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Today we look at the 4th of 5th draft classes as we delve into the Colorado Avalanche 2012 Draft and see what happened and where things went so wrong. Before we get into it, though, just a reminder that if you missed any of the previous installments, you should go back and check out the 2009 Draft Review, 2010 Draft Review, and 2011 Draft Review.
Just like yesterday, there’s a bit of pre-draft context necessary here so we know why the Avs first pick in this draft didn’t come until pick 41. Just after Free Agency opened in 2011, the Avalanche made a bold move in trading their first round pick and one of their second round picks in the 2012 NHL Draft to the Washington Capitals in exchange for Restricted Free Agent Semyon Varlamov, who signed with the Avs shortly after the trade was completed. This was a particularly bold move because the Avs had just selected 2nd overall a few weeks earlier in the 2011 Draft. In the long run, bold paid off the Avs as Varlamov overcame some early injury issues and bad teams in front of him to become an absolute star when Patrick Roy and Francois Allaire arrived to maximize his significant talent. It’s a deal most every Avs fan would make again if given the chance. Like the Erik Johnson trade, they went big and bold and it has paid off handsomely.
That said, the Avs still had work to do on draft day as their previous two drafts had yet to yield anything significant beyond Gabriel Landeskog and their organizational depth was starting to look questionable at best.
None – Traded for Varlamov
Mitchell Heard, 41st overall
Right away this was a draft pick that raised eyebrows around the league. Undrafted in the OHL Entry Draft earlier in his career and undrafted by the NHL in his first eligible season, Mitchell Heard attended the Toronto Maple Leafs rookie camp and impressed the brass enough to earn an invite to their main training camp before ultimately being cut and sent back to the OHL to continue to hone his craft.
The Avalanche selected Heard with their second round selection despite the prospect not being rated nearly that high but Head Scout Rick Pracey said Heard was a “skilled player with toughness” and his 57 points in 57 games and 111 penalty minutes seemed to back that assessment up. Heard would start the next season with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters but a lack of production and maturity forced the Avalanche to send him back to juniors to further refine his game and finish his junior career. Heard would play the entire 2013-14 season with the Monsters.
Heard’s point production immediately cratered as his unfocused play saw him chasing penalties and going overboard with the pugilist part of his game as he racked up just 12 points in 63 games but a ridiculous 167 PIMs. Heard’s game matured some this past season but the skill level remains a question as he even spent time with the ECHL’s Fort Wayne Komets this past season, never a good sign for a player who is trying to make the jump to the NHL.
Heard is a Restricted Free Agent this summer and it is unclear whether or not the Avalanche intend to re-sign the forward. When considering the success of other second round selections in previous Avs drafts, the Heard selection stands out as one of the more significant misses of Pracey’s career with the Avalanche and set the tone for the rest of this draft class.
Troy Bourke, 72nd overall
Yet another undersized forward (one of the hallmarks of Pracey’s draft record), Troy Bourke was the Avs taking yet another swing at an undersized but highly skilled forward. Bourke put up impressive stats throughout his junior career, topping out at 29 goals and 85 points in 69 games played in 2013-14, his final season before turning pro and playing 15 games for the Lake Erie Monsters, putting up a respectable 7 points.
This past season was Bourke’s first full professional season and he struggled to find a consistent place in the lineup as he had to contend with a roster stocked with veteran AHL players and similarly undersized youngsters trying to make their mark. Despite the limitations, Bourke showed off his talent and accrued 9 goals and 21 points in 59 games. Considering the limited playing time and role he had, the production was impressive.
With a contract running through 2017, Bourke’s opportunities will hopefully grow and he could become a depth player for the Avalanche down the road even though his lack of size may limit him in the suddenly size-obsessed Avalanche organization.
Michael Clarke, 132nd overall
Another player with size limitations, Michael Clarke was drafted after a season in which he put up an underwhelming 38 points in 68 games in the OHL. This would be a sign of things to come as he would never reach the point-per-game mark in his junior career, barely missing this past season with 55 points in 58 games as an overage player. The Avalanche never signed Clarke and allowed his rights to lapse. It is unclear what the future holds for him but it does not appear he will be part of the Avalanche organization moving forward.
Joseph Blandisi, 162nd overall
Unlike Clarke, Joseph Blandisi is a player whose career suggested the Avalanche would be wise to sign him to a pro contract and see how he developed from there. Being a player on the smaller side, though, was not in Blandisi’s favor and despite putting up impressive numbers throughout his career the Avalanche chose not to sign him. Blandisi would respond to the snub by putting up a ridiculous 112 points in 68 games played in his final junior season and earned a contract from the New Jersey Devils, where he will begin his pro career next season.
Blandisi is the rare example of a player the Avs actually appeared to do well with in drafting, especially in the 6th round, but willingly allowed him to walk away before watching him blow up and sign with another team. While his numbers in the most recent season were impressive, he was still an overage player (a big red flag for production) but you can’t fault a guy for dominating a level, even if he is a bit old for it. Right now is wait-and-see if Blandisi makes the Avalanche pay for passing up on signing him but his road to the NHL is still a very long one.
Colin Smith, 192nd overall
Yet another sub-6-foot player, Colin Smith represented everything Rick Pracey was trying to accomplish in the later rounds of his drafts. He loved smaller forwards with skill as he seemed intent on finding the next Martin St. Louis. Colin Smith would immediately raise his profile after being drafted as he went out and put up 106 points in 72 games for the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, adding 14 more in 12 playoff games.
Small but very skilled offensively, Smith also has an exceptional work ethic and has worked tirelessly to improve his two-way game once he entered pro hockey. Smith has been productive for the Lake Erie Monsters, scoring 65 points in 126 games. He earned a call-up to the Colorado Avalanche this past season, playing 1 game before being sent back down. Smith looked good in limited ice time and with one year remaining on his contract, he will continue to provide the Monsters with solid two-way play. It’s unlikely he becomes an Avalanche regular due to his size but for another organization he could be a diamond in the rough.
While it’s still technically early to judge this draft class, two of the five players drafted have already exited the organization and with questions surrounding Heard it could become three this summer. The other two, Bourke and Smith, are small but skilled players but are poor fits for the Avalanche given the organization’s recent shift in direction towards acquiring as many bigger players as possible.
This draft is nothing but an unmitigated disaster and a prime culprit when looking at the failure of the organization to adequately replace the injured depth players at the NHL level this season. This draft class has the distinct possibility of being the worst in Avalanche history.
On that depressing note, tomorrow we finish the draft reviews with the 2013 class, which is teeming with potential and has a chance to equal or even surpass the wonderful 2009 draft in terms of quantity and quality.