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Colorado Avalanche prospect report: Welcome to the 2019-2020 season!

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I say the word ‘consistency’ a lot, I’m sorry.

Vancouver Giants v Seattle Thunderbirds - Game Six Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

With Colorado Avalanche training camp opening up today, we can officially that hockey is back! As far as our Avalanche prospects go, it was a little tricky to decide when to start these reports back up again, since every league starts at vastly different times. For instance, the KHL started up at the beginning of September, but the NCAA doesn’t start until mid-October (and in one team’s case, November). The CHL is somewhere in between all that.

Last weekend I looked at Avalanche prospects who had graduated from these reports (most notably, Cale Makar), but now it’s time to turn our attentions to those who will be followed this season. Just a reminder, these prospect reports only follow Avalanche prospects who are Not Goalies and Not In The AHL (we have other experts for those).

This season, there will be 15 prospects covered (including seven of the eight players drafted in 2019). There are eight returning prospects, including six from the NCAA. Because some of the players have begun their respective seasons, this first post will act as sort of a ‘season preview’ for each player. Once everyone’s regular season has begun, the posts will follow the same structure from last season.

Canadian Hockey League

WHL

#44 - Bowen Byram (D)
Vancouver Giants (0-0-0)
Draft: 1st round in 2019

I think Byram has a good shot to make the Avalanche out of training camp (or at least get nine games in), but if he’s heading back to junior, he’ll probably be returned back to the Giants sometime in October, at the latest. Byram, who was hands-down the WHL’s best defenseman in last year’s playoffs, will return to Vancouver and try to build off of that for an even bigger season. Byram will be the Giants’ number one defenseman, quarterback their top powerplay, and be in for another offensively dominant year. He’s a lock to make Canada’s World Juniors squad if he’s returned to the WHL, which will likely be his only chance to represent his country at the tournament.

FIRST GAME: SEPTEMBER 20TH, 2019

An update from training camp further hints that Byram probably won’t be back in junior in time for Vancouver’s first regular season game:

#34 - Sasha Mutala (RW)
Tri-City Americans (0-0-0)
Draft: 5th round in 2019

Hopefully Mutala’s off-ice troubles are behind him (both of his parents battled significant life-threatening illnesses last season) and he can solely focus on hockey. Mutala was one of four Avalanche prospects invited to training camp, but is still a long shot to make the roster. If he’s sent back to the WHL, Mutala’s biggest challenge this season is to improve upon his consistency and making sure he’s still contributing in all areas of the ice when his offense has dried up. He has the necessary tools and skillset to be a dynamic offensive producer, and will likely play a larger role for Tri-City this season.

FIRST GAME: SEPTEMBER 20TH, 2019

#27 - Luka Burzan (C)
Brandon Wheat Kings (0-0-0)
Draft: 6th round in 2019

Burzan was also named to Colorado’s training camp roster today, but he’ll probably be returned to junior at some point within the next few weeks. When the Moose Jaw Warriors traded Burzan back in 2017-18, his success with the Wheat Kings was immediate. His offensive game took off and it’s continued to rise ever since. Although played primarily on the wing, Burzan also has the ability to play down the middle and could see some time at center. He’s an intelligent player who should work on rounding out his offensive game more. Burzan was invited to the World Junior Summer Showcase over the summer, which means that he is on Canada’s radar as a candidate for the 2020 team. A strong start to his season would only help improve his chances.

FIRST GAME: SEPTEMBER 21ST, 2019

QMJHL

#16 - Alex Beaucage (RW)
Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (0-0-0)
Draft: 3rd round in 2019

Another invite to training camp, Beaucage won a Memorial Cup last season and played on an incredibly dominant line (with Montreal Canadiens prospect Joel Teasdale and Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Peter Abbandonato). This season, both of his linemates have aged out of the QMHL, meaning it’s up to Beaucage to replicate his offensive production and prove that his point totals last season were no fluke. Can he take that step towards driving offense for the rebuilding Huskies? That’s something he’ll have to address this season.

FIRST GAME: SEPTEMBER 19TH, 2019

NCAA

HOCKEY EAST

#18 - Alex Newhook (C)
Boston College Eagles (0-0-0)
Draft: 1st round in 2019

Newhook’s biggest challenge this season will be his adjustment from junior-A to NCAA hockey. A creatively offensive producer, Newhook thrives on using his speed and hands to beat defenders. How much space will he get/create for himself in college? Newhook is Colorado’s best forward prospect as far as talent is concerned, but easily replicating his offensive game against older, stronger opponents in the NCAA is a tall task. Although Newhook was an invite to Canada’s WJSS team, he’s likely a long-shot to make the 2020 team, but it’s not out of the question with a hot start to the season.

FIRST GAME: OCTOBER 11TH, 2019

#4 - Drew Helleson (D)
Boston College Eagles (0-0-0)
Draft: 2nd round in 2019

A patient and intelligent defenseman who rarely makes mistakes, Helleson will also need time to adjust to college hockey. He faded to the background at the WJSS, and was cut after the split-squad games after an underwhelming pair of games. Standing out positively against NCAA competition will be difficult, but he’ll play a depth role for the Eagles (maybe rotate in and out of the pressbox), so there won’t be exorbitant expectations placed on him.

FIRST GAME: OCTOBER 11TH, 2019

BIG TEN

#26 - Cam Morrison (LW)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (0-0-0)
Draft: 2nd round in 2016

Finally, a prospect I actually covered closely last season! I thought Morrison would turn pro last spring, but he decided to return to Notre Dame for his senior year after the Fighting Irish fell short of a Frozen Four berth (thanks to Makar and UMass). Morrison has been an incredibly clutch player throughout his time at Notre Dame and I don’t doubt that he’ll be that guy for them again this year. Plus, as a senior, there’s a good chance that Morrison will be given a letter this season — and maybe a Hobey nomination is in his future, too.

