Colorado Avalanche look shrewd after drafting Chris Stewart in 2006

By John Canario
Photo: Drafted in the first round, Chris Stewart has been one of the top performers for the Avalanche over the past two seasons and is instrumental in their recent success. (Photo courtesy of www.ontariohockeyleague.com)

Nearly five years removed from the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, former Colorado Avalanche general manager Francois Giguere and his scouting staff can look back fondly on the moderately successful job that they did. In a deep talent pool, the Avalanche had to wait until the second half of the first round before they could make their mark and with the 18th overall pick, they did just that. Giguere and company selected a current NHL star, a trio of players who could eventually see time in the NHL if they continue to develop, and just a pair of busts.

Chris Stewart, RW, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL) – 1st round, 18th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 155


Half a decade later, Chris Stewart has justified his first-round selection in the 2006 draft. After posting a second consecutive 80-plus point campaign with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs in 2006-07, Avalanche management felt their big right winger was ready for a new challenge. Stewart answered the call, notching 25 goals and 19 assists in 77 games as a rookie for Colorado’s AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters.

Conditioning was the only glaring weakness in the strong-skating, slick stick-handler’s game, but his knack for finding the net became difficult to ignore. Just 19 games into his second season with the Monsters, Stewart was called up to the Avalanche, and aside from two games to start the 2009-10 season following a disappointing training camp and a weight issue, Stewart has not returned to the AHL.

An offensive force, NHL defenders have had difficulty shutting the big power forward down. With a recent dedication to physical fitness and nutrition, Stewart is primed for a long and prosperous career in the NHL.


Nigel Williams, D, U.S. NTDP – 2nd round, 51st overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Nigel Williams knows a thing or two about moving. In less than five years, the 6-foot-4 rearguard has skated for six different hockey teams. Somewhat of a raw prospect when drafted in 2006, Williams initially had plans to hone his craft at the collegiate level. After just a single game of NCAA hockey during his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin, Williams dropped out and headed west to join the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL, who held his rights after selecting him in the 2005 OHL Priority Selection. Williams spent one and a half seasons with the Spirit before being traded to the Belleville Bulls where he was a big part of the 2007-08 team that won the Bobby Orr Trophy, given annually to the OHL’s Eastern Conference Champions. With 32 goals and 50 assists in 113 games over two OHL seasons, Williams was beginning to blossom offensively and the blueliner was subsequently promoted to the AHL ranks the following season.

Williams had a very respectable rookie AHL season in 2008-09, leading all Monsters’ defensemen in goals (7) and points (21), but following a third straight year of defense-heavy drafting, newly hired general manager Greg Sherman viewed Williams as expendable and sent the promising young prospect to the New York Rangers in exchange for Brian Fahey. Williams experienced similar success playing for the Rangers’ AHL-affiliated Hartford Wolfpack in 2009-10. After 12 games with the Wolfpack this season, he was acquired by the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Stu Bickell. Williams has posted just two assists for the Ducks’ AHL-affiliated Syracuse Crunch in 20 games since the trade.

While the future looks bleak based on his recent play, Williams could argue that no team has kept him around long enough for him to get comfortable and make a lasting impact. A blend of size and offensive skill on the back-end is somewhat of a rarity, and if Williams can get back to his scoring ways he could find himself playing in the NHL one day.


Codey Burki, C, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) – 2nd round, 59th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

After posting 61 and 85-point campaigns in his final two years of WHL-eligibility with the Brandon Wheat Kings, Codey Burki appeared ready for the rigors of the bigger, faster AHL for the start of the 2007 season.

Mired in a three-year long slump that included frequent call-ups and demotions to and from the AHL and ECHL, and a season-ending concussion, Burki was not re-signed by the Avalanche when his contract expired last summer. The former highly-touted junior star now finds himself playing professionally in Switzerland and unless his teenage scoring touch magically returns, he is not a threat to crack an NHL or AHL roster.


Michael Carman, C, U.S. NTDP – 3rd round, 81st overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Michael Carman, a defenseman-converted-pivot, is an interesting prospect. With his roots on the blue line, Carman has a strong skating stride, moves the puck well and is adept in his own end. Surprisingly, he is also quite skilled in the faceoff circle, and while Carman has not seemed out of place playing for Lake Erie, he has yet to show enough ability to suggest that he will crack Colorado’s roster in the near future. A two-way center at the University of Minnesota for four years, Carman is now simply regarded as a penalty-killer and a shutdown player at the AHL ranks. The Monsters’ rookie has nine goals and four assists in 45 games so far in 2010-11.

Kevin Montgomery, D, U.S. NTDP – 4th round, 110th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The pickings were slim by the time the fourth round had rolled around in 2006, but the Avalanche did well in selecting the 6-foot-2, two-way defenseman from Rochester, New York. Like Nigel Williams, Montgomery opted to stay for only part of his freshman year at the collegiate level before deciding the OHL was a better fit for him. He eventually headed north of the border to join the London Knights. Montgomery followed up a mediocre rookie OHL season with an impressive 43-point total in 2007-08, and tacked on another 36 points in 46 games in 2008-09, which was his final year of junior hockey.

With just seven points and a minus-18 rating, Montgomery struggled through a rocky 2009-10 season on a young Monsters’ team that finished the season ranked 25th out of 29 teams. After releasing some of their more veteran defensemen last summer, the Monsters decided to hand over the reigns to some of their younger defensive prospects and Montgomery has been the primary benefactor of the increased ice-time and responsibility. Montgomery leads all Monsters
‘ defensemen this year with 16 points in 37 games, and was even called up by the Avalanche on an emergency basis, though he did not suit up for any games. If injuries take their toll on Colorado’s blue line down the stretch, Montgomery is sure to be among the Avs’ best replacement options.


Billy Sauer, G, Michigan (CCHA) – 7th round, 201st overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Described as an athletic but somewhat raw netminder when drafted back in 2006, Billy Sauer has seen varying levels of success in each season since. After amassing an impressive 71-30-8 record at the University of Michigan between 2005 and 2009, Sauer spent a frustrating 2009-10 hockey season between the Monsters and four different ECHL teams.

It is difficult to call a seventh round pick a bust, especially considering Sauer is playing fairly well for the Gwinnett Gladiators of the ECHL, but he is not currently the property of the Avalanche or any other NHL team, and thus, his NHL outlook appears bleak.