When you’re selecting last and coming off of a President's Trophy winning season, fans likely aren't all that concerned about hitting a home run at the draft. In the summer of 1997, that is exactly where the Colorado Avalanche stood. They were a great team that was likely more worried about beating the Detroit Red Wings the next season than they were about stocking the prospect pool.
That said, every draft is important in order to maintain the viability of the franchise and 20 years ago, the Avs definitely didn’t do themselves any favours by totally blowing the early part of the draft.
I’ll preface all this by saying that it was a fairly weak draft all around. It was top heavy - Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton went 1 and 2, but after that, there is not a whole lot to write home about. Guys like Maxim Afinigenov, Kristian Huselius and Shawn Thornton, as well as the recently retired Brian Campbell and Andrew Ferrance were drafted in later rounds - and of course we can’t forget Avalanche legend Scott Hannan, who was drafted 23rd overall. All in all, it wasnt a very impressove draft, but the Avs definitely came out worse off than most.
Selecting 26th and 53rd in the first two rounds - the Avs totally whiffed. The team selected Kevin Grimes and Graham Belak, a forward and a defenseman that combined to play zero NHL games (impressively, the Los Angeles were able to accomplish the same feat). Put that into context, not a single NHL game from the first two rounds of the draft, yet Mr. Irrellivant (the last player selected) Jay Henderson, who was drafted 246th overall managed to get into an NHL lineup 33 times.
In the third round, things got a little better. The Avs selected Rick Berry 55th overall. Berry went on to play almost 200 games in the NHL, putting up an impressive...15 career points.
Then came the ‘bright spot’ of the draft. The Avs found Ville Nieminen 78th overall. Nieminen’s 117 NHL points aren’t overly impressive, but it should be seen as a successful pick when a team finds it at the end of the third round.
To go along with Nieminen, the Avs were able to unearth Brad Larson in the 4th and David Aebischer at the end of the 6th round. Both went on to have journymen careers, bouncing around the NHL, but neither had any sort of impact on the Avalanche organization - despite Aebischer’s 2001 Stanley Cup ring.
Through the nine rounds, the Avs selected a backup goalie and nine skaters that combined for a career total of 180 points. In fairness, the 1997 draft was a rather poor one, statisticlly speakig, but the Avs were especially bad.
Draft Stats (excluding goalies)
Total drafted players to play in NHL: 101
Percent of players to play in NHL: 41.1
Average NHL Career Games: 308
Average NHL Career Goals: 47
Average NHL Career Points: 126
Average NHL Career PIM: 222
Avalanche Draft Stats (excluding Aebischer)
Total drafted players to play in NHL: 3
Percent of players to play in NHL: 33.3
Average NHL Career Games: 97
Average NHL Career Goals: 7.7
Average NHL Career Points: 20
Average NHL Career PIM: 72
Of course, after what looks like a total failure in hindsight, the team won the Stanley Cup four year later - so really, how much did the terrible draft actually matter?