Following a 29th place finish in 2010-11, the Colorado Avalanche were awarded the second overall selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft – their highest draft pick since the now-defunct Quebec Nordiques selected Eric Lindros with the first overall pick in 1991. A midseason trade with the St. Louis Blues saw general manager Greg Sherman acquire another early first-round selection. In addition to the two picks in the first, the Avalanche had just four more picks over the remaining six rounds.
In his third draft as Colorado's general manager, Sherman added three forwards, each of whom is capable of playing the wing, and three defensemen to the Avalanche's system.
Gabriel Landeskog, RW – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
1st round, 2nd overall
Height: 6'0 Weight: 207 lbs
With the second overall pick, the Avalanche opted to address their most glaring need, selecting right winger Gabriel Landeskog of the Kitchener Rangers. The 6'0, 207 pound Swede is a gritty, natural leader who plays hard at both ends of the ice and is nearly impossible to knock off of the puck. A late 1992 birth date made Landeskog ineligible for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, following a season in which he tallied 24 goals and 22 assists in 61 games, tacking on an additional 23 points in 20 postseason contests. The Rangers' captain followed up his rookie OHL campaign with 36 goals and 30 assists in 53 games in 2010-11, en route to being the highest drafted Swedish forward since Daniel Sedin was taken second overall in 1999.
The only uncertainty surrounding Landeskog at this point is whether or not he possesses the elite offensive skills necessary to produce in the NHL. Many of the goals he scored in major junior were of the drive-the-net variety, and he may find it difficult to achieve the same success playing against bigger, stronger defensemen at the professional level.
The feisty winger is arguably the only NHL-ready player from this year's draft class, and could start the season in Colorado if he impresses at training camp. With Landeskog's well-rounded skill-set, he could find himself playing on any of the Avs' four forward lines in 2011-12.
Ranked 10th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, Duncan Siemens has already suited up for 131 WHL games spread over three different seasons, despite being just 17 years old. The talented rearguard found the net five times and accumulated 38 assists in 72 games for the Saskatoon Blades in 2010-11, adding a plus-40 rating and 121 minutes in penalties.
Siemens is a calm, puck-moving defenseman with a nasty side and is easily one of the most well-rounded rearguards in the WHL. A strong skater, Siemens could stand to add a few pounds and needs to work on his shot if he is to factor in as an offensive defenseman at the next level.
We have likely seen just a fraction of what is to come from Siemens, as the big blueliner was one of the youngest eligible 2011 draft prospects, with a September 7th, 1993 birth date. If he continues to develop at such a rapid pace, Siemens could eventually join former Blades' defensive partner Stefan Elliott as a formidable pairing at the NHL level.
Joachim Nermark spent most of the 2010-11 campaign playing for Linkoping's under-20 team, registering eight goals and 18 assists in 37 contests. But he also got a taste of the pros and what it's like to play against men as he suited up for 12 games in the Elitserien, registering a single assist. The two-way forward is versatile, capable of playing either center or left wing and is noted for his strong defensive play. A great skater, Nermark's greatest offensive performance came during the 2010 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament when he captured the leading scoring honors with five goals and six assists in five games, en route to winning a bronze medal.
Nermark could stand to be more selfish, as he has been known to pass up on prime scoring opportunities by trying to create for others. He will likely spend another couple seasons in Sweden getting stronger and polishing up his game in the Elitserien before making the trip across the Atlantic to play for either the Avalanche or their AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters.
Garrett Meurs is a selfless, smooth-skating offensive right winger who plays the game with a bit of an edge. The diminutive Ripley, Ontario-native doesn't shy away from the corners and despite playing almost exclusively on the third line for the Plymouth Whalers this past season, he mustered 10 goals and 30 assists in 68 games.
Meurs' size is going to be an obstacle on his journey to the pros, as is stringing together a series of his best efforts on a consistent basis. His 10-goal performance this year was somewhat of a disappointment after putting forth a 16-goal campaign as a rookie in 2009-10. He had just 11 points his final 20 regular season games, and was virtually a non-factor in 11 postseason contests as he notched just three points.
With the St. Louis Blues' 2008 selection James Livingston all out of OHL eligibility, Meurs will get an opportunity next season on one of the Whalers' scoring lines, and could feasibly double his offensive totals. He is still at least a couple years away from challenging for a roster spot in the pros.
Gabriel Beaupre may have slipped from 131st to 199th between the NHL Central Scouting's midway and final rankings but that did not deter Greg Sherman and company from selecting the big, bruising rearguard in the sixth round. The imposing defender projects as a physical, stay-at-home blueliner, but is still a ways away in his development. Beaupre showed glimpses of an offensive side this season, racking up 18 points in 66 games after notching just 10 over the previous two seasons combined.
Beaupre needs to improve his skating and improve his positional play in his own end if he is to eventually crack a roster at the professional ranks. Playing on subpar Val d'Or Foreurs teams the last two seasons, Beaupre accumulated an abysmal minus-59 rating – a statistic that he will desperately need to improve over his next couple seasons of junior hockey.
Dillon Donnelly was just 15 years old when he was selected in the first round of the 2009 QMJHL draft by the Moncton Wildcats. Adjustment to major junior competition has been slow for the Amherst, New York-native, as the antagonizing defender has managed just one goal and nine assists over 114 QMJHL games split between three teams thus far. Donnelly is mostly known for being an enforcer, having ranked fifth in the QMJHL in 2010-11 with 153 penalty minutes.
In the past, Donnelly's drawn comparisons to Bryan Marchment, though he'd vastly need to improve his skating ability and play with the puck to achieve the same levels of success as the former NHLer. Like Duncan Siemens, Donnelly was also born on September 7th, 1993 making him just 17 years old. Donnelly is still very much a project and the Avalanche will take their time with the raw rearguard.