The Colorado Avalanche have a heavy presence in the QMJHL

By Chau Vo
Nicolas Meloche - Colorado Avalanche

Photo: Avalanche prospect and Baie-Comeau blueliner Nicolas Meloche plays a hard-nosed but skilled style, making him a valuable part of a versatile and underrated defensive group in the Colorado pipeline (courtesy of Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)

 

 

Out of the Colorado Avalanche’s nine prospects playing junior hockey, five play in the QMJHL and all were drafted in the last two years.

For the first time in team history, the Avalanche left an entry draft without selecting any players from the WHL or OHL. Head coach Patrick Roy’s emphasis on targeting players from Europe and Quebec is a complete reversal from the previous regime’s preference and is just one of many philosophical differences in how he wants to run the organization with General Manager Joe Sakic.


QMJHL

Julien Nantel, LW, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
Acquired: 7th round (204th overall), 2014

The Laval native is in his third full season of junior hockey and all three seasons have been spent with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. He is currently fifth in team scoring with 27 points in 30 games and is on pace with his scoring rate from last season. A speedy winger with a strong wrist shot, Nantel’s ability to generate lots of shots is a big reason why the Huskies sit first overall in the QMJHL.

Alexis Pepin, LW, Val d’Or Foreurs
Acquired: 4th round (114th overall), 2014

As Pepin approaches the end of his junior hockey career he is attempting to shed the label as a lazy and uninterested player. The Avalanche have worked hard to change his off-ice habits and the results are starting to show. Pepin’s upward trend and changing attitude make him a good candidate for earning an entry-level contract at the end of this season. He has 12 goals and 11 assists in 30 games for the Foreurs. Though the stat is of limited value, it is interesting to note that his -8 rating is by some distance the worst on the team, which has only three players in the negative.

Jean-Christophe Beaudin, C/RW, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
Acquired: 3rd round (71st overall), 2015

Beaudin is arguably the Avalanche’s best forward prospect playing junior hockey. Last season, his first full season in the QMJHL, he scored 53 points in 68 games. If he keeps his current pace up, he will easily surpass that total by the end of January. Beaudin is not just an offensive threat, he is dependable away from the puck and in his own zone as well. A testament to his all-around capabilities, Beaudin has seen time in all situations including the power play and penalty kill. He also sits among the team leaders in faceoffs, both in number taken and percentage won.

Nicolas Meloche, D, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Acquired: 2nd round (40th overall), 2015

Meloche is flying under the radar in the QMJHL because he plays for a historically bad Drakkar team. He is a prime candidate to be traded because of the assets he could bring back for Drakkar even if he still has one more season of junior hockey after this year. A two-way defenseman with a nasty streak, Meloche generates more shots per game than any other defensemen in the QMJHL and has 16 points in 25 games. The defenseman who plays a tough game is out currently with a suspected concussion.

Sergei Boikov, D, Drummondville Voltigeurs
Acquired: 6th round (161st overall), 2015

A big defenseman known for his consistent play in his own end, Boikov is on pace to surpass his points total from last season very soon. Boikov grew up playing youth hockey in Russia but joined Drummondville for the 2013-14 season to get acquainted with North American hockey and make his NHL dreams come true. He has a good chance to play for Team Russia in the upcoming 2016 World Juniors tournament held in Helsinki, Finland.

OHL

Nick Magyar, RW, Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: 4th round (93rd overall), 2014

Magyar broke his ankle at the start of the season just three games in and was sidelined for over a month. Upon his return to the Rangers, Magyar saw his role diminished with the team’s acquisition of prized forward Jeremy Bracco from NCAA hockey. Magyar had a promising rookie season that saw him earn a selection by the Avalanche in the 2014 NHL entry draft, but his disappointing sophomore season and lack of production so far this year (four points in 12 games) will make it hard for him to earn an entry-level contract from the team that drafted him. His best hopes of resuscitating his hockey career would be a trade out of Kitchener and somewhere he can play top-line minutes.

Kyle Wood, D, North Bay Battalion
Acquired: 3rd round (84th overall), 2014

Luck has not been on the side of Avalanche OHL prospects and Wood has also missed a big chunk of this season while recovering from off-season wrist surgery. Wood is the Battalion’s number one defenseman and plays in all situations. He is big in stature at 6’5 and 220-pounds but moves the puck well. Since returning, he has eight points in ten games and the Battalion are in a good position to overtake the Erie Otters for first in the OHL’s Midwest Division.

WHL

Gustav Olhaver, LW, Seattle Thunderbirds
Acquired: 7th round (191st overall), 2015

Shortly after being drafted by the Avalanche this summer, Olhaver quickly signed on to play with the Thunderbirds who picked him 44th overall in the 2015 CHL Import Draft. Olhaver is a big forward who is still adjusting to life in North America but the Thunderbirds have made him a part of their power play by planting his 6’6 and 215-pound frame in front of opposing goaltenders. He has four points in 28 games playing a bottom-six role for the team.

Conner Bleackley, C, Red Deer Rebels
Acquired: 1st round (23rd overall), 2014

Two issues plagued Bleackley’s return to the Rebels earlier this year: the lack of a contract offer from the Avalanche and being stripped of his captaincy in the same year Red Deer is set to host the Memorial Cup Tournament. If he is not signed to a contract by the end of this season, he will re-enter the 2016 NHL draft.

The on-record reasons for Bleackley’s loss of the ‘C’ was to alleviate the pressure on the young forward so he could concentrate on his game. His offense hasn’t progressed at the pace expected from a first round draft pick but his game remains the same. He is a defensive forward whose strong shot makes him a consistent presence on the power play. Bleackley is third in team scoring with 23 points in 30 games.

Top performing non-junior prospects

The Avalanche’s top two prospects, Chris Bigras and Mikko Rantanen, are taking the AHL by storm in their first seasons.

Bigras, one of the top defenders for the San Antonio Rampage, plays in all situations for the team and has 12 points in 25 games. Rantanen is the team’s top scorer with 22 points in 18 games.

Prospect of the Month

mikko_rantanen_colorado_1Mikko Rantanen could have taken his demotion to the AHL the wrong way but instead he seized the opportunity and made an immediate impact upon his arrival in Texas. He never got a fair look in his six games with the Avalanche, averaging less than ten minutes a game playing with linemates with limited offensive potential.

Joe Sakic cleared Rantanen to play for Team Finland in the upcoming WJC tournament, where his presence adds to the sense that the host nation is a medal favorite.  Rantanen is also making a strong case to be recalled by the Avalanche if he continues to dominate the AHL.