FIRST GAME: OCTOBER 11TH, 2019

#4 - Nick Leivermann (D)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (0-0-0)
Draft: 7th round in 2017

Let’s just say that Leivermann really seemed to struggle with the adjustment to college hockey last season. He bounced in and out of the lineup on a deep Notre Dame team and only contributed two points in 23 games. For a defenseman who really thrives offensively, it was tough to watch. However, Notre Dame has a younger blueline this season, and Leivermann will hopefully get a larger role and more ice time. Hopefully with that consistency, he’ll be able to find his offensive game and make meaningful contributions at both ends of the ice. Leivermann has the capability and the talent to provide offense, he just has to prove that he can do it in college.

FIRST GAME: OCTOBER 11TH, 2019

#2 - Nate Clurman (D)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (0-0-0)
Draft: 6th round in 2016

Like Leivermann, last season was an adjustment for Clurman as well, although he did play a lot more games (and had three assists in 39 games). Although Clurman isn’t as offensively inclined, his performance and work in his own end likely contributed to his consistent stints in the lineup. He’ll likely get more ice time this year and contribute on special teams (penalty kill, anyone?), and hopefully he’ll carve out more of a defined role on the Fighting Irish this season. Putting up more than three points in a season would also help.

FIRST GAME: OCTOBER 11TH, 2019

#58 - Sampo Ranta (RW)
Minnesota Golden Gophers (0-0-0)
Draft: 3rd round in 2018

Ranta had a solid rookie year on a young and exciting Gophers team, but he heads into this season needing to produce offense regularly and not just in spurts. Ranta proved he was capable of driving offense and capitalizing on turnovers at the WJSS, where he was one of the best players of the tournament. He’ll join Finland for the World Juniors (barring injury) as they try to defend gold, which will be great experience for him. Ranta should continue to work on his consistency in all areas of the ice and being a responsible player in his own end.

FIRST GAME: OCTOBER 11TH, 2019

#25 - Denis Smirnov (RW)
Penn State Nittany Lions (0-0-0)
Draft: 6th round in 2017

Poor Smirnov was snake-bitten for months last season, but he finally broke through with a four point showing at the end of February. The junior finished with a respectable 22 points in 37 games and played mostly a depth, third line role. This season will be Smirnov’s last in the NCAA, and the senior could take on a leadership role (although the Nittany Lions are a deep team with many veterans). Penn State looks poised for a deep playoff run and there’s a good chance that Smirnov could turn pro at the end of his season and join the Eagles or the Avalanche in the spring.

FIRST GAME: OCTOBER 11TH, 2019

NCHC

#40 - Tyler Weiss (LW)
Nebraska Omaha Mavericks (0-0-0)
Draft: 4th round in 2018

Weiss was fairly quiet in his freshman season, bouncing in and out of the lineup and playing on Omaha’s fourth line, but he finished with 11 points in 25 games. A larger role and more ice-time would help, but it’s up to him to prove to the coaching staff that he’s deserving. Omaha will likely be near the bottom of the NCHC again this season, but Weiss had an encouraging second half of last season and should continue to build off of it this year.

FIRST GAME: OCTOBER 11TH, 2019

ECAC

#20 - Matthew Stienburg (RW)
Cornell Big Red (0-0-0)
Draft: 3rd round in 2019

From Canadian prep school to the NCAA? We’ll see how Stienburg’s transition goes, but it may take some time (probably longer than normal). However, there are 21 Canadians on Cornell’s roster, and teammate Morgan Barron actually had an identical path to the NCAA (from Halifax, played prep school at St. Andrews), which will undoubtedly help Stienburg get more comfortable. Stienburg was a prolific point producer in his junior days, but he’ll likely slot into a fourth line role on an older Cornell team and have to work his way up from there. For some reason, Cornell’s season doesn’t start until November which means it will be a while before Stienburg sees NCAA action.

FIRST GAME: NOVEMBER 1ST, 2019

Europe

KHL

#51 - Nikolai Kovalenko (RW)
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (0-0-0)
Draft: 6th round in 2018

2GP, 1A

In his second season with Lokomotiv, Kovalenko just needs to work on finding his offense in the KHL. Kovalenko only had six points in 33 games last season, but the fact that five of them were goals is encouraging. He is off to a solid start this year, getting his first point of the season in his second game. He had three points in six games at the World Juniors last year, and it would be great if he could bring the same tenacity and fearlessness to his game in the KHL. Kovalenko is already an extremely well-respected player by his coaches and teammates (rare for a younger player), and the more comfortable he grows, the closer he will be to contributing regularly.

#2 - Danila Zhuravlyov (D)
Bars Kazan (0-0-0)
Draft: 5th round in 2018

3GP, 1A

I was pleasantly surprised to see Zhuravlyov begin the season in the KHL (I was expecting him to play another year in the VHL). Right off the bat, it looked like a smart move, as the defenseman recorded his first professional point in his third game. Zhuravlyov will likely play third pair minutes or be a healthy scratch every so often. Playing against men will be an adjustment and his focus should be on finding is footing in the KHL. Zhuravlyov will be a key player for Russia at the World Juniors, likely playing on their top pair, and it looks like he’ll have a similar season to what Kovalenko had last year.

KHL statistics from Flashscore.ca. All NCAA statistics are from each school’s website.