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Grading the Avalanche's 2020 draft class

AJ Haefele Avatar
October 8, 2020

I know, I know. You can’t really grade a draft class until a few years down the road when you see how players develop and what they become in the future and all of that.

But that’s no fun because giving everyone an INCOMPLETE on draft day isn’t something people want to read. How did the Avalanche do? Who are these new guys? Where do they fit into the organization? That’s why you’re here and that’s what I’m here to provide.

So let’s stop beating around the bush and get to it.

1st Round – Justin Barron, D, Halifax Mooseheads (25th overall)

The swift-skating Barron is inarguably an intriguing selection. His combination of size (6’2″, 180 pounds) and skating jumps out at you immediately when you watch him rush a puck end-to-end.

While that offense is fun to watch on tape and all, his transition game is more of an added bonus than a staple of his game as he’s just as likely to fire an outlet pass to spark a breakout. He uses his size effectively on defense as he’s very rangy and combines great gap control with an active stick to be a disruptive player in his own zone.

Size is a great asset when a player maximizes it with intent but Barron tends to get a little reach-happy on defense instead of just closing his gap and laying the wood on vulnerable puck carriers. How he develops that physical side of his game will play an important role in the upside he provides at the NHL level.

He’s a high IQ defender whose physical abilities could elevate his game. He has legit top-four potential and specifically in Colorado how he develops defensively will determine a lot more of how far he goes than how he develops offensively. They need a strong defender with good feet more than another puck-rushing blueliner. If he can grow into that, this will be a great pick.

Given the mediocre season and the injury problems he had, I won’t go all-in on this being a great pick. There are legitimate reservations here and there were ‘safer’ prospects available (J.J. Peterka especially) but the Avs went with a higher upside player at a premium position. I can respect that.

Grade: B+

2nd Round – No pick (Andre Burakovsky trade)

Worth it.

Grade: Hell yeah.

3rd Round – Jean-Luc Foudy, F, Windsor Spitfires (75th overall)

I absolutely love it. As the pick was approaching, he was the guy I was most excited about. He also checks the boxes of my biggest bias, which is skating ability. Foudy’s older brother, Liam, was a first round pick by Columbus two years ago partially on the basis of his skating but also his ability to play at that speed.

Jean-Luc possesses similar, if not superior, skating ability and is widely viewed as the draft’s purest skating talent. He doesn’t play at the same speed as his brother, however, and that’s why he was available at 75 for the Avalanche.

While Foudy is inconsistent in his effort and has some hockey IQ concerns, he has dynamic offensive tools and his lack of scoring in his draft year is viewed by many as a product of plain old bad luck. The process was there but the finish was lacking at times. It’s a concern if that continues into the future but for now, seeing a player with such obvious and dynamic tools drop to 75 feels like an appropriate ‘punishment’ for the production.

What I really love about the pick is Colorado drafting to an identity. Joe Sakic talked about it last night after the drafting of Barron but they want to get players who play fast and there are few who move faster than Foudy. If his brain can catch up to his body, they could have a potential star on their hands.

In terms of ‘value’, Foudy was the best player I had left available at the time and I wasn’t alone in that so I think the Avs did well there, too.

Grade: A

4th Round – Colby Ambrosio, F, Tri-City (118th overall)

This just screams Tyler Weiss 2.0 to me. If the Avs had more success (read: any) in drafting in these rounds in the last decade, I’d be a lot more willing to just trust they have a good feel for how to get NHL talent from the middle rounds.

Instead, the Avs have had almost no success and going with another small-but-skilled guy from the USHL doesn’t move my needle a whole lot.

That said, I like Ambrosio as a prospect and I don’t think they reached on him or anything here. He’s a shoot-first forward who gives an honest effort and despite being short (more like 5’8″) he has a stocky build. If he fills out physically, his size could be mitigated by a thick lower half.

Where I feel optimism in this pick is that Ambrosio is off to Boston College. That’s a star-studded school that should allow him to ease his way into college hockey with a bottom-six forward role. As some of the big guns start to graduation, Ambrosio could work his way into a bigger role but finding a comfort zone as a role player would set him up for success in the pro ranks.

I don’t love the pick and some of that is because of my own bias in seeing so many similarities between he and Weiss. I do like where Ambrosio is headed and how that sets him up for a future ELC more than what Weiss did and that helps. Overall, though, this doesn’t sell me much.

Grade: C+

5th Round – Ryder Rolston, F, Waterloo Blackhawks (139th overall)

Another kid from the USHL, Rolston is the son of former Avs forward Brian. Ryder doesn’t have the same combination of blazing speed and lethal shot his dad does but his profile isn’t too far off.

He has good size at 6’1″ but at just 175 pounds he has some major filling out to do to get his frame ready for pro hockey. He has plenty of time as he’s off to Notre Dame, the third Avs prospect to be on next year’s team along with Nate Clurman and Nicky Leivermann.

Rolston does have great speed of his own but and a nice shot but there’s plenty of room for it to improve as he gets stronger. I like the release and the accuracy and expect he’ll add some real velocity when he bulks up a bit more. If that happens, it becomes a legitimate NHL weapon along with his skating.

He’s an extremely hard worker who is already the perfect profile of a valuable role player in the NHL. If he can round out his all-around game and process the game at higher levels, he could easily justify the Avs moving up ten spots to grab him. I like the player, I like the pick, and I definitely I don’t mind the value of giving up the 211th pick to go get him.

The only reason I’m not giving this pick an ‘A’ is because I think there’s pretty limited upside here. Even in a best case scenario, it’s hard to envision Rolston even coming close to the career his dad had. I view him as a hard and fast role player, which the Avs have struggled to develop at all.

Grade: B+

6th Round – Nils Aman, F, Leksands (167th overall)

As a 20-year old in his third go-round in the draft, the upside of Aman is certainly something that has to be questioned. He has great size at 6’2″ but at 180 pounds he still has more physical growth despite being two years older than the rest of this draft class.

That’s not encouraging. He should be breaking into a full-time role in Sweden’s top pro league this year and given his decimation of the J20 league he played in last year (47 points in 30 games), that’s only a good thing.

I can’t say I’ve ever watched him play but those familiar with Aman say that he’s a hard-working two-way center. His offensive upside will become a lot clearer when we see how he does in the SHL this year.

Being completely unfamiliar with Aman, it feels unfair to grade this pick at all from my position. That might be a cop-out but at least it’s honest. With Sweden’s seasons already underway, at least we’ll get to see Aman play the next couple months while we wait for North American hockey to return in full.

Grade: INC

Overall Class Grade: B

This doesn’t feel like a smashing home run of a class. With just five selections, the first at 25 and only two in the top 100, it’s going to be a challenge for the development team to get NHLers out of this.

The Avs went all-in on high-end skaters and will try to get NHL players out of them. I can’t but wonder if these were lessons learned from watching Tyson Jost struggle in the NHL and not even offering Cam Morrison an ELC. I don’t know it for a fact but at least going in on great skaters is one less thing to worry about.

The draft is always a trade-off, however, so going for skating might have come at the cost of a little size at some selections. That’s okay. You have to pick your flaws to live with. I like that Colorado at least walked out of the draft with a class that fits the identity they’ve been working to develop for years at the NHL level on down.

I like the class but don’t love it. There’s a lot to like here and the class provides a variety of interesting new players to a system that’s going to see a ton of turnover in the next two years.


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