The draft is quickly approaching and the Colorado Avalanche still have their 27th pick. While it's not hard to envision the Avalanche without the pick come draft day, there still is a chance they make the pick. With that in mind, here are three players I think the Avalanche could select at 27.
Nate Danielson - Center - Brandon Wheat Kings - WHL
Danielson is a 6’1 two-way center from the Wheat City. He put up 33 goals and 78 points in 68 games, while also being very solid in the defensive zone. That really stuck out to me, his defensive play. This is where he used his size to his advantage. He’s really good at boxing players out and keeping them to the outside. Danielson rarely turns the puck over and protected the puck very well.
One thing to keep in mind with Danielson is that he is still growing and learning how to play with his newfound size. That makes his skating look a little awkward. Being a naturally good skater has definitely helped him, he gets up and down the ice with ease and gets to top speeds quickly. But he still looks like his brain and legs aren’t quite on the same page.
In the offensive zone, he is aggressive in retrieving the puck and solid along the boards. But once he has possession of the puck, he is looking to dish it off. He’s an excellent slot passer, but he passes up dangerous opportunities for himself to pass the puck off.
So why would Colorado be interested in Nate Danielson? For one, he’s a big two-way center, who they don’t need to be a top-six center for them. He’s great defensively already, he retrieves the puck and gets it to the dangerous areas quickly. He has an early birthday, so there is a good chance he will play one more season in Brandon before moving to Loveland and getting into pro hockey.
Danielson has all the tools, but none are elite, and that is why I think he might slip down the first board. Nothing about his game really pops. It’s just solid. which is fine, but he will have to develop something in his game to make him stand out a bit more from his peers.
Tannor Molendyk -Defense - Saskatoon Blades - WHL
He is the cut-and-paste Colorado defenseman. Molendyk is exactly what the Avalanche look for in defensemen. He is an excellent skater and might be the best in this draft class. He excels in transition defense, stopping the play at the blue line and moving the puck quickly the other way.
While his numbers didn't pop off the page like his draft peers did, nine goals and 37 points in 67 games, Molendyk became a more consistent point-getter as the year went on. He becomes more aggressive with the puck in the offensive zone, finding open areas, and creating space with his skating. I would like to see him shoot the puck more in the dangerous areas, instead of passing it off.
Defensively he is solid. Molendyk is exceptional at stopping play at the blue line and moving the puck in the other direction. His gap control is good, but sometimes he doesn't fully commit to the forward attacking and backs off, which is something he will have to clean up at the pro level. Once he has possession of the puck he transitions the puck quickly out either by passing it quickly or by skating it out.
Molendyk and Colorado ... makes a lot of sense. He is just the mold of what the Avalanche look for in their defensemen. While we can be excited for him, he is a minimum of three years away in my mind. He has two years of WHL eligibility left, then he will need a solid AHL season to get accustomed to the speed of the game. The skating is there. That is pro-ready, but the IQ and skill are not quite there yet. Molendyk has a great foundation but needs to keep growing and speeding the game up from a skill and IQ level.
Riley Heidt - Center - Prince George Cougars - WHL
Heidt is a very interesting player, and why he is not ranked higher is a little confusing. He has the points, 25 goals, and 97 points in 68 games. He’s an excellent distributor of the puck, he has a sneaky great shot. He transitions into the offensive zone efficiently. He is a good skater and creates separation speed when carrying the puck. He retrieves the puck in the offensive zone very well and he’s a pest. He will get in your face and plays a game that is bigger than his actual frame. So why is he ranked in the later part of the first?
Defense. Heidt doesn’t play defense. There is very little try and he generally looks for others to do the hard lifting. When he is the first forward back, he does use his stick well to break up passes and uses his body to hit and break up plays along the boards. But in general, he needs to be coached up in that area of his game.
The offensive zone is where Heidt shines, especially in his playmaking ability. His passes are very quick and very accurate and he can do that with defenders in tight on him. Heidt plays so well with the puck on his stick he opens up space for himself and others. He also has a low-key impressive shot. I would like to see him use it more when he creates some open space for himself.
For him and Colorado to work, he will need to be coached up in his defensive zone play, especially if he wants to play center in the pros. I think he will end up on the wing. His skating is good, but will need to add some explosiveness to create separation at the pro level, but is offensive zone play is where you are buying all his stock. It's so high-end, and adding his pest, mentality it just might make up for his shortcomings elsewhere. He would fit nicely in the middle six of the Avalanche’s roster in the future.