden Point (WHL), or Ryan Donato from the high school ranks, as possible surprises.
Would I bet on one of these guys? Of course not, that’s why they call it a surprise pick. Still, seeing as how my jaw has hit the floor on two of Pracey’s last four opening picks (Hishon and Heard), it’s best to prepare for the unexpected.
The Third Round and Beyond (#84, #93, #114, #144, #174, and #204)
Our second rounder is missing this year, as the front office figured there was no one from that spot they liked more than the chance to work with Reto Berra. That takes out of play several interesting prospects and the fun of speculating who might fall there.
We do still have an extra pick early in the fourth round based off the Ryan O’Byrne deal last year (yes, that was really just last year). This was originally Edmonton’s pick, so it is very early in the round, almost an extra third-rounder.
I’d expect three or four of those late picks to be forwards with size, targeting among those skilled players who need time. We should see a couple of picks on defensemen and maybe even a late-round goalie.
Ignoring one or two small guys we might still snag on potential, here are my choices as our best mid-to-low round fits:
Nick Magyar, a smart, pass-first big guy from the OHL,
Clark Bishop and Alexandre Goulet, two all-out grinders from the Q.
Rourke Chartier, a defensive forward from the WHL.
Connor Chatham, a bruiser with some skill from the OHL.
Beau Starrett, 6’5" center headed to Cornell.
Alex Holmstrom, a physical forward from Sweden.
Alex Peters (OHL), Brett Lernout (WHL), and Brandon Prophet (OHL), big, stay-at-home defensemen.
Christian Dvorak, a skilled forward from the OHL.
Dominik Masin, Czech defensemen and junior national team captain.
Ryan Foss, a tall, two-way center from the OHL.
Also of late round interest, there are no ranked players headed to colleges in Colorado this year, but Cornell-bound Jared Fiegl (CSS#142) hails from Parker, Colo.