It’s been about 2 weeks since the Avalanche lost to the Stars in a dramatic 7 game series. But altogether, this season has been anything but a disappointment. It’s been somewhat of a surprise, to say the least. In fact, the biggest surprise comes from rookie scoring leader, Milan Hejduk. Before the season began, this kid was an unknown. I recall looking at the Avalanche Top 20 prospect lists here at Hockey’s Future, and at other websites, and nowhere was Milan Hejduk to be seen. I remember watching training camp in Colorado Springs, and asking myself, “Who is that guy?” Hejduk is an emigma no longer. In fact, he was a key playoff component on Colorado’s first line with Fleury and Sakic. As soon as he was injured, the production of that line flopped. We can always play the ‘What If’ game, but we can all bet that the Avs chances of winning the Cup would have been significantly greater had Hejduk not been injured. We all knew what to expect from Chris Drury, and he broke those expectation too. He deserves the Calder. One of the unsung heroes of the season is Dan Smith, who was called up early in the season to fill in for Colorado’s shambled and injury plagued defense. He did a better job than a call-up should have to do, and that will earn him some good points in training camp next season.
Regarding Free Agency, expect the team to lose Valeri Kamensky, despite his brilliant playoff performance. Other names expected to be lost are Sylvain LeFebvre and Alexei Gusarov. Trades: If Shean Donovan & Greg DiVries are still around come training camp, I’ll be surprised. The Avs are already in serious talks with Theo Fleury, and he has publicly stated that he would take less money to stay here and play with Sakic. Look for Theo and the Avs to be signed shortly after the Entry Draft. Claude Lemieux may be on his way out of Denver after a disapponting playoff, but it’s not likely, as he is a good playoff type of mentor for younger talent. Hopefully, he’ll leave out the “How to fracture someones face from behind” lesson out of his mentoring lesson.
If you are expecting to hear of an “imminent” trade involving Joe Sakic, think again. it would be insane for the Avs to trade Joe due to his playoff falloff in Dallas. I love hearing how those “so-called” experts say that the Avs should trade him for prospects or picks. Why would the Avs need more prospects or picks? The organization’s motto is “Win NOW”, and the Fleury trade shows that. Being realistic, the Avs wouldn’t trade Sakic for anything less than a top-notch defenseman along the lines of New Jersey’s Scott Neidermeyer, which isn’t likely ever going to happen. Even though Sakic will be an unrestricted FA at the end of the season. Look for Joe to end his career in Colorado in about three to four years, and be sure to look for a big #19 banner to be hanging from the rafters at the Pepsi Center someday.
The future is very promising for the Avs, as they have a great core of players to build with. The key question rests on the Avs defense. The Avs just simply aren’t very good at coming to terms with defenseman in the first round, as 1996 picks Peter Ratchuk (now with Florida) and 1997 pick Kevin Grimes (reentering in ’99 Draft) were passed upon. They also traded the rights to promising physical defender Robyn Reghyr to Calgary in the Fleury trade. There is good news, though, as the Avs have signed Barrie defenseman and 1998 1st rounder Martin Skoula, and expect him to be a contender for a 6th or 5th defenseman spot on next year’s squad. With the Avs scheduled to lose Sylvain Lefebvre (and, to a lesser extent, Alexei Gusarov) to free agency, there will be a need for some veteran talent on the blueline. Look for the Avs to try and target free agents Stephane Quintal or Mark Tinordi, or trade for Pittsburgh’s Kevin Hatcher or re-acquire Carolina’s Curtis Leschyshyn.
After losing Reghyr and both of the Belak brothers (Wade to Calgary, Graham to re-entry), look for the Avs to try and take a big physical defenseman among the lines of Ross Lupachuk or Barrett Jackman in the first round. However, if Steve McCarthy is still available, the Avs will surely jump upon that. If worst comes to worse, Martin Grenier or Andrew Carver would be a solid picks.
One of the real strengths of Colorado’s crop comes from it’s supply of forwards. It’s no secret that everyone expects former Moosehead’s forward Alex Tanguay to make the big club this season. He made the roster last season, but was unable to come to terms, and spent the rest of the season back in Halifax. Tanguay has since returned to Colorado this summer, and is now working with a physical trainer. Former QMJHL MVP Ramzi Abid has much to prove after a horrible training camp in the Springs last season. Quite simply, his skating was awful. If anyone was in Bob Hartley’s doghouse, it was Abid. Hopefully, with a successful season following a trade from Chicoutimi to league champion Acadie-Bathurst has improved his attitude and desire to play in the NHL. Samuel Pahlsson is another name to watch, as the Avs expect him to be a Niklas Sundstrom type of player. The wild cards of training camp could come from Hershey wingers Ville Nieminen, Evgeny Lazarev, and especially captain Brad Larsen. Bob Hartley really liked Larsen’s play and determination during camp last season.
In the draft, taking forwards should be a lesser priority, with the scouts expected to concentrate on defenseman. However, Colorado will probably go with safe forward picks, rather than chance some picks like they did with Lazarev and Ryazantsev last season. Look for them to take some players above 6’0 that could become essential 2nd/3rd liners, or players that can play utility roles, as both a forward and a defenseman. One name that keeps popping up is Halifax forward Samuel Seguin who is rated 111th. Expect his name to be called a little higher. While keeping tabs on Alex Tanguay’s post-concussion play in Halifax, scouts noticed Seguin’s play and were very impressed. Other such players that Colorado may be looking for are MSU’s Adam Hall, Cory Pecker of SSM, and Nick Greenough of Val D’Or.
Finally, Goaltending is the true gem of Colorado’s prospective talent. The truth is, they are almost overloaded in netminded talent. With harolded prospect Marc Denis set to take the backup spot to Patrick Roy following Craig Billington’s expected departure, the lead spot in Hershey will go to Swiss phenom David Aebischer. Aebischer’s stellar play in Hershey has been unexpected, and there is word that he may even challenge Denis for the backup position in Colorado, which is unlikely. Other prospects include Czech Petr Franek who had a great year in Hershey two seasons ago, and is now in the IHL, and Rimouski’s Phillipe Sauve.
In the upcoming draft, goaltending will not be a priority position with Colorado, as they feel they have more than enough depth. However, in the later rounds, the philosophy is to always take the best player possible, so look for Colorado to take a shot at a netminder in the later rounds. They did in ’97 with Aebischer, and they are quite better for it. Such a selection only showcases the quality scouting that Colorado possesses.
As I have stated previously, the Avs have a wealth of talent that is the envy of the league. The real issue is that the team has all-star laden line up that ensures that only the best make it too the team. Can all of these prospects make it to Colorado? Not likely, as the talent pool is very crowded with the big club. But this wealth ensures that Colorado will be a major force in not only the Western Conference, but the entire league for years to come.