1. Vaclav Nedorost, C, Hershey (AHL), 19 yrs old, Drafted 14th Overall in ’00
Comments: Four or five months ago, Vaclav Nedorost was clearly the obvious choice as the number one prospect in the Colorado organization. However, Nedorost is still number one but this probably was the toughest decision out of all the rankings. It’s not that Nedorost has done anything to hurt his position at number one, but it’s the players below him that have been rising up the charts pretty quickly. Nonetheless, Vaclav Nedorost has all the makings of a potential superstar. After having a solid season last year in the Czech Republic, highlighted by winning a gold medal with the Czechs at the 2001 World Junior Championships, Nedorost became a very wealthy man in the summer when he signed with the Avalanche. Vaclav came to camp ready to compete hard and win a job in Colorado, and he did just that. With Peter Forsberg sitting at home in Sweden, Nedorost got a chance on the top line and he didn’t disappoint. In his first NHL game Vaclav was playing on a line with Milan Hejduk and Joe Sakic as the Avalanche squared off against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh. Nedorost delivered early and often, registering a goal and an assist in helping the Avalanche to a 3-1 victory.
A two-way center who has been compared to a poor man’s Peter Forsberg, Nedorost would be the top prospect in most team’s organizations. He’s an excellet skater with good vision and hockey sense, and is also very responsible defensively. He has a ton of offensive ability although he has not been known as a goal scorer. As he becomes more accustom to North America and the NHL, expect him to find his niche offensively and become a solid all around player. After a quick start for the Avalanche, Nedorost started to hit the wall as most players do in their rookie seasons. In 20 games, the 19 year old center registered 2 goals, 2 assists and 2 penalty minutes. The Avalanche assigned the young center to the Hershey Bears of the AHL, where has has played well. There’s a chance he could be back in Colorado this season, but right now I expect him to see some more time in the minors in order to continue to develop.
2. Radim Vrbata, RW, Colorado (NHL), 20 yrs old, Drafted 212th Overall in ’99
Comments: There’s only one word to describe the rapid improvement over the last few months of Radim Vrbata: Wow! In only a period of a few months, Vrbata has gone from dominating junior hockey to dominating the AHL and now dominating the NHL. I think he has definitely increased his stock tremendously, and I was very tempted to give him the number one ranking. It was extremely close, but Nedorost edged out Vrbata by a small margin. After signing a contract with the Avalanche last year, Radim came to camp and put up a very strong performance. However, Colorado wanted Vrbata to go down to the minors and adapt to the pro game while seeing a ton of ice time, rather than wasting his potential on the fourth line in Colorado. After 18 games in Hershey, where he led the team and all rookies in the AHL with 21 points, Vrbata got the call he was waiting for on November 20th.
That very night, Vrbata suited up for his first NHL game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. As was the case with Nedorost, head coach Bob Hartley put Vrbata on the top line with Joe Sakic and Milan Hejduk in search of some more offense. The Avalanche wound up losing the game 5-3, but Vrbata played an excellent game and registered two assists. The very next night the team was on Long Island to take on the Islanders, and Vrbata followed up his 2 assist performance with another strong game, scoring his 1st NHL goal and adding two more assists. The Avalanche lost again, but they were clearly happy with the play of Radim Vrbata. With 5 points in 2 games, Vrbata all but guaranteed himself a spot on the Avalanche for a little while longer. Fast forward to 11 more games, and Radim has continued to put up points offensively. Through 13 games, the 20 year old winger has 4 goals and 8 assists while registering a +2 rating.
The quick start may be surprising to some, but not to me. Vrbata is a pure offensive player and a highly skilled one too. He has very soft hands and good stickhandling skills. He is also blessed with a great deal of speed and excellent vision, which is rare for a 20 year old. He is deadly around the net and should have no problem continuing as an offensive weapon for the Avalanche in the future. The sky is the limit for this young Czech.
3. Mikhail Kuleshov, LW, Hershey (AHL), 20 yrs old, Drafted 25th Overall in ’99
Comments: Kuleshov has been a bit of an enigma over the last few years, but he is starting to play up to his potential. The Avalanche orginally drafted him in the 1st Round (25th Overall) of the 1999 Draft. When the selection was made, Colorado new they were taking a high risk, boom or bust prospect. After a few years of battling with injuries and lack of ice time back home in Russia, Kuleshov signed with the Avalanche last year and played in 3 games with the Hershey Bears at the end of the season, and 11 games during the playoffs. Mikhail didn’t produce much, 0 points in 3 regular season games and 1 goal in 11 playoff games, however it was clear by watching him play that you could see the high level of skill that he possesses. A shifty skater with a smooth stride, Kuleshov has excellent offensive instincts and ability. He impressed Colorado during the pre-season this year, which included a 2 goal game for Kuleshov against the Dallas Stars and Ed Belfour. Through 25 games with Hershey this season, the young Russian has 4 goals and 13 assists along with 17 penalty minutes. He still needs another season or two in the minors, but at this point it seems as though Kuleshov could have a solid offensive career in the NHL.
4. Jordan Krestanovich, LW, Hershey (AHL), 20 yrs old, Drafted 152nd Overall in ’99
Comments: Originally selected in the 5th Round (152nd overall) of the 1999 Entry Draft, Krestanovich has come a long way and is now considered a very good prospect. After registering 43 points in 72 games for the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL during the 1999-00 season, Krestanovich exploded last season with 40 goals and 100 points in 70 games. Jordan came to training camp this September and performed well, but it was clear the youngster needed some time to adapt to professional hockey, so he was assigned to Hershey of the AHL. Through 28 games, Krestanovich has 5 goals and 15 points. Those numbers aren’t eye-popping, but they are respectable nonetheless for a 20 year old in a men’s league. A few years ago Krestanovich was in the middle of the pack among Avalanche prospects, but he clearly has now earned the number 4 ranking.
