With the 2014 NHL Entry Draft in the rear view mirror, the Colorado Avalanche recently held their summer development camp. The camp gave some of Colorado's prospects an introductory crash course in how to be a consummate NHL professional off the ice. Unlike most NHL clubs, the Avs summer development camp did not feature any on-ice activities. While it was a disappointment to the fans, it did give the players a chance to learn more about the organization, coaching staff, and the city.
One of the highlights of the recent camp was that all seven selections from the Avs recent 2014 draft class were in attendance. The Colorado Avalanche entered the 2014 NHL Entry Draft armed with seven selections and the goal of adding size, skill and character to their organizational depth chart. For the most part, those goals were achieved.
When the draft concluded, the Avs came away with four forwards, two defensemen and one goaltender. Colorado selected two European players, with the remaining five coming from the Canadian Hockey League. The lone American selected hails from Ohio (which should please many Lake Erie Monsters fans).
While the players selected in June are not expected to make an immediate impact on the NHL level, it's a versatile group that will help to fill some organizational gaps.
Drafted: 1st round, 23rd overall
Team: Red Deer (WHL)
Despite rumors that Colorado's first round pick was in play for a trade, the Avs remained quiet on the trade front and used their opening round selection on Alberta native Conner Bleackley. He has drawn comparisons to Ryan O'Reilly and Bleackley himself has claimed to pattern his game after him.
Bleackley was an alternate captain for the 2014 U18 Canadian team which won the bronze medal in the tournament. He had a goal and an assist in seven games. At age 17, he captained the Red Deer Rebels and led the club in scoring with 29 goals and 39 assists in 71 games. Sadly, his team fell short of qualifying for the WHL playoffs. What fans will like about Bleackley (besides his Avalanche fandom) is his strength around the net and willingness to fight for space and the knack for scoring dirty (pretty) goals.
Despite playing for Canada in the U18 tournament in the spring, Bleackley was not one of the 41 players named to Hockey Canada's National Junior Team Summer Development Camp; which is being held in early August in Quebec. However, a strong start with Red Deer could put him on the radar for the selection camp in December. (Note: Avs 2013 second round pick Chris Bigras did receive an invite to the summer development camp.)
So, how long before Conner Bleackley makes the jump? His junior hockey league coach argues he isn't NHL ready. Not surprising Brent Sutter would make such a statement. He isn't in a hurry to lose his prized captain, but his comments are not without merit. Sutter cited needed improvements in skating and defensive responsibilities and those who have scouted Bleackley would agree with those sentiments. That and there is no need to thrust him into the Avalanche lineup at this point in time. Despite roster changes, the Avalanche can allow Bleackley to continue to develop for a season or two in Red Deer.
Slight criticisms on defense and skating aside, Bleackley projects as a solid two-way forward on the NHL level. While being labeled as a "safe pick," he is versatile and could move to a right-wing position in Colorado if needed (perhaps will develop into a third-line center for the club depending on the future of other forwards currently on the squad). His strength in the face-off circle was certainly attractive to the Avalanche as are his leadership capabilities.
Drafted: 3rd round, 84th overall
Team: North Bay (OHL)
The Avs did not have a second round pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft; having dealt said pick to the Calgary Flames in exchange for goaltender Reto Berra. Yes, the small yet still infamous trade that makes you question whether the Avs are allergic to second round picks (see Brad Stuart). Nevertheless, the Avs patiently (fans impatiently) waited for the third round to roll along before selecting the rugged defender Kyle Wood.
Wood's name really didn't jump out upon selection, as a knee injury limited his 2013-14 regular season campaign to just 33 games. Described as a stay-at-home defender, Wood racked up 12 points during the regular season for North Bay and added 10 in 22 post-season games.
Developing more defensive minded defenseman has been a difficult prospect for the Avalanche. In recent seasons, Rick Pracey and the rest of the Avalanche amateur scouting staff have worked to alleviate that problem. In recent drafts, the Avs have tabbed defenders such as Duncan Siemens and Mason Geertsen. (Now the question remains whether the organization has the right staff in place to develop these players as they join Lake Erie.)
Listed at 6'5" and 229 lbs, Wood is a big boy to say the least. He's not the most fleet of foot, but he is not a pylon considering his size. Offensively, Wood has room to grow, and if his playoff performance this past spring says anything, he may make a big leap next season.
Drafted: 4th round, 93rd overall
Team: Kitchener (OHL)
With the first of their two fourth round selections, the Avs tabbed their lone American in the draft in Nick Magyar (aka Magnar of Thenn). Taken in the 12th round in 2012 in the OHL Priority Selection by Kitchener, Magyar joined the Rangers in the fall of 2013. Before signing with Kitchener, Magyar was once committed to Ohio State. He split time in the USHL and with the Cleveland Barons U18 team in the year prior to his OHL venture.
While the Rangers missed the playoffs, Magyar led the club in scoring with 20 goals and 26 assists in 66 games. He uses his 6'2", 191 lbs, frame to full effect; creating room and space for his linemates. His versatility was certainly attractive to the Avalanche as he can play both center and wing.
