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Prospect Mailbag: Summertime Sadness

There’s still a few prospects left to discuss.

Philadelphia Flyers v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Ashley Potts/NHLI via Getty Images

With the downtime the Colorado Avalanche have before a very busy end of the month now is a good time to take the temperature of the development system heading into an important offseason. It hasn’t been a pretty year (decade) in that department for the organization but there’s still decisions and changes which if executed correctly could still pay dividends down the line.

SuckMyAvs: Thoughts on the possibility of Kovalenko coming over?

I have been a fan of Nikolai Kovalenko and his game ever since he was drafted in 2018. He is such an aggressive forechecker and has earned the nickname Russian Tank just like his father such that Bednar must be salivating at the chance to work with him. It’s already been a long time waiting for him to sign and play in North America and hopefully the patience will pay off. Staying out of the development system might prove a smart strategy as a player who is only going to sign to contribute in the NHL but Kovalenko is also not going to get ton of rope if that’s the case. He would be a perfect fit in the bottom six and still has the skill to pot a few goals. It’s important to note that his KHL contract won’t expire until the first of May so barring some contract termination miracle he’s not going to suit up for the Avalanche in the 2023-24 season.

delta quad man: Which Avs prospects have a realistic shot at an NHL future (100 games)? Which ones do you think have that shot with the Avs?

The aforementioned Kovalenko, Jean-Luc Foudy, Oskar Olausson and Sean Behrens could have regular NHL careers in the right situation. However, I don’t think any will cross the 100 threshold with the Avs. Kovalenko has the best shot at getting there if he comes over and makes it beyond the first couple of months.

7Sky: Do you believe Sam Malinski an Av for all of ‘23-’24?

I’ll add in thoughts on newly signed forwards Jason Polin and Ondrej Pavel here as well as they are in a similar boat. No, I don’t see any of them playing on the Avalanche all year as they hold waiver exempt status and in theory still have to earn their way up from the minors. Sam Malinski had a nice 14 game debut for the Colorado Eagles but even he tailed off at the end with only one point in their five-game playoff series defeat against Coachella Valley. I’d expect each to get a look in the NHL but anything beyond that greatly depends on how the experiment goes and commitment from the organization.

The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler had the best answer to describe Colorado’s pipeline situation:

The Avalanche’s pool is so shallow that they’d be prudent to prioritize talent, keep prioritizing talent, and worry about positional need if/once you get the system back to a healthier place.”

And I agree with that answer. Skill is the most important attribute they need to look for because it’s puck skill talent that’s going to land someone a regular NHL job. In the past speed and goal scoring ability has been pretty high on the list of attributes this organization looks for, which probably won’t change. As far as position, a forward seems to be the greatest need and the easiest position to get into the NHL but beggars can’t be choosers either, they need everything.

For picks at 100 and higher every team is basically throwing darts at a board and drafting from all over the map and the Avalanche have been no different. Even the ultra conservative former head scout Rick Pracey would throw darts with his late round picks. Other than looking for a few more high skill home runs I don’t think there’s much more reinventing the wheel that can be done there. I know the dream is always about finding that one miracle diamond in the rough but I don’t think the draft process greatly impacts late round picks as much as the development system does because it’s all lottery tickets at that point and players taken that deep even if especially talented need a lot of development help.

If the Avalanche ever pick in the second and third rounds again then I would beg them to look to Europe to make those selections. In some models this cohort has had a 50% success rate of becoming a NHL regular and the Avalanche haven’t taken a skater from Europe in these rounds since Denis Parshin in 2004. Seems like a huge blind spot to me.

LastGuyOnTheDepthChart: Would it be wise for the Avs to trade their 1st for, say, two 2nds?

Ordinarily I’d say no because the Avs need the highest quality talent and pedigree of pick to hope the player has a chance to become a NHL regular. But at 27th overall the difference doesn’t really matter assuming at least one of the hypothetical second round picks in return is high in the round. The system is floundering and hasn’t even been impacted yet by these recent thin draft classes so to conduct a little asset management in this scenario might be worth it.

Let’s tackle the goalie questions first. Taking a skater late in the first round is hardly a safe path to a NHL contributor so I do see the idea of why not invest in a high end goaltender prospect and see if that player can make an impact instead. Organizational philosophies would have to change, however. First round goalies tend to be knocking on the door to a NHL job within three years so the typical Colorado vision of develop in the AHL until their waiver exemption expires isn’t going to work with a goaltender pick that high.

As far as Annunen, he pretty much needs to take the upcoming season to secure the third goaltender job at minimum and ideally position himself to take the NHL backup job in 2024-25 when Pavel Francouz’s contract expires. If the Avalanche aren’t willing to go that far with Annunen then they don’t take him serious and he’s not likely to stick in the organization when his waiver exemption expires and needs a new contract at that time.

And I’ll close with thoughts on Jean Luc-Foudy. He really remains as the greatest hope of a system graduation in the near future. A calculated plan to get that to come to fruition is critically needed in the coming season. Foudy has followed an unconventional path of starting in the AHL at 18 due to the pandemic but this is also no different than a European signing early such as what Martin Kaut experienced, and therefore the clock ticks just the same. Foudy is entering the ultra important second year of his Entry Level Contract and needs to see incremental call-ups to the point where he’s positioned to lock down a regular job in the 2024-25 season. He’s already proven to be an impact player in the AHL and showed he can fit in with the Avalanche at the NHL level. The next step is to make a commitment to him just as significant as the college free agents get.