Gotta admit - I'd rather be talking about a 2nd round matchup with Chicago right now than draft prospects. Unfortunately, that's not how the cards fell. Instead, it's time to start looking towards the future, and that starts with the 2014 NHL Draft.
Where the Avs Will Pick
Since the Avs were in the playoffs, the rules for determining draft order are a little different than we're used to. Fact is, we don't know for sure yet which pick belongs to us, but we do know that it's going to be between picks #23-25.
Usually, the Stanley Cup winner gets pick #30. However, since New Jersey was bad and Bettman bailed them out, they'll be the ones with that pick this year. That means the SC winner gets #29, runner up gets #28, and the two teams eliminated in the Conference Finals get #27 and #26. From there, the rest of the teams are seeded by where they finished in the regular season.
For the Avs, there were only two teams that finished with more points - Boston and Anaheim. If both of those teams make it to the Conference Finals, the Avs will have pick #25. If one of them misses, the Avs get #24. If both miss, the Avs get #23.
Either way, the level of prospects available should be around the same at any of these 3 picks. Let's now take a look at who they might choose.
The Avs have always preached a "best player available" mantra. That means in theory that they'll take the highest remaining player on their draft rankings regardless of position. But looking at their history over the past few years, I believe that there is a bit of need-based bias to how Pracey and Sherman draft. It's not based on the needs of the Avs at the time, but rather the needs of the franchise - the full farm, not just the big club.
I also think the Avs choice this year will be based on Roy/Sakic's vision of the future. They've both mentioned that they'd like the club to get bigger, and after years of drafting small skilled players, the farm is lacking size. There's also a serious lack of forward depth, particularity when it comes to potential Top 6 forwards with a bit of size, grit, and scoring ability.
The Avs could certainly just as easily take a smaller skilled forward or a defenseman, but for the sake of this analysis series, I'm choosing to start with the type of player I believe is the most likely to be pulling an Avs jersey over his head in June.
I decided to use this composite list of draft prospects. It's a little outdated (it's from March 21st) but it does draw from 6 sources and acted as a good starting point. I figured the Avs would draft at 25, then took a 10 picks before and 10 picks after to approximate our potential range and account for last-minute draft risers and fallers. I then eliminated all the defensemen and goalies, as well as any forward under 6' (we'll get to them later). I also took a look at the International Scouting Service's (ISS) and Future Consideration's (FC) most recent Top 30 rankings and Central Scouting Services North American (CSS-NA) and European (CSS-E) lists to see if there was anyone else around that range who had been left out. Finally, I researched each of them and split the tall "skill" forwards from the "power" forwards. We'll look at the more finesse-oriented ones in an upcoming article.
Here are the remaining 8 big, gritty, power forwards the Avs might have a chance at in June.
Alex Tuch, USA
Rankings: Composite #15, ISS #8, FC #19, CSS-NA #12
Vitals: RW, 6'-3", 225lbs, USNDP & Boston College (NCAA)
Scoop: There is no way there are 22+ GMs silly enough to pass on this kid, but if for some bizarre reason there are, Tuch would be an outstanding addition. He's a big guy who thinks the game at a very high level and skates well for his size. He has a strong slapshot and an accurate wrister and is even known the play the point on the power play. 64pts in 61 games - including 29 goals - in the US Development program is pretty impressive. He also has very strong forecheck skills, protects the puck well, makes good passes, and is mature for his age. He's very much a power forward who is used to being the "meat and potatoes" guy on a skilled line. He's committed to Boston College in the fall, but I doubt that will scare many teams away. He'll probably be long gone by the time we pick, but if he's not, he's a very easy choice for the Avs.
Adrian Kempe, SWE
Rankings: Composite #17, ISS #23, FC #27, CSS-E #6
Vitals: LW, 6'-2", 187lbs, MODO J20 (SWE-Jrs)
Scoop: Kempe is a big power forward from MODO's system. Future Considerations calls him a "strong, bullish forward that has size, strength, and a work ethic to match." He has speed and a knack for chasing down loose pucks and winning board battles with a strong stride and a north-south style of play. He's not put up outstanding numbers over in the Swedish leagues (9G/21A/32pts in 59GP for their U-20 club and 5G/6A/11pts in 45GP for the senior club), but in international Juniors play, he's managed 54pts in 41 games when playing against players closer to his age. Also, Peter Forsberg is the co-GM for the MODO system, so it's possible Sakic could call up his old buddy and get an insider's take on this kid. We've had luck with Swedish power forwards before, so maybe we will again.