5. Sergei Soin, LW/D, Soviet Wings (Russia), 19 yrs old, Drafted 50th Overall in ’00.
Comments: After a solid season last year for the Soviet Wings of the Russian Upper League (The 2nd tier league in Russia), Sergei Soin moved up to the Super League this season and has continued his great play. A youngster who can effectively play both defense and left wing, Soin is a great skater and a great forechecker. Soin is a very solid defensive player, but his offensive game can still use some improvement. Right now, his speed and skating ability are easily his best assets. Through 24 games for the Soviet Wings this year, Soin has managed 4 goals, 2 assists and 4 penalty minutes. Expect Soin to come over to North America either after this season or after 2002-03. When he arrives, he could possibly have a shot at cracking Colorado’s lineup, but might need a season in the minors to become accustomed to North America. Soin has the potential to become a two-way, top four defenseman.
6. Peter Budaj, G, Toronto (OHL), 18 yrs old, Drafted 63rd Overall in ’01
Comments: Peter Budaj, a 6’0 200 lbs goaltender from Bystrica, Slovakia, was the Avs first selection of the 2001 Draft. Taken in the 2nd Round (63rd Overall), many Avalanche fans questioned the selection at the time. In such a deep draft with many good players still available, it was hard to figure out why the Avalanche were using their first pick on a goaltender when they already had youngster David Aebischer in Colorado and Philippe Sauve down in Hershey. However, you can never doubt any selection made by the Avs and this one is looking like another good one in a long line of excellent drafting. Budaj has been a wall this year so far for the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors of the Ontario Hockey League. Through 22 games, Budaj has posted an excellent goals against average of 2.37 along with a .922 save percentage and a record of 12-6-4. Budaj played for Slovakia at last year’s World Junior Championships, and should be appointed the same job for this year. With David Aebischer not yet defining himself as the future franchise goaltender and Philippe Sauve looking like not much more than a back-up, the selection of Budaj looks better and better by the day.
7. Agris Saviels, D, Owen Sound (OHL), 19 yrs old, Drafted 63rd Overall in 2000
Comments: Agris Saviels has been improving steadily while with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League. A native of Riga, Latvia, the 6’1 192 lbs Saviels has the potential to one day be a top three defenseman on the blue line for Colorado. A two-way threat, Saviels is not a physical player be he gets the job done defensively. He has a lot of offensive skills, and is a very good skater. One thing that is a very good quality about him is he is a consistent performer. He gives you 110% every night and plays in all situations. Makes that good first pass out of the zone and effectively can lead the rush. Overall, Saviels has a nice package of skills and hopefully can continue to develop his game.
8. Marek Svatos, C, Kootenay (WHL), 19 yrs old, Drafted 227th Overall in ’01
Comments: One word about this kid’s package of skills: Wow. Marek Svatos dropped to the 7th Round of the 2001 Draft for two reasons. One, he only played in 39 games during the 2000-01 season because of a conflict with his team back in Slovakia where he supposedly wasn’t cleared to leave, and two, he lacks size at 5’10 170 lbs. I remember a similar situation that happened a few years ago where a supposedly small player that possessed an impressive package of offensive skills fell to the 7th Round. Ever hear the name Radim Vrbata? Of course you have, unless you live under a rock. Svatos is an offensive weapon. He may not be the best defensively, but if you need some goals, he’s definitely going to bring you that. Compared to a Ziggy Palffy type player, Svatos has 42 points (23 goals + 19 assists) in 26 games for the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League. He is second in the team in scoring, 3 points behind Tomas Plihal, although Svatos has played 12 fewer games. Svatos also is ahead of Duncan Milroy in scoring. Yes, the same Duncan Milroy who was drafted in the 2nd round in 2001 by the Montreal Canadiens. I may just be hyping Svatos a little bit, but each time I have seen him play he has stood out like a sore thumb, and I mean that in a good way. It’s just a hunch, but I’m expecting some good things from this youngster in the NHL.
9. Rick Berry, D, Colorado (NHL), 23 yrs old, Drafted 55th Overall in ’97
Comments: Rick Berry was once being hyped as a potential stud on the blue line, but now Berry most likely will be a tough stay-at-home 5th or 6th defenseman. He has shown in 51 NHL games that he clearly needs to work on his game some more, but with the Avalanche short on defensive depth he has been seeing some ice-time in the NHL. Berry is pretty much a sure bet to be a regular NHLer, but he doesn’t appear to be developing the way the Avalanche thought he possibly could. All in all though, a 5th or 6th defenseman is better than a bust.
10. Alexander Riazantsev, D, Hershey (AHL), 21 yrs old, Drafted 167th Overall in ’98
Comments: A pure offensive defenseman, Riazantsev has had some problems developing in the NHL. After being ranked the 8th best European Skater by Central Scouting for the 1998 Draft, Riazantsev fell to the Avalanche at 167th overall. A swift skater with an impressive array of offensive skills, Riazantsev was a big point scorer for the Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL, registering 62 points in 48 games in his last year of junior hockey during the 1999-00 season. The Avalanche may have been looking at him as a replacement for the departed Sandis Ozolinsh, but Riazantsev has some improving to do before he cracks the Avs’ lineup. A potential 4th defenseman, expect to see him in the NHL in a few years.
11. Steve Moore
12. Kurt Sauer
13. Danny Bois
14. Philippe Sauve
15. Sergei Klyazmin
16. Colt King
17. Frantisek Skladany
18. Brian Willsie
19. Brad Larsen
20. Yuri Babenko