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Grading the 2018 Avalanche draft class

AJ Haefele Avatar
June 25, 2018

With the 2018 NHL Draft in the books and behind us, it’s time to grade each of the selections and give the class itself a grade overall. It’s always a tricky proposition to grade a draft immediately after its completion because we have no idea how these kids are all going to turn out down the road but it’s just part of the process.

So let’s get into it!

1st Round

Martin Kaut, 16th overall – I had a feeling leading up to the draft the Avalanche liked this guy but I just didn’t know how much. He checks a lot of boxes for them and in a draft full of volatility, they managed to pluck a guy from the first round who is a reasonable bet to become an NHL player someday. His ultimate upside is the question mark here but given Colorado’s top line is pretty locked down for the foreseeable future, there isn’t a lot of pressure on him to develop into a superstar. He’s a well-rounded player with a strong skating stride and a responsible defensive game. But he was drafted in the first round because of his creativity and ability to straight score goals. This was the safest pick Colorado made all weekend. Grade: B+

2nd Round

None. Traded both selections, 47 for Philipp Grubauer and 58 in a trade down to acquire two later selections.

3rd Round

Justus Annuen, 64th overall – This was an interesting one. Colorado dropped down six spots, picking up an extra fifth-round selection in the process, and they landed Annunen. The Finnish goalie was thought to be one of the top goalies of this year’s class but using the 64th pick on him felt a little rich for everyone’s blood. That said, there were five goaltenders selected between picks 62 and 85 so I give Colorado credit for simply stepping up and taking a guy they clearly really liked. You can get cute in analysis about the perceived value of where players should be selected but ultimately it’s about getting good players. With Annunen, I feel like the Avalanche drafted the most talented goaltender since they took Calvin Pickard in the second round in 2010. Grade: A-

Sampo Ranta, 78th overall – Ranta was a guy I watched several games of leading up to the draft and really didn’t feel good about. What he does well (skating), he does extremely well. He has good size to fill out and he’s going to benefit a great deal from playing in the NCAA, which won’t let him play the kind of lazy, one-way game he played for Sioux City. He needs serious work on his defensive game and his shift-to-shift effort needs to significantly improve if Colorado is going to get an NHL player here. His shooting was more volume than accurate in the USHL and he needs to improve that quite a bit as well. To my eye, he’s a guy who lacks any semblance of hockey sense and I’m not sure how he’s going to overcome that as the competition improves. This was my least favorite pick by the Avalanche. Grade: D

4th Round

Tyler Weiss, 109th overall On the flip side of Ranta, here is a guy who possesses obvious talent but was dealing with a logjam of quality players in front of him as well as being unable to add weight to his frame. The biggest question for Weiss is how much weight he’ll realistically be able to add on and continue to be an effective player. He’s a natural born playmaker with great vision and passing ability and he plays the game at a fast level, which is exactly what Colorado was looking for going in to the draft. His shooting needs tons of work and his defense is just so-so right now but this is a guy who could be a solid middle six player for the Avalanche down the road. Grade: C+

5th Round

Brandon Saigeon, 140th overall – In his third attempt, Saigeon finally got drafted. I asked Alan Hepple what the team was really hoping to get from Saigeon if he maxes out and he responded by saying a third line center was realistic. Saigeon’s skating needs a ton of work and while it has gotten better in his junior career it remains a clear issue for him. He’s a good playmaker and just had a very nice season with the OHL champions so it’s not like he’s without discernible talent. He has good size and has developed into a promising two-way player, even though his offensive likely not amount to a whole lot. He’s a good bet to get a solid pro out of this pick and was a vastly different style of selection than the rest of the draft class. In the end, the draft is about upside and Saigeon simply doesn’t have much, even if he is likely to be a pro. These are the guys you take in the 7th round, not 60 picks earlier. Grade: C-

Danila Zhuravlyov, 146th overall – The opposite of Saigeon in that Zhuravlyov is a big-time potential play. He’s an extremely mobile defenseman who fits into the modern day game with high-end skating ability, both forward and laterally. His shot is effective and he uses it creatively, especially on the power play. He’s a guy with a ton of upside who produced well in the MHL. His height isn’t as much of an issue as his weight is right now as he’s just so slender. He needs to fill out physically but he has the kind of raw ability you take notice of, especially at this part of the draft. He could be a hidden gem because of the lack of exposure of his league. Grade: C+

6th Round

Nikolai Kovalenko, 171st overall – I’ll admit I love this pick. When it comes to Europeans not playing in the top pro leagues in their respective countries, players lean heavily on international appearances to show their abilities. Kovalenko was not afforded any of those opportunities and he spent the entire year in the MHL, creating a recipe for a player to fly significantly under the radar. The Avalanche pounced on that and while Kovalenko is certainly on the small side, he also falls on the side of being very skilled to boot. His hockey sense is very good and he’s an instinctive playmaker with an abundance of puck skill. He’s an all-around hard-working winger who should provide more upside than a typical sixth-round selection. Grade: B

7th Round

Shamil Shmakov, 202nd overall – I have to punt on this one because I don’t know anything about him, scouting reports are basically non-existent, and he plays in a league that doesn’t lend itself to much exposure. Even finding a verifiable picture of this kid has been difficult. He is a complete mystery box. Grade: INC

Final Grade

I’m going with a C+ here. The Avalanche walked out of the draft with one probable NHLer (Kaut) and one other guy who is likely to be a pro, if only because he’s much older than the others and has fewer options moving forward (Saigeon). The rest are all big-time gambles on raw talent. Their recent forays into Russia have given them the confidence to go all-in on overlooked kids. There might be a little arrogance in their ability to get the Russian kids to come over after their recent wins in that arena. If this new approach pays off, it’s a huge payoff. If it blows up in their face, they’ll need to quickly reset their thinking on draft day.

This is one of those classes that has the potential to look so much better in five years than it does today if a few of their dice rolls pay off. If they don’t, however, it will be a draft of a lot of no-name guys who remain just that moving forward and the curse of the even year Avs would continue. As strictly a grading of the selections that were made, the Grubauer trade does not factor into this final grade.

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