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Avalanche Prospects Mailbag: Spring seasons and signings expected

Entry Level Contracts, Goalies, AHL and 2021 NHL draft topics included

Colorado Avalanche v Nashville Predators Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

As Colorado Avalanche prospects either wrap up their seasons or look to finish strong playing in the organization’s system, there’s plenty to delve into in regards to their progress, projections and potential timelines. Thank you to all for the question submittals!

Quite simply all Martin Kaut needs is an opportunity. With Matt Calvert on the shelf again now is the perfect time to get Kaut on the taxi squad so that he’s the next man up when inevitably a forward goes down. Kaut has done what’s been asked of him in his 108 career AHL games and now that he’s healthy has been one of the Colorado Eagles’ best players. The power play which was the worst in the AHL has been brought back to life since his return and Kaut has contributed on four of it’s ten tallies. He’s also currently riding a five game point streak where he’s converted eight points and three goals. The smart defensive play, solid board work and sharp passing is there as always, too. Kaut is ready for the next level either with the Avalanche or somewhere else. Getting in NHL games now is very important for Kaut to become a depth option in the playoffs and solidify his position in the lineup next fall before their development attention turns to forthcoming new first year pros entering the system.

A lot of questions on Alex Newhook and the interest is certainly understandable as the 2019 16th overall pick’s sophomore season with Boston College has concluded. While he only played 12 games in the NCAA this year, scoring 16 points and seven goals, his future plans come into focus now. With such a short season Newhook really didn’t get the change to generate momentum and probably needs some more physical development to impact in the NHL. He possesses a Matt Duchene style quickness and skating but could also continue to polish his defensive game. If Newhook signs his Entry Level Contract and gets time with the Eagles this spring could set up for a realistic roster spot with the Avalanche next fall.

Just to round out the others at Boston College, Drew Helleson took a nice step forward this season as a sophomore in polishing his defensive game but also adding an offensive element that was at times dynamic for 15 points in 22 games. Helleson could probably handle pro hockey just fine but there’s also no reason for him to leave a good situation at Boston College and start his clock in the AHL.

Freshman Colby Ambrosio was a pleasant surprise scoring 15 points in 24 games with an increased role and at center when Newhook and Matt Boldy were out of the lineup. His style reminds of Conor Garland and after another year or two in school Ambrosio should be ready to turn pro himself.

LetsgoOrange: Sampo Ranta. Ceiling is?

Another popular fellow is the big Finn. Sampo Ranta has just concluded a successful junior season as he finished second in the NCAA in goals with 19 which was only behind Cole Caufield. Ranta was remarkably consistent in scoring with a tally in 18 of the 31 games he played and only three were on the man advantage. He has an intriguing and electrifying power forward skill set with a massive frame, lethal shot and blazing speed. This season Ranta was able to use his large frame and physicality to create space and make himself a net-front presence. The ceiling for Ranta is very high as a potential middle six scoring winger in the same role as Andre Burakovsky who plays a bit more like Chris Kreider.

DudeWheresMakar: Definitely talk about Kovalenko

Nikolai Kovalenko’s 2020-21 campaign in the KHL is now over too as Lokomotiv just lost in game seven of the second round. His KHL contract expires on May 1st and that is the time everyone has been anticipating his jump to North America by inking a NHL deal. If the Avalanche want to be aggressive they can buy out the remaining days of the contract prior to May and get Kovalenko over as soon as logistics allow but that desire remains to be seen.

Some may look in the box score and see only 11 points in 41 games and think Kovalenko has taken a step back but his usage in the KHL has been spotty, perhaps due to inklings that he will leave for North America. Some time in the AHL is probably expected at this point but he should quickly get a NHL opportunity.

Kovalenko is a tenacious bottom six winger who has the skill to create some scoring but a lot of production isn’t expected from him regardless of where he plays. He plays with an unquestioned edge and determination that’s rare to find, as one can see in this assist he recently picked up in the playoffs.

