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What should the Avalanche prioritize on draft day?

AJ Haefele Avatar
May 17, 2016


For Colorado Avalanche fans, the NHL Draft doesn’t typically evoke happy memories. There have been so many the years the team went to the Draft and treated it more like an obligation than opportunity. While their historically poor results have improved in recent years to merely mediocre, the Avalanche will once again be undertaking the task of improving their oft-ignored farm system when the NHL descends upon Buffalo in late June.

Before getting to the task of targeting specific players and hoping the Avs walk away with them in the fold, I’ve decided to take a step backwards and take a broader look at their approach to this year’s draft. What should the Avalanche be looking to accomplish on draft day this year? The easy answer is “draft the best player available, stupid” but sometimes that’s how you end up with a draft class of seven defensemen like the New York Islanders in 2012 (combined NHL games played so far: 46). Let’s look beyond the easy answer for a plan for the Avalanche at this year’s draft table.

Forwards. Lots of them.

One of the reasons the exodus of so many AHL veterans to Europe this off-season has caused a stir among Avs fans is the lack of clear replacements available. As of this writing, the only forwards whose rights are owned by the Avs entering pro hockey this year are Julien Nantel and J.T. Compher. While both players are varying degrees of exciting as prospects, there’s simply a dearth of quality forwards in the Avalanche system as a whole. With Compher and Mikko Rantanen expected to push for NHL time this year, it leaves just A.J. Greer and J.C. Beaudin as potential impact forwards currently in the system. That’s it.

The Avalanche are currently looking at six selections in the seven round draft process, missing only a 4th rounder as a result of the Shawn Matthias trade, and you have to think the focus going in is to load up on players upfront. I would go out on a limb and say they should walk in thinking they’ll use at least four, and potentially five, of their selections at the forward spot. If there are any coin-flip decisions on players they feel are about even, the nod this year should go to the forward, especially with the 10th overall selection.

Keep building Goaltender depth

The Los Angeles Kings and Washington Capitals have been the model organizations in recent years on how to handle the always trick goaltender position. Don’t be afraid to draft a talented prospect you love and don’t worry about the guy already manning the position for you. Goaltenders are the commodity in the NHL that never dips in popularity. Teams are always looking to get better in net. The Kings and Caps have consistently drafted and developed quality goalies in recent years and have been able to trade successful backups to fill other roster holes or bring in additional draft picks.

In recent years, the Avalanche have churned out unparalleled (for them) goaltender depth. As of this moment, the Avs have a star goaltender in Semyon Varlamov, two viable NHL backups in Calvin Pickard, who has flashed starter potential, and Reto Berra, the much-maligned Swiss goaltender who statistically has produced two decent seasons for the Avalanche. Beyond that, they still own the rights to Sami Aittokallio, who had an excellent season in Finland this year, and Spencer Martin’s first pro season has been a resounding success.

While all of that is encouraging, with an expansion draft or two looming on the horizon, the Avalanche need to continue investing in their net pipeline. There likely won’t be a goaltender selected in the first round this year but beginning in the second at 40th overall, the Avalanche should start honing in on a prospect they like to keep the ball rolling. It’s time to pick another goaltender after skipping last year.

Don’t be afraid to be aggressive

The Avalanche showed last year they had a very specific plan in mind when they sought the 31st pick in the draft from the Buffalo Sabres in the Ryan O’Reilly deal and then turned that pick in a downright treasure trove of the 39th pick last year and this year’s 2nd and 6th round selections. That kind of foresight would be a huge boon again this year. Trading down isn’t always the most popular decision but starting with their 10th pick, the Avalanche should be active in working the phones to find smart deals for additional selections.

On the flip side, this year’s top 10 would appear to have a touch more unpredictability to it than last year’s group and should a player the Avalanche love start to slide, the idea of moving up a few spots is always an intriguing one. If, for example, a player like Pierre-Luc Dubois were to suddenly find himself available at the 6th or 7th selection, it would be extremely tempting for the Avs to give up another pick to make the leap up and get such an exciting talent.

It would be nice to see the Avalanche continue their plan of attack from last year’s draft and actively seek to make aggressive moves on draft day, whether it be adding in a quality prospect to a trade like they did with Compher or finding a way to add more draft capital like they did with the 31st pick. Given the long shots of solid NHL careers from players drafted outside the first round, the “spray and pray” philosophy will always be one I encourage from teams on draft day.

Add a Defenseman

With an abundance of young defenders at every level of the organization, the Avalanche shouldn’t be pressed for drafting a defenseman this year. The only reason I even included them on here is because since Joe Sakic took over as GM, the Avalanche have found some success drafting defenders beyond the first round. Chris Bigras, Mason Geertsen, Will Butcher, Anton Lindholm, Kyle Wood, Nicolas Meloche, and Sergei Boikov are all varying degrees of quality prospects drafted by the Avs in various rounds after the first.

Following that plan of attack, if the Avalanche are uncomfortable adding a defender with the 10th pick, they should look long and hard at the growing list of successful defensemen who have come from the top of the second round and pluck a guy they like. If there isn’t one available, that’s okay, too, as the system already boasts an impressive number of quality defenders. For me, this is more of a “rich get richer” situation and would not be a priority.

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