It’s a time of transition for the Avalanche. The old guard led by Joe Sakic is starting to fade out and the future led by young, star center Paul Stastny will be expected to take an even more prominent role next season. With a new coaching staff, and a new general manager, the future of many Avalanche players may be up in the air.
The 2009 draft will be the first time in franchise history that the Avalanche select in the top five of the NHL entry draft. They currently hold the No. 3 pick.
Top 10 prospects
1. Kevin Shattenkirk, D
2. Chris Stewart, RW
3. Nigel Williams, D
4. Ryan Stoa, C
5. Kyle Cumiskey, D
6. Colby Cohen, D
7. T.J. Galiardi, C
8. Cameron Gaunce, D
9. Kelsey Tessier, C
10. Trevor Cann, G
Additions are needed in every position on the Avalanche roster. Goaltending remains a huge question mark going into next season. The Avalanche are currently one of four teams in the hunt to land highly sought after Swedish free agent Jonas Gustavsson. Should they sign him, they will still require a cheap, quality veteran backup who can play a supporting role to the young netminder and possibly play as many as 40 games should Gustavsson falter. Prospect Tyler Weiman should also be chomping at the bit for a chance to steal one of the two vacant goaltending positions if Gustavsson signs elsewhere.
As Sakic nears the end of his illustrious career, the Avalanche will need to start to plan ahead in order to cushion the offensive blow that he will leave. The top six under contract for next season is shaping up to be fairly strong on paper. Ryan Smyth, Milan Hejduk, Paul Stastny, Wojtek Wolski and to a lesser extent Marek Svatos all provide solid primary and secondary offense. The Avalanche will hope that one of Chris Stewart, T.J. Hensick or T.J. Galiardi will be a surprise player next season and break out offensively, but they’ll need to solidify their top six before the start of next season if they hope to climb out of the bottom five.
What the Avalanche do have in their forward ranks is grit. With Darcy Tucker, David Jones, Cody McLeod, Ben Guite, Chris Stewart, Ryan Smyth the Avalanche have a good group of hard-working forwards. The likely departure of Ian Laperierre and Tyler Arnason will leave spots open for the Avalanche to bring in more youthful vibrancy. They’ll need to shop for a third-line shut-down forward who can skate with the league’s best and may see the addition of Ryan Stoa to the forward ranks should he impress in training camp.
The Avalanche defense leaves something to be desired. Although they had a good display from a handful of rookies, none are expected to jump up and steal a roster spot. With the majority of last season’s defensive core locked up for at least another season, Adam Foote, Scott Hannan, John-Michael Liles, Ruslan Salei, Brett Clark and Kyle Cumiskey are all expected back unless trades are made. The immediate need on defense would be a more prolific offensive defender. Behind Liles, Cumiskey has yet to establish himself as a mainstay in the line-up and has questionable durability. They should be active in the search to add a top-four defender at a cap-friendly price but that’s easier said than done.
The strength in the Avalanche system stems from their defensive depth. The Avalanche had four different defensive rookies seeing action this season as injury replacements. The 21-year-old Nigel Williams is still rough around the edges but has shown promise with the Lake Erie Monsters. In the college ranks they have highly-touted defensive prospects Kevin Shattenkirk and Colby Cohen patrolling the blue line for Boston University. Cameron Gaunce has proven to be one of the top all-around defenders in the OHL this season and was rewarded with an NHL entry-level contract. He’s unlikely to crack the Avalanche roster as it stands today but will get a long hard look. Jonas Holos is making noise over in Europe and took to the big stage playing for Norway at the World Championships.
The most pressing need in the Avalanche system is quality goaltenders. Both Trevor Cann and Peter Delmas are still young but haven’t stood out. With Cann likely heading to the pros next season after signing an entry-level deal with the Avalanche and Delmas joining Patrick Roy’s Remparts, both players will have clean slates to prove their worth within the system.
There are also no standout forwards among the current group of Avalanche prospects. Stoa and Galiardi both have the offensive talent to be top-six players, but the group is thin behind them.
With a new regime taking over in Colorado recently, the draft tendencies may change but the Avalanche have had the tendency to pick American-born players. Since 2005, the Avalanche have made 31 selections and 17 have been from leagues across the U.S.
Last season saw a lot of talent selected by the Avalanche out of the CHL, specifically the QMJHL. Four out of their seven selections were from the CHL.
The Avalanche have also stayed away from European picks with only three Europeans selected since 2005, and when they were picked, they were selected in the late stages of the draft. None were Russian.
Hockey’s Future staff mock draft selection: No. 3 – Matt Duchene, C (Brampton, OHL)
With the third overall selection, the Avalanche are in a prime position to be drafting a future great in Matt Duchene. Duchene displays great skill on the ice and great character off it. With dynamic speed and strong two-way ability, Duchene is able to play in all key situations and is a threat every time he steps onto the ice. He has a great set of offensive skills both in scoring and playmaking. He has strong balance which makes him hard to knock off the puck. He’s the ideal pick at the third selection and, should he develop, will be a great one-two punch with Stastny.