The Colorado Avalanche are one of four teams with multiple picks in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft. The Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, and New York Rangers all have two picks (a top-five pick and another later in the round) while the Buffalo Sabres have three (7, 29, 30/31).
Of the teams with a bonus pick on the first day of the draft, the Avalanche at #16 are the highest of the bunch. That means they’ll likely receive lots of calls from teams asking to trade up or down.
This year’s first round is currently a swamp. You can find experts differing on an expected player’s draft position by up to 15-20 picks. When writing prospect profiles, draft writers have been giving players a 10+ pick range because they just don’t know how the chips will fall. Will we see lots of defensemen go early despite the fact that the first round is “expected” to be forward heavy? Who’s to say.
When it comes down to drafts like this, experience suggests that teams will pick “their guy” based on how much they can convince themselves that one player is going to be a star. We get a lot of stories about how their Draft Combine answer to the snake in the hallway story impressed the President of Hockey Ops or something of that sort.
This year is going to be a crap shoot, similar to 2018 or 2016 (why is it the even numbered years?). We’re going to be hearing lots of GMs talking to each other on the draft floor threatening to take someone else’s favourite player and those GMs then offering draft picks to make sure that doesn’t happen. And again, the Avalanche will be in the best place to take advantage of this.
Best Player Available
The pressure should be off the Avalanche after pick #4. They’ll have a top-end prospect that should enter a playoff-calibre lineup within 15 months and be a solid contributor. For a team stocked to the brim with good young players and coming off an unlikely playoff round win, there isn’t the same kind of pressure from ownership to get a specific “guy” and market it to fans as such. Basically, they don’t have to be the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, or Buffalo Sabres from years past. Not having this pressure should allow Joe Sakic the flexibility to not have to worry about getting a specific “guy” with his second pick and instead can let him focus on the best player available.
Every year, one or two players drop out of the top-10 in the draft and get passed over all the way down to the back third of the draft because all the teams in the middle of the league “stuck to their guns” and picked the guy they felt comfortable would still be there when they picked. In 2018, this was Ryan Merkley going to the San Jose Sharks. In 2017 Timothy Liljegren dropped to the mid-teens after being a top-3 pick at the beginning of the season. In 2016, Jakob Chychrun fell to the Arizona Coyotes. The list goes on. Now, not all these picks have fully panned out, but that’s hindsight. Going into their respective drafts, they were seen as high commodities.
Let’s take Lauren Kelly’s top-35 draft ranking that she published at our sister site Raw Charge. Let’s look at the end of the top-10. Could winger Cole Caufield get knocked off the lists of Vancouver, Philadelphia, Minnesota, and Florida for being too small and fall into Colorado’s lap? I wouldn’t be surprised. What about Cam York? He fell from a projected top-10 position by many services all the way to 20th in the SB Nation Mock Draft. Who’s to say that won’t happen again?
The larger point is this: the Avalanche are in an amazing position to take advantage of other teams galaxy-braining themselves and have a good chance to pick up two top-10 picks without making a phone call.
But perhaps Sakic is thinking differently and does see a diamond in the rough that he covets more than anyone else. Maybe there’s a player his scouting people believe is worthy of a high pick but also isn’t expected be drafted at #16 or later. In this situation, it would make sense to trade the pick down, acquire an additional lottery ball for the mid-rounds on the next day and pick up the player as late as he thinks is safe.
Sakic’s colleague Kyle Dubas did this to great effect with Rasmus Sandin in the most recent draft, moving from 25th to 29th and ending up with a high-risk, high-reward center in the third round. He did the same thing three years before that, turning Travis Konecny into Travis Dermott, Jeremy Bracco, and Martins Dzierkals using two trade downs.
Dubas might be the poster boy for this kind of move in recent years, but he is far from the only one. Tampa Bay in the same draft turned Anthony Beauvillier into Mitchell Stephens and Anthony Cirelli. Heck, also in 2015, the Avalanche traded the pick that was Jeremy Roy for AJ Greer, Cameron Morrison, and Denis Smirnov.
Moves like this happen a lot, and the team trading down don’t tend to lose very much in terms of value. On of the two or three picks more often than not end up just as good or better than the higher pick that was given up. If Sakic is eyeing a player in the mid- to late-20s, maybe he should give a team like Buffalo a call? They have two picks right at the end of the first round, after all.
The Avalanche have another level of flexibility that should draw a lot of interest: their cap space. As July 1st comes around and UFAs appear to be getting overpaid like it’s 2014 again, it could be hard for a team like the Avalanche to sensibly add a big piece without hurting their long-term cap situation — the Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog extensions among others scare the daylights out of me.
Instead, they could look around the league (Vegas) and see plenty of teams (Winnipeg) in need to clear cap space (Tampa Bay). There are good/great players on each of those (Toronto) teams on decent deals that could find themselves on their way out because others (San Jose) need to get paid. Anyone interested in Colin Miller or Reilly Smith? What about Jack Roslovic or Jacob Trouba? Tyler Johnson? Nazem Kadri? Tomas Hertl?
All I’m saying is that these teams don’t have much leverage right now and the Avalanche probably have the best package out of all the teams offering because they have a strong first-round pick, the ability to take on cap space without having to retain, and some pretty good B-level prospects that could ease the pain for the team losing a quality player.
When all is said and done, there is a chance the Avalanche screw it all up and we all leave the draft disappointed, but there are a lot more ways that it could also end up being a really positive weekend and that’s very exciting as a fan.
Now I turn to you. What do you think the Avs will do? Are any of these options appealing, or does it all sound like wishful thinking? I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments.