A draft plan is only as good as the information available and is usually obsolete once names start flying off of the draft board but here's a rough idea of how the draft should unfold for the Colorado Avalanche and perhaps some draft sleepers which may be of interest.
Candidates at 4th overall
Typically selecting as high as fourth overall in the NHL entry draft makes the decision easy and between only a small handful of candidates. However, this year there's a wide variety of options and opinions that range from a speedy sniping winger such as Owen Tippett, skilled creative centers Elias Pettersson and Casey Mittlestadt or even polarizing but dynamically talented defenseman Timothy Liljegren. All are in the conversation and have merit in consideration at the top of this draft however the following four are my top candidates for the fourth overall selection.
Gabriel Vilardi is the type of forward only found at the top end of a draft with his combination of skill and hockey IQ. One of the bigger forwards available at 6'3 and 203 lbs, Vilardi is a right shot center who played most of his draft year at wing and can already impact the game with his strength and puck protection along the boards and behind the net. It's not all strength and size with Vilardi as he also has soft hands to make plays in tight, possesses a great shot and has top notch playmaking vision and good defensive instincts. Although he missed a handful of games due to a knee injury and appendectomy, Vilardi still posted 29 goals and 61 points in 49 games, was his team's leading playoff scorer and dazzled during the Memorial Cup with 7 assists, which helped Windsor (OHL) capture the trophy. The questions surrounding Vilardi are if he is better as a center or winger moving forward in his pro career, which for the Avs this versatility might actually be a plus, and getting his skating up to par. Vilardi projects to be the total package and a safe bet to contribute at the NHL level.
Cody Glass enjoyed one of the strongest seasons among draft eligibles in his draft year scoring 94 points and 32 goals for Portland (WHL) all the while going from a "C" rated prospect by NHL Central Scouting at the beginning of the year to a possible top five pick. Glass is still growing into his frame at 6'2 and 180 lbs and is a right shot center who has all the offensive tools including a wicked backhander he uses often and strong hockey sense. Glass' best attributes that set him apart are his relentless motor and competitiveness as something always seems to happen with him on the ice. He will need to get stronger to engage more physically and along the walls and to increase his speed and explosiveness. Glass seems to fit the Avs' mold of a well-rounded high energy and character forward but adding another center will likely force a natural center to play on the wing in the future Avs lineup.
Miro Heiskanen had been in consideration among the top defenseman in this draft class until he truly had a breakout performance scoring 12 points at the Under 18 tournament for Finland and then he began to fly up draft boards. Heiskanen first enjoyed a successful season playing all year for the men's team HIFK (Liiga) in Finland and scoring five goals and 10 points. Measuring bigger at near 6'1 and 172 lbs at the combine only helped his cause as is now firmly in consideration for the top defenseman off the board on draft day. Heiskanen is a smooth skating, smart puck moving left shot defenseman. He's very composed and dependable defensively and he's progressing his offensive game. Hopefully a stronger shot will come with increased strength and development. A very safe pick and one that would immediately become the top among Avs hopefuls on the blueline as a future top four defenseman and a chance for even more.
Cale Makar has seen his stock shoot up at a rapid rate due to a fantastic season that ended at the RBC Cup final in overtime but along with a very strong combine where he measured a bit bigger than anticipated at 5'11 and 187 lbs but also impressed teams with his maturity in interviews. Makar put up 75 points and 24 goals for Brooks (AJHL), which is great production but still left concerns about the quality of competition he experienced. Captaining team Canada at the World Junior A Challenge and earning all-star honors as the highest scoring defenseman with eight points and also enjoying a near two month post season run winning the AJHL league championship and Western Canada Cup championship all the while picking up such accolades as AJHL MVP, AJHL playoff MVP, CJHL MVP and two-time RBC Cup MVP certainly indicates that Makar is a special player. He is an exceptional skater and a dynamic offensive right shot defenseman with high hockey sense and can beat teams with his keen passing ability and heavy shot as well. Maybe not the prototypical defenseman the Avs are looking for but one who would bring a lot of skill and sky high potential to the organization.
