When people talk about high-end defensive prospect coming out of the QMJHL, Thomas Chabot and Philippe Myers are the two that get most of the fanfare. Ranked 12th and 28th on ESPN’s list of the top-100 prospects in hockey, the two of them are seen as guys who are very close to making an impact in the NHL. One player that wasn’t on the list was Colorado Avalanche prospect Nicolas Meloche - though he probably should have been.
Meloche has been a blue-chip prospect for a long time. Drafted 15th overall in the 2013 QMJHL draft, the Avs second rounder was one of the best defensemen in The Q last season. He entered the 2015 NHL draft ranked anywhere from 32-45 and despite being selected in the top-40, Meloche never seems to get the respect a prospect with his potential deserves.
He is now 20-years old and is ready to graduate from junior hockey. Many expect Meloche to start the season in San Antonio, learning the pro game with Eric Veilleux and the Rampage. Though that’s the most likely starting point for him, thanks to a lack of depth on the Avs blueline, it’s not out of the question that he makes the jump straight to the NHL.
Right now, the Avalanche only have two right-handed defensemen that we know to be locks for the roster. Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson are going to be logging a lot of minutes playing the right side for the team - beyond that, we have a lot of questions.
There are a lot of option for coach Bednar when it comes to filling out his defense group. Andrei Mironov, Duncan Siemens, Anton Lindholm, Chris Bigras and even Jared Cowen enter training camp fighting for the 5, 6 and 7 spots on the Avs blueline. The problem is, every one of them is a left shot. That doesn’t eliminate any of them from playing the right side, but more and more, NHL coaches are employing systems that favour defensemen playing their natural side.
Enter Meloche - a big, strong, smooth skating right-handed shot that the Avs invested a high draft pick on. He is a very smart player with a mean streak and despite the lack of love from prospect observers like Corey Pronman, he has the potential to be a game-changing two-way defender that impacts the game on both sides of the puck. He’s got pro size and a style of play that is very close to being NHL ready. Meloche is more talented than the five older defenders mentioned above and he has a very good chance of outplaying all of them at training camp.
“Usually young defenders who display strong two way game don’t come with a full package and toolbox. Not so here. He is player who is strong positionally but also displays mobility and strong physicality. Already mature in his understanding of his position. He takes attackers to the outside, with good gaps and timing. Retrieves many of those pucks and quickly advances them with quick outs. Reads the outlets and is precise in his passes, causing odd-man breaks at the other end. Is developing as pointman on the PP. Will walk in along the wall to open things, and is also starting to walk the blue line to set up the attack on the PP. A big man with excellent mobility.” - Bill Placzek – DraftSite.com
A lot is being made about the lack of NHL defensemen on the Avalanche roster. With Nikita Zadorev still unsigned, there are a lot of questions after Barrie, Johnson and Mark Barberio. It might be a lot to ask for Nicolas Meloche to jump straight from the QMJHL into the NHL, but it would not be shocking if it happened.
When Avs fans think about the defensemen of the future, they go straight to Cale Makar - with good reason - but Meloche is a second guy that is likely to be a key piece of the Avs’s foundation going forward. He’s a very big piece of the team’s future.
Sakic has spoken about creating an opportunity for young players, this could be what he’s talking about. If it’s not in October, Meloche will almost certainly be in the NHL at some point this season, the exciting thing for Avs fans is that he has the talent to stick once he gets there.