The Colorado Avalanche’s top five prospects are as good as any other team’s in the league but after fifth-ranked Nicolas Meloche the level of talent begins to wane and big question marks appear. The front office targeted defense as a weakness a few years ago, putting emphasis on improving that area at the expense of the forward group. The lack of success in the mid- to late-rounds has not helped the team’s situation.
General manager Joe Sakic was busy this trade deadline shipping off prospects and draft picks for immediate reinforcement for his NHL squad. Colin Smith, Conner Bleackley, and Kyle Wood were victims of this year’s deadline. Smith and a fourth-round pick went to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Shawn Matthias, while Wood and Bleackley were part of the package for Mikkel Boedker.
Bleackley, the Avalanche’s first pick in 2014 (23rd overall), has had some tough years in Red Deer since being drafted and the Arizona Coyotes are not likely to qualify him, opting instead for a compensatory second-round pick in the 2016 Draft.
Although Wood was selected two rounds after Bleackley in the same draft, his value as a prospect is higher. Wood boasts a combination of size and puck-moving abilities in addition to his coveted right-hand shot. He is the top defenseman for his junior team, the North Bay Battalion, and one of the best offensive-defenseman in the OHL.
The loss of the three prospects undoubtedly hurts the depth of the Avalanche’s prospect pool but Sakic has his eyes set on the present rather than future. Whether or not the moves made this year will pay off with a playoff bid remains to be seen as the Avalanche fight for a Western Conference wild card spot.
20. (NR) Alexis Pepin, LW, 6.5D
Drafted 4th round, 114th overall, 2014
As his junior hockey career winds down, Pepin’s value as a prospect is starting to trend up. His skill set would have made him a good pick in earlier rounds of the 2014 draft but questions about his work ethic and off-ice habits caused him to drop to the fourth round. The team used rookie training camps in Denver to educate Pepin on proper diet and nutrition and he has made strides in those areas.
Playing for the second-best team in the QMJHL, the Val d’Or Foreurs, Pepin has 43 points in 57 games. He will get an extended look beyond the regular season as the Foreurs are favorites to go far in this year’s QMJHL playoffs. After that, it remains unknown whether the Avalanche front office view him as an ELC-worthy candidate.
19. (19) Anton Lindholm, D, 6.5D
Drafted 5th round, 144th overall, 2014
Lindholm is not noticeable when he is on the ice but he plays a safe and reliable game – attributes that helped him get to the top level of professional hockey in Sweden at the age of 18. So far, Lindholm has over 100 combined playoff and regular season games in the SHL.
Playing for his hometown team, Skelleftea AIK, it will be hard to pry Lindholm away from Sweden unless he has a good shot at making the NHL team within a few years. With the plethora of defensive prospects already in North America and playing minor-professional, the blue line may be too crowded in San Antonio for the Swede.
18. (NR) Sami Aittokallio, G, 6.5D
Drafted 4th round, 107th overall, 2010
Aittokallio spent three years in North America where he failed to secure an NHL job and saw his AHL job lost to former teammate Calvin Pickard. The organization and player agreed it was best to sign a contract to maintain his rights and allow him to be loaned Karpat, a top club in the Liiga. With the help of Aittokallio, Karpat has maintained their place among the top teams in Finland’s tier-1 professional league. Karpat and Aittokallio will look to defend their championship title as the playoffs begin this month.
In 32 appearances, Aittokallio boasts a save percentage of .921 and GAA of 1.93.
17. (20) Julien Nantel, LW, 6.5D
Drafted 7th round, 204th overall, 2014
Consistency was the biggest knock against Nantel two years ago but for the past two seasons he has flirted with a point-per-game pace in the QMJHL. Nantel plays on a deep Rouyn-Noranda Huskies squad where his 42 points is eighth in team scoring. He plays in all situations for the Huskies and has an excellent shot. To not offer Nantel a entry-level contract would be a travesty as his two-way game and work ethic would be a great addition in San Antonio next season, especially after losing Bleackley.
16. (17) Troy Bourke, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 72nd overall, 2012
Bourke’s second professional season is not going much better than his first as he is constantly on the outside looking in when it comes to choice linemates. He spent much of this season on the third and fourth lines and his lack of production forced the team to send him down to the Fort Wayne Comets of the ECHL. For the Komets, Bourke put up 11 points in nine games. In 42 games for the Rampage, Bourke has two goals and six assists for eight points.
15. (12) Joey Hishon, C, 7.0D
Drafted 1st round, 17th overall, 2010
The clock is ticking on Hishon’s future with the Avalanche and this may be his final season in the organization. Drafted 17th overall back in 2010, Hishon spent two years sidelined with concussion symptoms after being on the receiving end of an illegal hit to the head that ended his junior hockey career. After returning to hockey in late 2013, he displayed flashes of skill that showed why he was a first round pick and earned himself 16 games in the NHL. However, the lack of improvement in his two-way game makes him a liability as a bottom-six forward and his inconsistency does not allow him to be played in the top-six at the NHL level.
He is still one of the top forwards for the Rampage with 35 points in 50 games but with the center depth on the Avalanche, Hishon will have to look elsewhere if he wants another shot at the NHL.
14. (NR) Brandon Gormley, D, 6.0B
Acquired via trade with Arizona, September 2015
In a prospect-for-prospect swap, former 13th overall pick Gormley was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes for former Avalanche prospect Stefan Elliott. Gormley was once touted as a possible top-five pick in the 2010 draft but fell to the mid-round where the Coyotes thought they got a steal. As he transitioned from junior hockey to professional hockey, the holes in his game widened and new holes appeared. The Coyotes were desperate enough for help on the blue line that they called him up in two separate stints but Gormley failed to show any sign of improvement and was traded to the Avalanche who hoped the change of scenery would resuscitate his career.
After registering only one assist in 26 games for the Avalanche, Gormley was put on waivers and subsequently sent down to the Rampage. In 23 games for the Rampage, Gormley has one goal and one assist. His contract is up at the end of this season and there is little reason the Avalanche will re-sign him with their depth on the blue line.
13. (NR) Andreas Martinsen, RW, 6.0B
Acquired via free agency, May 2015
The hard-hitting Norwegian got off to a quick start with 44 games for the Avalanche but saw his game slide as the season went on. Martinsen contributed eight points in those 44 games but became a liability defensively which was the biggest reason for his demotion to the Rampage.
12. (13) Spencer Martin, G, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 63rd overall, 2013
Any goaltender that puts on a Mississauga Steelheads jersey will have big shoes to fill thanks to Spencer Martin. For two and a half seasons, Martin was arguably the Steelheads’ best player, and the team rode him to back-to-back playoff appearances. Last season, when he went down with a season-ending injury, they missed the playoffs for the first time in their short history.
This year, Martin began his professional hockey career with the Fort Wayne Komets in the ECHL and has seen playing time with the Rampage as well. His first season has been rocky to say the least but Martin has the ability to bounce back next year and contend for an AHL spot.
11. (14) AJ Greer, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 39th overall, 2015
Halfway through this season, Greer made the decision to end his NCAA hockey career and continue his development with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the QMJHL. Greer was unhappy with his playing time and usage with Boston University. So far, the move has seemingly paid off. Greer got off to a slow start with the Huskies but his pace has since picked up. He has 21 points in 28 games and will be a big part of their forward group as they get set to begin playoffs and a chance at the Memorial Cup.