As the draft is just over a week away now is a good time to rekindle a tradition of sorts in the Colorado Avalanche draft plan, which was last published on this platform in 2017. That edition has held up well if I do say so myself, at least at the top end. A dissection on the potential strategies which may unfold at the NHL Draft in Nashville on June 28th and 29th are as follows.
Luke Hocking has already gone through the various possibilities of what a trade up or down from the 27th overall pick could look like in addition to some various scenarios in a trade for immediate help. This draft plan will focus on where the Avalanche might be targeting if they intend to stay and make this pick, however. If they trade down there’s a very real possibility two of these following players could be selected from the second round.
Avalanche scouting director Wade Klippenstein has been the man at the helm of the team’s draft table for the past two drafts and has made six picks in total. Barring any changes to the draft coffers he’s only going to bring that grand total up to 10 at most so it will still be tough to see what imprint he will have on shaping the prospect system. Interestingly enough as someone who hails from the WHL, Klippenstein hasn’t made a pick from that league with his allotted six picks. With a strong WHL class this year particularly in the first round will we see that fact change?
Candidates at 27th Overall
One data point the Avalanche have loved in the past which has influenced several draft selections is a great World Junior Championship U-18 performance and Tyson Jost is Exhibit A of how a tournament leading performance caught Colorado’s attention. A player eligible for this draft who could realistically fall to the end of the first round yet flashed at the tournament with 16 points including seven goals in seven games was Frölunda left shot center Otto Stenberg. He captained the Swedish team at all three major events in his draft year and led the team to a silver medal at both the Hlinka Gretzky and aforementioned WJC U-18 tournament plus a bronze finish at the World Junior A Challenge as well. Outside of international events Stenberg split time at the men’s level in the SHL and Frölunda’s J20 team. He’s a well-rounded player without many faults and should be considered a safe pick to become a versatile middle six forward in the NHL.
Another hallmark of Avalanche draftees is someone who did well on the bicycle tests at the combine with players such as Cale Makar and Chris Bigras were results leaders in these tests. The VO2 Max tests indicating a strong capacity for endurance and the Wingate which measures explosive power. A couple strong skating defensemen on the mid-to-late first round range Tom Willander and Tanner Molendyk showed up on the leaderboard for these tests. A sleeper defenseman who also might rise from the second round Hunter Brzustewicz is someone else who did well on them especially with top five marks from the Wingate test. The Avalanche love strong skating blueliners and all three could fit the bill.
Colorado scouts and members of the front office have long been in favor of prospects who have an affinity for scoring goals in their junior careers. Sampo Ranta and Cam Morrison were each standout scorers in the USHL, a cohort the organization seems to love. So keep in mind forward William Whitelaw who scored 32 goals for Youngstown this season.
The scouts love defensemen who score goals as well and look no further than Bowen Byram who scored 26 goals in his draft year showcasing his dynamic talents. The blueliner who led this draft class in goals is Étienne Morin from Moncton in the QMJHL who scored 21 tallies and 72 points in 67 games. Only a third of that production came from the power play and Morin is a well-rounded type who can defend well as another part of his skill set.
Then there’s always the goaltender question and if this is the year to invest a premium pick on the position. There’s no real consensus top goaltender but several who could sneak into the first round including Trey Augustine from the USNTDP and Michael Hrabal from the USHL. If a lot of the Avalanche targeted skaters are off the board by the time their pick comes up maybe it’s time to finally pull the trigger on a first round goaltender?
Candidates at 155th, 187th and 219th Overall
Back to the late rounds we go as the Avalanche will be picking at the tail end of the 5th, 6th and 7th rounds with the bulk of their 2023 draft capital. This is true dart throw territory so it is difficult to nail a single guess when the draft gets to this point but we’ll give it a try anyway.
A few trends in the past have seen the organization go for overage players who have been through the draft at least once previously. There’s no chance that third time eligible center Jack Harvey hasn’t been on Colorado’s radar in some capacity as someone who scored the league’s second best 40 goals in 62 games for the Chicago Steel in the USHL. Goal scoring as previously mentioned and the USHL are catnip for the organization which has been the prospect profile for previous selections. Harvey is ready to move on to the NCAA and Boston University for the next season and he might be worth it for the team to spend a late round pick on him before Harvey gains a bigger spotlight.
One more overage player to mention who possesses another of Colorado’s favorite traits and that’s winning. Jeremy Hanzal is a 6-foot left handed defenseman who helped propel the Seattle Thunderbirds to a WHL championship and an invitation to the Memorial Cup. He had a solid regular season where he scored 48 points in 66 games and led the league with a +70. In the playoffs Hanzal was one of the team’s top performers on a roster loaded with high end prospects and scored 22 points en route to the title. A well-rounded, steady, mature rearguard who is polished and ready for the pro game with possible NHL upside sounds like great use of a late round pick.
Undrafted 20-year old goaltender Thomas Milic will probably hear his name called in his last year of draft eligibility before the Avalanche get to their fifth round pick but if not he would be an excellent choice. Before leading the aforementioned Seattle Thunderbirds to a WHL championship with a .933 save percentage he posted a .932 at the 2023 World Junior Championship which helped team Canada win the gold medal. Standing at just over 6-feet is likely the reason why Milic hasn’t been drafted yet but look no further than Philipp Grubauer, Pavel Francouz and Alexandar Georgiev to see how viable smaller goaltenders are for the Avalanche.