Candidates later in the first round
As always, the Avalanche scouting staff needs to be ready for either a trade down or the completion of a much rumored core player trade which brings them an additional pick in the first round. There's several directions they could go with a selection later on in the round.
First inclination would be to use any additional pick on defense as it is a seldom addressed area for the Avs, especially early. If any of the aforementioned defensemen are still available then they should immediately enter the forefront of consideration. Additional attractive names on the blue line would include towering but mobile two-way defensemen Nicolas Hague and Callan Foote or small offensive dynamo Swede Erik Brannstrom. My favorite target on defense would be Finn Juuso Valimaki from Tri-City (WHL). A big two-way left shot defenseman with great scoring ability as he put up 19 goals and 61 points.
Perhaps if the Avs go defense with their first selection they'd look toward a forward with a later selection. Again, if any of the previous names fall it would be wise to pounce on them. Other possible mid round selections are a pair of power forwards such as Russian Klim Kostin or Finn Kristian Vesalainen. Both had tough seasons producing in men's leagues but showed very well in international competition. On the other side of the spectrum, two-way smart and defensive centers Ryan Poehling or Shane Bowers might be nice to add to the pipeline. A possible mid-round gem could be smart, skilled right shot center Nick Suzuki from Owen Sound (OHL) who put up a great season with 96 points and 45 goals.
Candidates at 32nd overall
Selecting at the top of the second round really is the gatekeeper of the first round fallers. It's impossible to predict which will be the lucky candidates but the Avs either need to take someone they really love and are a surprise fall or they should auction off the pick to move down and pick up additional top 100 picks. The following is more of a list of general second round targets.
Maxime Comtois was a potential top five pick when the season began and proceeded to fall due to uneven production and upside concerns. Comtois is a big body left shot winger at 6'2 and 207 lbs who likes to play a rugged power winger game. He has the skill to finish plays but didn't show enough of it to scouts this season, though still ended up with 22 goals and 51 points. Victoriaville (QMJHL) tends to lean on Comtois defensively and that has taken his focus away from offense at times. He had a good showing at the Top Prospects game but showed to be a bit too overagressive and emotional at the Under 18 tournament. If a team can harness some of the wild energy and passion Comtois has, he could be a very nice prospect with upside down the line.
Jaret Anderson-Dolan is a high energy, speedy, smart left shot two-way center with high compete level and leadership qualities. He had a very productive year with Spokane (WHL) scoring 76 points including 39 goals. Although he's not the greatest skater, he uses high energy and effort to impact the game with a good amount of skill. He captained Canada at the Under 18 tournament but was held pointless. The whole team Canada melted down a bit and didn't medal so there was a bit of dysfunction around him. He is a little undersized at 5'11 and 190 lbs but brings a high compete level with a lot of offensive and defensive qualities to the table.
Cale Fleury might be one of the draft's best kept secrets as a well-rounded two-way right shot defenseman with good size at 6'1.5 and 199 lbs yet was still under the radar playing on a small market poor Kootenay (WHL) team. Fleury has good speed, a physical edge, can move the puck and added 11 goals and 38 points on the worst team in the WHL with the fewest goals for as well. Fleury also showed good maturity captaining the team in such dire situation and still found a way to contribute. He initially wasn't invited to the Top Prospects game but had a good showing as a last minute injury substitution. Whoever gets their hands on Fleury in the middle rounds will be lucky to get this underrated gem especially in a shallow defensive class.
Candidates at 94th, 114th and 125th overall
A long wait then begins until the 4th round but with two selections then and the first pick in the 5th round, the Avs can go a few different directions at this point in the draft. A goalie should be of primary consideration if they haven't taken one up to this point. It's going to take some breath holding to hope one of Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Michael DiPietro, Ian Scott, Stuart Skinner, Cayden Primeau, Dayton Rasmussen, Maksim Zhukov or Kieth Petruzzelli are still available. This is also where the Avs typically start looking off the board at overagers and Europeans but if they stick to a few more conventional picks we could see the following.