Justus Annunen is not having a great season is one reason and he hasn’t really been at the top of his game since he set the longest shutout streak in the Liiga some 18 months ago. Kärpät struggled out of the gate this season was part of the problem but the team is currently fourth in the league standings with Annunen now more the backup as he was supposed to take hold of the starting job this year. Part of the reason for the .880 save percentage is he constantly sees a low number of shots but lets in multiple goals a game and can’t get over hump to rebuild his statistics. Annunen has picked up a few wins lately including a shutout so there is hope for a stronger finish. Also worth noting Annunen already signed his ELC and has burned the current year on it due to his age so clearly a move to North America is on the horizon and at this point what he does on this side of the pond will determine what he might be able to provide the Avalanche.

On that note, goaltending is clearly another hot topic in Avalanche land with looming questions on both the present and future in net. I don’t have an issue with Pavel Francouz returning as the backup next season. The problem really has been a lack of commitment and attention to maintain a proper number three netminder as insurance and I don’t see the organization’s approach changing.

The aforementioned Annunen is a good prospect in the pipeline but far from a certainty to help the NHL club. Unsigned 2019 7th rounder Trent Miner had an unexpected strong showing with the Colorado Eagles earlier in the year while waiting for the WHL to begin and could continue developing as a professional next season. The Avalanche like to make trades for experienced goaltenders who are nearing the end of their Restricted Free Agency window, such as when they dealt for Philipp Grubauer, and that’s probably where they look to fill any NHL holes again.

Avanucks: Anything on Justin Barron and where you think he could slot in the line up or player comparisons?

First of all, Justin Barron has put his injury issues behind him and is having a nice fourth season in the QMJHL as captain of the Halifax Mooseheads. He should sign an ELC and play professional with the Colorado Eagles next season. Barron is physically ready to move on from junior and has polished his game with the puck over the course of the season. He has improved some of his offense as well with 25 points in 26 games thus far.

A lot of times I watch Barron I’m honestly reminded of Ryan Graves stylistically. Barron holds a big edge in skating over Graves and is more dynamic from the blue line to the net but their lanky frames and how they move the puck out of the defensive zone are similar. Barron is probably looking at fulfilling that third pair spot on the right side if he does make the Avalanche one day.

SuckmyAvs: You think any of Beaucage, Mutala, or Burzan turn into NHL players?

Luka Burzan scored his first professional goal over the weekend for the Eagles, which was a nice moment of success from the fourth line. All three still need contracts as their rights expire on June first. Alex Beaucage probably has the best chance as he already possesses a NHL level shot but continues to need major work on his skating. My concern with all three even if they are signed to NHL deals they are ticketed for depth roles in the AHL which leads to a lot of healthy scratches and demotions to the ECHL.

As everyone knows the 2021 draft is more difficult to handicap than usual so choosing realistic targets within Colorado’s likely range is futile at best. That said, I like Chaz Lucius who is a right shot center with size and has a knack for scoring goals who has had a very strong season at the USNTDP after returning from an injury which delayed the start to his year. For that reason Lucius may have played himself out of Colorado’s range but is still thought of as a mid-first round candidate and those players can tend to slip when the draft rolls around.

Zachary L’Heureux is a player of intrigue as well and is someone who is a more realistic option pegged at the tail end of the first round. While watching L’Heureux’s teammate Avalanche prospect Justin Barron it is tough not to notice the gritty power forward. He plays over the edge and emotional at times but has a great shot, a nose for the net and is a game changer. With 32 points including 15 goals in 25 games L’Heureux is second on the Halifax Mooseheads in scoring and just scratching the surface of what he can bring. The Avalanche have gone conservative on a lot of their later first round picks and as a result find prospects who lack the pizazz to impress enough for a call up. At the end of the first round they could do worse to take a raw and rough around the edges talent who has the upside to become a top line scoring winger.