A handful of teams have a more dire need to replenish their depth charts, but the list ahead of the Avs in the Desperation Games isn’t terribly long. With no real North American options outside of Spencer Martin and Joe Cannata at the moment - and neither looking like a clear-cut NHL option - the Central Division team needs to bolster their odds if they hope to see someone pan out as a blue-chip goaltending prospect before Semyon Varlamov turns his back on the last good years of his career.
For Colorado, that’s still a few years away at the very least - and with Jonathan Bernier as a quality backup they could try to bring back, there’s still time to develop someone to step up in the future. Free agency is always an option for a stopgap, and stars like Antti Raanta and Cory Schneider have proven in years past that teams are sometimes willing to trade away a true franchise starter before he hits his peak. In the case of Roberto Luongo, sometimes teams are sometimes willing to trade an already-bona fide starter, and do it twice.
With that in mind, Colorado doesn’t need to draft someone in the first round. They don’t need a Marc-Andre Fleury - not that there’s a comparable in this draft class - and they don’t even really need someone in their second draft-eligible season, rendering them closer to being ready.
Still, they need someone to round out the ranks.
Earlier this week, I took a look at what a good reach pick could be, if the team wants to stock up some safe-but-cheap options in their prospect depth chart until the need is more immediate. Drew DeRidder, despite standing at just 5-foot-10 right now, could serve as a great future project without costing a high draft pick.
If Colorado is feeling a higher sense of urgency than someone like DeRidder can quell, though, they may want to shell out a higher pick. If they do, someone like Alexis Gravel is a decent option.
At the draft combine, Gravel stood out for his massive size; despite only turning 18 a few months ago, the Halifax Mooseheads starter is already 6-foot-2 and over 220 lbs. Where many draft prospects need to put on some weight, Gravel already looks like a fully-grown adult.
His numbers aren’t altogether promising, despite earning a playoff berth in each of his first two seasons in the QMJHL - which would normally combine with his massive size to serve as a huge red flag for goaltending experts, despite causing old-school scouts and GMs to drool. He’s huge and he can win games, making him DeRidder’s polar opposite; although the smaller goaltender had better numbers and earned more trust for Team USA as a U18, you can never teach DeRidder to grow to Gravel’s size or to post the record that Gravel did (despite a sub-optimal stat line).
Gravel also had a worrisome looking game when he came into his draft-eligible season - and parts of his game still look awkward and slow when compared to some of the smoother, faster guys.
Despite that, this game from late March is a good example of how he’s worked on some of his weak points:
His butterfly has opened up a bit, he moves a bit faster, and he seems to stay on balance more than he did in older clips of his game, despite still looking a bit clunky in his overall positioning.
He also has a fantastic outlook on where he wants his game to be, which could be coupled with how he’s played this year to make him a good bet for strong development. With emphasis in his combine interviews on tracking and a Lundqvist-esque mentality, he seems to ‘get’ what he’ll need to do to hit the NHL.
For Colorado, there are both pros and cons to considering him as their goaltending selection in a few weeks.
On one hand, he’s got the size, he’s got a good development year under his belt, and he knows the right things to say when it comes to looking ahead at his game. Generally, the goaltenders that know what they need to fix are the most likely to truly fix it.
On the other hand, though, the fact that he’s still clunky means that he could never have the right level of speed and athleticism to use his frame to his best advantage. While a massive goaltender takes up more space in net for an approaching player, he needs to be able to get low fast and close up holes on his sides even faster in order to avoid getting corners picked and pucks walked around him.
That means that, given the interest he’s already received from multiple teams, there’s a lot at stake for Colorado if they waste a higher draft pick on him and he never pans out.
Given how many teams overlook players like DeRidder, there’s always the likelihood that the smaller prospect will be left undrafted at the end of the weekend in Dallas, and Colorado can try coaxing him in via free agency in a few years’ time. That leaves them free to be a bit riskier with their actual drafted prospect, making Gravel a smart option.
If they want the guarantee that they’ll have a player’s rights, though, Gravel currently has more in his game left to develop than DeRidder does - and although that can be fixed (while DeRidder’s size can’t without the help of genetics), there’s a risk he’ll never rise above a promising minor league starter.