Sasha Chmelevski is a 5'11 and 179 lbs right shot center/winger who started the year as a possible first round selection after a strong Ivan Hlinka performance for team USA with nine points in four games but had an uneven and confusing season with the Ottawa 67s (OHL), which was in turmoil itself, and could now fall as far as the mid to later rounds. Yet he still scored 43 points including 21 goals as he displayed his great puck skills and a strong shot. With only eight interviews at the combine, there seems to only be select interest in Chmelevski, which is a shame because he has first round skill but just needs development away from the puck and in consistency. Chmelevski is someone with new coach Andre Tourigny's help in development plus his talent and skill could really take off in the near future.
Ivan Chekhovich is a slightly undersized at 5'10 and 172 lbs but is a dynamic left shot wing playing in Baie-Comeau (QMJHL). Those attributes are generally the kiss of death for anyone's draft stock and it wasn't shocking that he was not invited to the combine even after a trio of strong performances on the Russian national team at the Ivan Hlinka, World Junior A Challenge and Under 18 tournament and continued his production in Baie-Comeau as the team's top scorer with 59 points and 26 goals. An energetic and hard worker with skill to spare, Chekhovich would be a nice prospect to add skill to the pipeline and could be available far lower in the draft than his talent would indicate.
A pair of possible sleeper defenseman could go anywhere in the mid rounds but would be great consideration if still available when the Avs get to join the draft festivities again. Dylan Coghlan is a second year draft eligible but should hear his name called due to a breakout season for Tri-City (WHL) scoring 53 points and 15 goals. He has size at 6'2 and 190 lbs, is a right shot with great skating ability. Another in Dylan Samberg spent most of his season in Minnesota high school but got a few games in with Waterloo (USHL) at the end of the year. He's a big left shot at 6'3 190 lbs with a nice physical game, good skater and is a puck mover with a big shot. Samberg has all the tools and just needs time to put it all together.
Candidates at 156th overall and beyond
Guessing a late round Avalanche pick is beyond a shot in the dark but a couple names that could be on the radar from teams the Avs have looked to in previous drafts.
Zach Lauzon would be an excellent late round pick as a left shot defenseman. First of all, to keep the Huskies to Avs pipeline going but he's an underrated defenseman in his own right. Not quite as big or offensively gifted as his brother Boston prospect Jeremy, Zach still has nice size at 6'1 and 187 lbs and has good mobility and puck moving abilities as he scored 21 points and three goals in largely a defensive role. He's also solid defensively and eats a lot of minutes, particularly through multiple injury crises in Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL). Lauzon also recently won the Kevin-Lowe trophy which is presented to the best defensive defenseman in the QMJHL.
Austin Pratt is a big bodied right shot power forward at 6'2 and 226 lbs playing for Red Deer (WHL) who scored 34 points and 16 goals. A few years outside of the draft he was thought of as a potential first rounder when he attended Shattuck-Saint Mary's before signing in the WHL. True to the Brent Sutter system in Red Deer, Pratt was forced to earn his ice time through defensive play and it has taken a focus off of the promising offensive upside he had. After the mid rounds would be a great time to nab this prospect and hope that he's used more offensively as he gains seniority and experience in Red Deer.
Adam Thilander was once thought as a possible top prospect due to playing several levels higher than his peers in Sweden with the Skelleftea system in his early teenage years. Once the maturity of those peers caught up with him, Thilander didn't stand out as much but he's still a good sized right shot defenseman at 6'0 and 190lbs and called upon for Sweden's Under 18 squad in 2016. Selected by North Bay (OHL) in the CHL import draft, Thilander came over to North America and put up six goals and 35 points with the Battalion. The Avs might have awareness of Thilander as they have familiarity with the Skelleftea system due to Anton Lindholm and have also drafted several Batallion players.
Any names on this list stand out as possible Avs selections? Any draft predictions?