Magyar's efforts this past season earned him a spot on the OHL's All Rookie Team. Avs fans will get a good glimpse of Magyar in September when he attends rookie and training camp. He has the looks of being one of the better mid-round selections for the Avs over the last few years. An all-around forward with a good shot and quick release, Magyar is one to keep an eye on over the next couple of years.
Drafted: 4th round, 114th overall
Team: Gatineau (QMJHL)
The 2014 QMJHL draft pool wasn't considered to be a strong one. Nevertheless, the Avs used their second fourth round selection by taking a risk. Alexis Pépin's numbers last season are not eye popping. He split time with Charlottetown and Gatineau; totalling 17 goals and 17 assists in 60 games.
The hulking forward isn't known for being the most fleet of foot. He was a member of the Canadian U18 club that won gold in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in 2013. Pépin was held without a point in five games (limited ice time certainly didn't help). Returning to Charlottetown, a slow start led to a mid-season trade to Gatineau and a post-season run. In the playoffs, Pépin had a solid performance with four goals and an assist in eight games.
The Avs gambled a bit with the selection of Pépin. (Yet, the mid rounds of the draft are a prime opportunity to take such a chance.) He has size and skill to be certain, but whether he can put things together remains to be seen. He can be maddeningly inconsistent and isn't always the most physical force on the ice. Questions about his weight have also arisen. Yet, the Avs recent development camp will hope to help alleviate that problem.
Drafted: 5th round, 144th overall
Team: Skellefteå J20 (SuperElit)
The Avs European prospect pool has been shallow to say the least. Over the past few months, the club has tried to address the shortage with some free agent signings. The most intriguing of them being Borna Rendulic of Croatia. When it comes to the draft however, Colorado has either completely passed on players crafting their game in Europe, or have only nibbled in the waters with late round selections.
The 2014 NHL Entry Draft wasn't any different. The Avs took a flyer on Swedish defenseman Anton Lindholm. Lindholm, who turns 20 in November, spent the majority of the previous season with the Skellefteå J20 club. He produced a goal and five assists in 39 games. In the playoffs with Skellefteå (after a promotion), Lindholm notched a goal and two helpers in 14 contests.
After playing a solid role in Skellefteå's championship run (scoring in the deciding game), Lindholm will spend at least the next two seasons with Skellefteå, after signing an extension in April. It will be a great opportunity for Lindholm as he is expected to continue to be a top-four defenseman for the club.
Skellefteå GM Lars Johansson spoke highly of Lindholm upon completion of contract negotiations. He cited the defenseman's strong physical play and hockey sense. Johansson is proud that Lindholm has decided to continue his development with his club and that's something in which the Avalanche too can be comfortable.
Drafted: 6th round, 174th overall
Team: Slovakia U18
Colorado's goaltending depth has shifted somewhat over the last several months. Reto Berra was acquired to replace the retiring Jean-Sébastien Giguère. The Avalanche signed Roman Will, who has spent the last several seasons playing in the Czech Republic. The club also decided to cut ties with goaltenders Kent Patterson and Kieran Millan (who just announced his retirement from professional hockey), both of whom spent the majority of last season with the Denver Cutthroats (CHL).
Enter Maximilian Pajpach, the first Slovakian player drafted by the Avalanche since 2001 when the club selected Peter Budaj, František Skladaný, and Marek Svatos. After spending several years developing in his native Slovakia, the 18-year-old will be taking his talents to Finland and the Tappara U20 club next season.
Not unlike Calvin Pickard during his days with the Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL), Pajpach has faced his fair share of rubber. Described as an agile goalie with good reflexes, he does track the puck well. However, there are concerns about his rebound control.
Pajpach started games with both the U18 and U20 Slovakia junior teams and the highest professional league in Slovakia last season. His more memorable performances came in the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. The move to Finland is a positive one. He's guaranteed to face better competition and that can only be a benefit to his development.
Drafted: 7th round, 204th overall
Team: Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL)
Okay, so the college hockey fan in me was hoping the Avs would use their final selection on an incoming freshman that they would stow away for the next four years. Alas, that was not the case and Colorado used their final selection on an interesting player in Julien Nantel. Unlike some of those college players the Avs have drafted in the seventh round in years past, this junior selection may turn out to be more fruitful.
Nantel, who doesn't turn 18 until September, didn't put up stunning numbers as a rookie. He had 14 goals and 20 assists in his first full season with Rouyn-Noranda. In the post-season, Nantel contributed with four assists in nine games. What made him draft worthy was his skating and solid two-way play. He also was used frequently on the penalty kill by the Huskies.
Avs assistant coach André Tourigny's previous association with Rouyn-Noranda (coach and GM from 2002-2013) likely had some influence on the selection of Nantel. It's a savvy pick as the Avs can allow Nantel to grow physically over the next two years. Considering the change in depth for the Huskies, it will be an opportunity for his offensive game to bloom as well as find consistency in his overall game.