Colorado Avalanche 2015 NHL Draft Preview

By Chau Vo
Conner Bleackley - Colorado Avalanche

Photo: Colorado Avalanche prospect Conner Bleackley served as captain for the Red Deer Rebels for the last two seasons, and was Colorado’s first round pick (23rd overall) at the 2014 NHL Draft (courtesy of Derek Leung/Getty Images)

 

 

For the fourth time in six years, the Colorado Avalanche will be selecting in the top ten at the NHL Draft. Despite a late surge to attempt to salvage their season, the team could not overcome their poor start to make back-to-back postseason appearances.

The Avalanche are led by a strong group of forwards revered for their combination of speed and skills. Down the pipeline, there is a dearth of forward prospects projected to make an impact at the NHL level. With that in mind, the front office duo of Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy have dramatically increased their scouting in Europe to see which overlooked players can be brought in for additional depth. However, only so much can be accomplished with free agent signings.

The tenth overall pick will most likely be used to select a power forward with skills to keep up with the Avalanche’s top playmakers. Roy has gone on record to say he believes the team must get bigger and more skilled if they are to keep up with the top teams in the Western Conference.

Top 10 Prospects

1. Chris Bigras, D
2. Calvin Pickard, G

3. Conner Bleackley, C/RW
4. Duncan Siemens, D
5. Dennis Everberg, LW

6. Stefan Elliott, D

7. Mason Geertsen, D

8. Joey Hishon, C
9. Will Butcher, D
10. Kyle Wood, D

Team Needs

The Avalanche are without a doubt one of the more exciting offensive teams in the league. Led by captain Gabriel Landeskog and premier playmaker Matt Duchene, the top two lines spearhead the team’s attack night in and night out.

As good as the team is offensively, opponents are able to pick the Avalanche apart due to their subpar defensive group. Despite their defense lacking credibility for quite some time now, the Avalanche have not been able to fill out their ranks with homegrown talent. Out of the seven defensemen who played the most games last season, only Tyson Barrie was drafted and developed by the Avalanche.

Organizational Strengths

For over half a decade, the Avalanche have gotten by with a mediocre, at best, group of defensemen. With the acquisition of Erik Johnson and emergence of Barrie, the right side has been the anchor of the blueline for two seasons now but the left side is still in desperate need of help. Other free agent signings and trades have not been effective at improving the defense.

Luckily for the Avalanche, the left side of the defense represents the organization’s strength when it comes to prospects. Chris Bigras and Mason Geertsen made their professional debuts late last season with the Lake Erie Monsters – the former AHL affiliate of the Avalanche – and will only benefit from a full season of development at the minor league level. Duncan Siemens, the Avalanche’s eleventh overall pick from the 2011 draft, has already spent two full seasons in the AHL with one NHL call up. The trio will surely be battling against each other to see who will get the first promotion of this upcoming season.

Further down the ladder, Will Butcher and Kyle Wood have yet to graduate to the next level of hockey but they do show a lot of promise. Butcher will be the top defenseman next season for the University of Denver Pioneers in his junior season. With his new role, he will be expected to play tougher minutes as well as increase his points total from when he was playing in a more secondary role. Likewise, Wood will try to stay healthy for two seasons in a row for the North Bay Battalion of the OHL as he will be looked upon to assume more leadership within the team.

Organizational Weaknesses

The biggest need in the prospect pool does not reflect the biggest strength at the NHL level for the Avalanche. With many of their best prospects immediately making the jump to the NHL level after being drafted, there are big gaps to fill. Specifically, with prospects who can fill in the top-nine forward positions. There are two who were drafted by the Avalanche that stand out above all the others but their future is hazy.

Conner Bleackley, who is viewed as the top offensive prospect for the Avalanche, is the most recent first round draft pick but is still in the early developmental stage of his career. At this point, it is looking like he will play out his junior eligibility before making the jump to the professional level.

Joey Hishon has made significant progress following an injury sustained in junior hockey that sidelined him for nearly two full seasons. It is unclear how he fits into the team’s long term plans if at all. If the philosophy for the club going forward is to get bigger and more physical, Hishon may have to look elsewhere for his NHL aspirations.

Draft Tendencies

In December of 2014, former Avalanche head scout Rick Pracey was fired by the team. While the reasons were never publically disclosed, it was assumed his draft performance left a lot to be desired, with the poor state of the prospect pool being the biggest indicator.

Pracey was a big proponent of drafting out of North America, specifically the OHL and WHL, with his early picks. He did make several European selections but they were reserved for the later rounds. Pracey also favored puck skills over size when it came to drafting, a direction Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy did not want to continue toward after they saw how the rosters of the other Western Conference powerhouses were constructed.

Moving forward, there has been no formal announcement as to who will step up to take over Pracey’s old position but it appears Alan Hepple, the current Assistant Director of Amateur Scouting, is the most likely candidate. Regardless of who will become the next head scout, Roy has made it clear he wants to get bigger and more skilled at both ends of the ice. He is also not afraid to look overseas to see who is available in Europe and he will certainly not be afraid to delve into the depths of the QMJHL where he used to coach junior hockey with the Quebec Remparts.

Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft Results

10. Lawson Crouse, LW, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

As the most polarizing prospect in this year’s draft class, Lawson Crouse would be happy to know his fit with the Avalanche is nearly perfect. Crouse is not one of the premier playmakers available in the draft but he provides dependable two-way play with many intangibles. His best fit is in a support role where he is not counted on as the primary points-getter.

Crouse’s NHL-readiness is said to be above that of everyone else in his draft class outside of the highly -touted duo of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. The results from the fitness portion of the NHL combine only further cemented that fact. In addition to being physically ready for the long and grueling 82-game season, Crouse’s defensive game is above-average and will help him earn a spot on an NHL roster for the 2015-16 season.

Crouse was part of Team Canada’s gold medal winning WJC team in the 2015 tournament. In seven games, he scored one goal and assisted on two others for three points. Prior to the tournament, he was selected to play in the 2014 Subway Super Series for the OHL All-Stars.

Nicknamed “The Sheriff” for his protective role for the Frontenacs, Crouse had a total of five fights in the 2014-15 OHL season. On the score sheet, he scored 51 points in 56 games but was at over a point-per-game for the last part of the season after the return of linemate Sam Bennett (CGY).

Follow Chau Vo on Twitter via @chowdersoop