clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Avalanche Prospects Mailbag: 2021 in the Books

It was an eventful first half for the Colorado Avalanche hopefuls

Vegas Golden Knights v Colorado Avalanche - Game Two Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

With the Colorado Avalanche on hiatus now is a good time to examine the status of the prospect pipeline especially since the players are on a holiday break of their own as they get ready to resume their seasons in the new year of 2022.

First of all, regardless of games played Bowen Byram has proved he’s graduated into a regular NHL player as there shouldn’t be any doubt about his ability and regardless of what happens the rest of this season he will no longer be considered a NHL rookie next year.

Justin Barron easily takes the top of the mantle for me even before his recent first taste of NHL action. He has been a successful pro as he just barely turned 20 years of age and has quietly put up nine points in 15 games with the Eagles this season. His upside is squarely in the both ends of the spectrum as a two-way player who can provide equally offensively and defensively.

It is difficult to sort between the two collegiate defensemen Drew Helleson and Sean Behrens but I give the nod to the latter. Behrens is two years younger and likely further away from contributing in the NHL but his upside as a contributor on offense is just so much greater. Behrens hit the ground running his freshman season and has already scored 13 points with significant power play time in 14 games setting himself up for a big second half. Unfortunately COVID-19 kept him from attending Team USA’s World Junior Championship selection camp but good news is that he’s still eligible for the tournament next season.

Back to Helleson, who has improved each year in college, is primarily a shutdown defensive type but has added some offense to his game up to 11 points in 15 games this his junior season. Much of that offense won’t translate to higher levels but does show that he has enough puck skill for the pro game. Speaking of, Helleson is ready for the next level and should turn pro this spring once Boston College’s season is complete and then how close he is to the NHL should become clear when Helleson gets a few AHL games under his belt.

Daniil Zhuravlyov is a wild card and the Avalanche are still waiting to see if he will venture to North America. Even if he does sign that Entry Level Contract Zhuravlyov projects as a pure depth defenseman and probably will spend the bulk of his time in the minors. To his credit Zhuravlyov is a KHL regular but has only scored six points in 38 games with inconsistent usage,

Former Norte Dame teammates Nicky Leivermann and Nate Clurman round out the list. Leivermann would be in consideration one if not two spots higher if there was any indication the Avalanche have any intent on signing him and perhaps there’s still a chance this spring. Leivermann has shown an offensive flair through his four years of college and has 14 points in 17 games thus far. Signing Clurman the Colorado kid was a nice story but he’s spent most of the season in the ECHL with the Utah Grizzlies.

One of the biggest surprises in the Avalanche prospect universe is the breakout season Matt Stienburg has enjoyed in his — technically — junior season at Cornell. After truly taking a year off of hockey because Cornell did not play at all in the 2020-21 season plus Stienburg suffered a gruesome leg injury blocking a shot in BCHL preseason it is impressive that he’s been able to take a meaningful step forward in his development. With 18 points in 11 games Stienburg leads the entire NCAA in points per game. He still is primarily a hard-nosed power forward who can play center and uses his net front presence and determination to score gritty goals. How much of the puck skill translates will be a big question for him whenever he decides to turn pro.

Despite being the youngest on this list Oskar Olausson has the best chance to play regularly for the Avalanche followed by Justin Barron. Both have the first round pedigree and showed well in NHL training camp. Olausson has the upside of a scoring winger at the highest level and Barron already has a couple NHL games under his belt showing himself as a reliable option in times of need. Drew Helleson is probably the trade chip on this list as the Avalanche have yet to sign him and will have to engage in that dance this spring following his junior season if they are going to get a commitment. Jean-Luc Foudy seems to have greater organizational favor than the outside perception of him but with his very young age at only 19-years old will need a long time still in the minors before he’s thought of as a NHL option despite the pro experience already gained.

RadioAvsFan: Who do you think will be up with the Avs full-time next season of Kaut, Ranta, Annunen, or Barron? Thanks!

Of the four mentioned Sampo Ranta has the best shot since the Avalanche already gave him the extended look earlier this season. Martin Kaut is NHL ready right now but the organization seems ambivalent at best about him and probably needs a fresh start to nail down a regular NHL job. Justus Annunen and Justin Barron are both first year pros and likely will need extended AHL time before getting consistent NHL usage. Barron could really move up the ranks with a couple more call ups this season, however.

DudeWheresMakar: Has time finally run out for Shane Bowers? Also, Meeshie asks should the Avs trade Bowers?

Shane Bowers has been injured for the majority of this season but is finally back in the Colorado Eagles line up. The reality is that the clock started ticking last year where he was healthy and available most of the season but never got a single call up. As a second year pro that would have been the perfect time to give Bowers a taste and some NHL experience so that he can start ramping up to a full-transition as now a third year pro. Bowers currently is the only first rounder in the 2017 draft class who has yet to see his NHL debut, thus he is far behind his peers while staring down the barrel of the conclusion of his Entry Level Contract and waivers exemption expiring at the start of the 2022-23 campaign. For that reason Bowers does not have much trade value despite the first round pedigree and ironically the Avalanche would have to get him some NHL experience to pump up that trade value. The best hope is that call up materializes at some point this season and the Avalanche find a role for Bowers as a depth player otherwise he might not even get qualified to return next year or will get moved for in a trade for the likes of a third string goaltender.

Early word is that Oskar Olausson is expected to play a large role for team Sweden at the World Junior Championship, perhaps even on the top line. As a 19-year old returning player Olausson should feature as one of the top forwards in the tournament. With so many good players attending including fellow former first round picks and assumed future franchise players it is tough to place expectations of dominance on anyone but Olausson needs to show he can elevate his game in this type of environment. His junior season in the OHL has gone well and as predicted Olausson can easily score at that level as he leads the team with 25 points including 12 goals in 22 games. At times it’s clear he needs challenging beyond the confines of the junior game to really get the best out of him and hopefully this tournament provides that.

For one, it’s unfortunate the Avalanche couldn’t find players who can withstand head shots. However, losing a top player every other game it seems isn’t just perception as NHL Injury Viz shows the Avalanche are one of the most impacted teams in hockey by either lost WAR, Cap Hit or TOI measures. Is this just bad luck or perhaps constantly pushing the roster boundaries without any healthy extra players and overtaxing the top guys is placing a greater burden on them and thus more injury risk?