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Avalanche keep both first-round picks, draft a center and defenseman

Calum Ritchie and Mikhail Gulyayev are the newest members of the Colorado Avalanche.

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NHL: NHL Draft Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the 2023 NHL Draft, the Colorado Avalanche created a lot of intrigue for themselves. They traded 22-year-old Alex Newhook for picks 31 and 37, then traded 37 to Tampa Bay for hard-nosed middle-six forward Ross Colton. Many expected more trades to come with at least one of the two first-round picks Colorado possessed, but they chose to keep them both and restock a prospect pool they thinned out in pursuit of a Stanley Cup.

Pick #27: Calum Ritchie, C

Ritchie is 6-foot-2, 185 lbs. with a right-handed shot who played for Oshawa in the OHL last year. Every piece of analysis you read about him paints a picture of a steady player who can play in all four corners with good skill to boot.

He played most of last year with a dislocated shoulder, so it is difficult to properly evaluate him, but Ritchie came into the season with expectations of being a top-10 pick and averaged a point per game despite playing through an injury “next to no one” according to one anonymous NHL scout. ESPN’s Kevin Weeks said live on air that an NHL player texted him and told him that he believed Ritchie is a top-10 pick, so in the eyes of many the Avs got a steal here.

To learn more about Calum Ritchie, read this terrific profile of him in The Athletic from November of last year.

Pick #31: Mikhail Gulyayev, D

Fans who are disappointed that the Avalanche didn’t ship this pick somewhere else to patch up their middle six can rest easy knowing that this is an exciting one.

Gulyayev is 5-foot-10 172 lbs. with a left-handed shot and played for Omsk Jr. in Russia’s junior league. He had two goals and 23 assists in 22 games for one of Russia’s top junior clubs last season. It shouldn’t shock you to hear that the first skill highlighted in a Colorado draftee’s writeups is his skating ability. Every highlight you see of him, he’s just speeding through everyone.

The Athletic says Gulyayev has “clear NHL skating, hands, and vision,” which sums up pretty much any profile you read of him. The praise for his top-tier offensive skills is so universal you can’t help but wonder how Colorado snagged Gulyayev all the way at the end of the first round. Well, you don’t read a whole lot about his defense in any of these writeups, and it’s clear that he has a ways to go to be NHL-ready, despite having top-tier NHL skills.

Instant Analysis

As much of the discourse has rightfully been centered on repairing Colorado’s middle six this off-season, the Avs are also in desperate need of a talent injection in their farm system. Trading away a litany of prospects like Justin Barron and Drew Helleson and the copious amounts of picks in the first four rounds in pursuit of the Stanley Cup these past years took its toll on Colorado’s depth, and it has made it far more difficult to repair the big league club without serious trade chips from the farm system. Choosing picks over NHL players also seems to indicate that Avs GM Chris MacFarland believes they can find the rest of their middle six in the free-agent market.

It certainly seems likely that MacFarland obtained players more valuable than the 27th and 31st picks with the 27th and 31st picks in the draft, as they added a potential future second-line center and another electric puck-moving defensemen to join Sean Berhens at the top of their prospect rankings.

Tonight didn’t bring any kind of Earth-shattering move so many were hoping for (those of us holding our breath for Sidney Crosby can probably exhale now), but it did bring in two really well-regarded prospects whose skillsets fit the exact mold of how the Avalanche try to play. The Alex Newhook trade is now filled out, as they traded him for a better player in Ross Colton plus a good prospect in Mikhail Gulyayev, extending the Avalanche’s winning streak on trades to infinity. Bottom line: top to bottom, the Colorado Avalanche are a better team today than they were yesterday.