Vice President and General Managar, Joe Sakic, sits quietly in the Colorado Avalanche draft room.
Months of research and evaluation have led to this moment. Profiles of hundreds of young hockey players, playing in numerous leagues throughout the world, sit in a binder lying idly on the table before him -- but there's no need to open it. After speaking to dozens of scouts and junior coaches and watching countless hours of game tapes, he has his first-round grades mostly memorized.
Following a 112 point season in 2013, his team wasn't expecting to make a selection so high again; but after a slow start and multiple key injuries in 2014, Joe's team is picking 10th today. A top-ten player is supposed to have a major impact on the future of a hockey team. He can't miss.
The first nine players have come off the board. Many he expected to go well before the Avalanche selection, but also a few he was hoping would fall. Sakic eyes the list to identify his remaining choices:
1. Edmonton -- Connor McDavid
2. Buffalo -- Jack Eichel
3. Arizona -- Dylan Strome
4. Toronto -- Mitch Marner
5. Carolina -- Noah Hanifin
6. New Jersey -- Mathew Barzal
7. Philadelphia -- Ivan Provorov
8. Columbus -- Zach Werenski
9. San Jose -- Pavel Zacha
Both Werenski and Provorov coming off the board is a tough blow. Despite having defensemen Duncan Siemens, Chris Bigras, Mason Geertsen, and Kyle Wood moving up through the ranks, the Avalanche need all the help they can get on the blueline right now. But right wing is almost as big of a concern. The Avalanche are entering next season with 38-year old Jerome Iginla, 35-year old Alex Tanguay, and 26-year old Jamie McGinn, who missed all but 19 games last season with a back injury and will be an unrestricted free agent at the completion of the 2015-16 season.
The farm system isn't offering any viable alternatives either. A big, powerful right wing is a good pick here; and fortunately, there are three great choices remaining. Each of these players would provide immediate improvement to the organizational depth:
1. Lawson Crouse -- RW -- 6'4" 215
2. Timo Meier -- RW -- 6'1" 210
3. Mikko Rantanen -- RW -- 6'4" 210
Crouse is the big name of the group, with his OHL pedigree and presence near the top of most draft lists. He's been praised for his size and powerful style of play, if not his puck skills. He wasn't an elite scorer like other forwards in the Top-10 of this draft and his passing ability has been described as not just simple, but perhaps deficient. Some observers are seeing Milan Lucic here, but Joe can't help but feel he's drafting a 3rd-line skill-set No. 10 overall. According to many scouting lists, Crouse could be a Top-5 talent; but in a league that's increasingly focused on possession numbers, the Avs need players who can catch the puck and cycle.
Timo Meier has shown the most offensive talent so far, scoring 90 points in 61 games last year. He's not the superlative size of the other two, but he throws it around as well as anybody and is a deadly weapon on the power play (scoring a team record 23 goals). His postseason output made him a riser in this draft and former Remparts owner and coach, Patrick Roy, won't shy away from the QMJHL like others do. Meier is awfully tempting, but No. 10 draft slot is perhaps a bit too high. He briefly considers trading back a pick or two before considering the third choice.
Mikko Rantanen has been playing adult professional league since he was 16, and has made a name for himself as a powerful player with a developing shooting touch. At 6'4" and 210 pounds, he already has the size the team covets, but also the frame to add strength in the coming years. Described as a willing defender and aggressive forechecker, he plays the two-way game necessary to make an impact in the NHL at a young age. But most intriguing is how he uses his power. Rantanen is a monster on the boards, using his strength and arm length to create space and make passes. He's also been described as unmovable in front of the net. This is modern hockey, Joe thinks. It's the style of play Colorado needs to make players like Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon better; it's the style that's going to help compete for championships.
Detractors argue it's too difficult to project juniors playing in men's leagues, but Sakic has seen a lot of hockey and has seen the impact top European imports can make. Plus, he's intimately familiar with Rantanen's production during the World Junior Championships, scoring four goals in five games against other top picks in this draft. Even more intriguing is that he's immediately eligible to play for the Avalanche's AHL affiliate. Unlike the major junior players being selected, he can step right into the system with other players who will impact the big league club in coming years.
The decision has been made. Joe pauses briefly to check the spelling, writes the name on the card, and hands it to the NHL official. Welcome to the Avalanche, Mikko.
The Florida Panthers are on the clock.