Dylan Larkin, USA
Rankings: Composite #19, ISS #14, FC #14, CSS-NA #17
Vitals: C, 6'-0", 190, USNDP & University of Michigan (NCAA)
Scoop: Larkin is a very smooth skating north/south player that drives the net hard and plays very solid defense. "Intensity" is a word that appears on many of his profiles, as does "determined" and "leader". He does a lot of the little things right, including seeing the play, making good passes, and finding a way to get close to the net for scoring chances. He also had 31G/25A/56pts in 60 games for the US U-18 Development team this year as well, so the kid knows how to put the biscuit in the basket. His only downside is that while he can muscle fellow teenagers around, his power forward game might not translate quite as well into the NHL due to his size. However, he should prove to be a solid 2-way Top 6er, probably as a wing on a the second line.
Conner Bleackley, CAN
Rankings: Composite #23, ISS #24, FC #21, CSS-NA #35
Vitals: RW, 6'-1", 195lbs, Red Deer (WHL)
Scoop: The Avs have a tendency to draft for Skill, Character, and Compete. Those describe Bleackley almost to a T. He's the 17-year-old Captain of the Red Deer Rebels and has a nice blend of size, skill, and speed. He's very strong, quick, and balanced on his skates and is already known for his high defensive IQ, but he also has a very solid wrister with a quick release and typically drives the net and forchecks hard. He's a smart player who doesn't take shortcuts and has fast enough hands to make plays happen even in tight spaces. He scored 29G / 39A / 68pts in 71 games for the Rebels this year, so he has some offensive upside as well. He's not the largest player on the draft board, but it sounds like he'd be an awesome fit for the Avalanche organization.
Anton Karlsson, SWE
Rankings: Composite #29, ISS #27, FC #30, CSS-E #11
Vitals: RW, 6'-1", 189lbs, Frolunda J20 (SWE-Jrs)
Scoop: The younger brother of Erik Karlsson (the Canes' prospect, not the Sens' defenseman) is a strong, fast, tenacious forward who doesn't shy away from the physical game but isn't defined solely by it. He's gritty on the forecheck and drives the net, but he also has a strong set of puck skills and offensive flair. His above-average vision and soft hands lend themselves more to a playmaking game, but he can finish as well with an elite wrister or one-timer. He managed 12G / 10A / 22pts in 28 games with Frolunda's top Juniors squad, but he's also a known leader who has Captained multiple international teams, loves throwing the opposition off their game, and makes those around him better players.
He's also a Swede who loves tacos. How can you not love a Swede who loves tacos?
Vladislav Kamenev, RUS
Rankings: Composite #33, ISS #29, FC - , CSS-E #13
Vitals: F, 6'-2", 205lbs, Metallurg (KHL)
Scoop: There are question marks about his upside and the fact he plays in the KHL, but Kamenev is a strong, 2-way player whose development has really come along this year. ISS is the only ranking system that's really taken a shine to him, but he does have a good deal of 2-way potential, good size, a strong work ethic, and protects the puck well even during board battles. His playmaking and shooting is there, and his skating is technically sound. He is a bit of a hot head and has a tendency to take stupid penalties though. There is a chance the Avs take a chance on him, but he's probably a prospect that will max out in an NHL 3rd line role (if he chooses to come over) and will likely slip to the 2nd round.
Brendan Lemieux, CAN (born USA)
Rankings: Composite #36, ISS - , CSS-NA #28
Vitals: LW, 6'-0", 206lbs, Barrie (OHL)
Scoop: Yep, this is Claude Lemieux's kiddo, and he's a chip off the ol' block. Gritty, feisty, a natural pest, and full of intangibles, he's one of those players you love to have on your team but hate to play against. He also steps up big time in the playoff, scoring 7G/3A/10pts in 11 playoff games for the Colts this year. His skating stride is similar to his dad's - low and focused on protecting the puck - and he has a solid one-timer and a nice finish to his shot. He's on first name basis with Sakic and Roy, but the only question is if he's a 1st round guy. For most teams, the answer is probably no, but his family history with the Avs, our need for a Claude Lemieux-type player, and our lack of a 2nd round pick might just sway us unto selecting him.
Ryan MacInnis, USA
Rankings: Composite - , ISS #22, CSS-NA #20
Vitals: C/LW, 6'-3", 170lbs, Kitchener (OHL)
Scoop: Ryan is the son of Al MacInnis, the HHoF defenseman with the slapshot, and while he doesn't quite have his dad's bomb from the point or his accuracy, he's still a very smart player on both ends of the ice. His skating is a work in progress but it does have some upsides, as does his large frame that just needs to be filled out. MacInnis is an instinctual player who seems to be in the right place at the right time and on the cusp of a breakout season, so while he's a long-shot in the first round, his size and his potential could make him a decent option. He also has good hands and a solid all-around skillset, but he'll need a little longer in Juniors to fill it out. Also, Erik Johnson stayed with the MacInnis's when he first came into the league and helped mentor Ryan, so it'd be fun to reunite the two of them here in Colorado. MacInnis could also bring the number of Mc's and Mac's on this team to a near critical level. Just think of the TOILOI!!!