Avalanche 1999 draft evaluation

By Sukhwinder Pandher





The 1998-99 Season ended for the Colorado Avanlance with a loss in the<br />Conference Finals to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions Dallas Stars







In1998-99,
Bob Hartley completed his first season as head coach with another Northwest
Division title as the Avalanche continued their dominance of the division.
Despite trading Robyn Regehr for Theo Fleury the season ended for the Colorado Avalanche
with a loss in the Conference Finals to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions
Dallas Stars. The team was preparing to
move into their brand new arena the
Pepsi Center next year,
which was positive news as the sellouts continued. With Milan Hejduk completing a successful
rookie season and Alex Tanguay set to make his debut next year, the future was
looking just as bright as the present.

 

Entering
the 1999 draft, the Avalanche and Pierre Lacroix owned 11 draft choices and
knowing their past success at the draft table, it was a bad sign for other
teams in the NHL. The 11 draft choices
have so far played a total of 514 NHL games (47 games/pick), with the majority
of games coming from Radevojevic and Vrbata, playing
for other teams.

 

 

Mikhail
Kuleshov, LW
, 1st
Round, 25th Overall (
Cherepovets Severstal, Russia)

Status:
NHL Prospect

NHL
Games: 3

 

Kuleshov
was drafted for his immense skill on the left side to eventually replace the
aging Valeri Kamensky. After being
drafted, he spent three years in
Russia, never really
establishing himself as an elite player as he put similar numbers every year. He was signed and brought over to
North America late in the
2000-01 season, and played three games for
Hershey. Unfortunately Kuleshov hasn’t
adjusted to the North American game as he doesn’t like to enter traffic and
doesn’t drive to the net enough. This
has caused him to fall considerably down the Avalanche’s prospect list and his
future as an NHLer is getting bleaker every year.

 

 

Martin Grenier, D,
2nd Round, 45th Overall (
Quebec, QMJHL)

Status:
NHL Prospect?

NHL
Games: 15

 

The
Avalanche drafted Martin Grenier for his physical
prowess, his mean streak and his hard shot from the point. However, Grenier
did not posses the swift skating ability needed to make the lateral movement
that a defenseman needs to make it to the NHL.
Fortunately, the Avalanche were able to use him
to acquire other assets, as he was included in the Ray Bourque trade at the
2000 deadline. Grenier
never played a game with the
Boston organization
as he signed as a free agent with the Phoenix Coyotes, after his last season in
the Quebec League, in the summer of 2001.
He played eight games over two seasons before being traded in July of
2003 to
Vancouver, where he
didn’t last a season as he was traded at the March 2003 deadline to NY Rangers.

 

 

Branko Radivojevic, RW, 3rd Round, 93rd Overall (Belleville, OHL)

Status:
NHL Player

NHL
Games: 174

 

Pierre
Lacroix drafted Radivojevic out of the OHL, as he
left
Slovakia and played
his draft year for the Belleville Bulls.
He had an impressive rookie year in the juniors and was known for his
great wheels and offensive flair. Radivojevic played two more seasons and continued to
improve, including his last season where he recorded 104 points in 61
games. After failing to come to terms
with the young star, the Avalanche saw Radivojevic
sign with the Pheonix Coyotes in the summer of
2001. He was a solid third line player
for the Coyotes in the two plus years he played in
Phoenix and started
showing signs of elevating his game. Radivojevic was on pace for a career best in goals when he
was traded to the Flyers, as part of the Comrie deal,
and saw his ice time diminish as he joined a very deep team. He should continue to develop and start
moving up the depth charts as Radevojevic’s future in
the NHL looks bright.

 

 

Sanny Lindstrom, D,
4th Round, 112th Overall (
Huddinge, Sweden)

Status:
NHL Prospect

NHL
Games: 0

 

Lindstrom
was drafted out of
Sweden in order to
give the Avalanche some needed depth on the back end. He was signed and brought to
North America the next
season where he started his pro career in the ECHL with
Baton Rouge but moved
quickly to the AHL with Hershey. He
suffered a tear in his ACL late in the 2000 season that forced him to miss the
rest of that season and part of the next one.
Lindstrom couldn’t find his game in 2001 with Hershey and was sent to
the UHL where he re-tore his ACL. He
spent most of the 2001-02 season with Quad Cities of
the UHL but couldn’t crack the Hershey lineup.
He left
North America at the end of the 2001 season
after playing in just 122 games in three pro seasons. Lindstrom is playing for Timra
of the Elite League and is showing the physical stay at home defensive the
Avalanche were expecting when they drafted him in 1999. Although he is turning 25 in December, a
return to
North America is not out of the question.

 

 

Kristian Kovac, RW, 4th Round, 122nd
Overall (
Kosice, Slovakia)

Status:
NHL Prospect

NHL
Games: 0

 

Lacroix
continued his drafting of European wingers in the 1999 draft, with the
selection of Kristian Kovac,
a 6’3” 200 plus pound right winger.
After being drafted out of
Slovakia, Kovac came to North America to play for Victoriaville in the Quebec
Junior League. He wasn’t able to adapt
to the style of play despite possessing the ideal size and skill for the North
American game. This caused Kovac to lose confidence as he lasted for two seasons and
returned to
Slovakia and his home
club of
Kosice. At 6’3” Kovac seems
to have the size but may not have the mentality to play in the NHL and although
he still is considered a prospect, he may never return to play in the league.

 

Will Magnuson,
D
, 5th Round, 142nd Overall (Lake
Superior
State University
, NCAA)

Status:
NHL Bust

NHL
Games: 0

 

Magnuson
was another big hulking defenseman (6’5” 235 lbs.) the Avalanche took in this
draft to fill a certain need, and like Grenier the
big knock on Magnuson was his inability to skate at a NHL level. After being drafted, the big Alaskan
defenseman continued playing
Lake Superior for the
remaining three years of his eligibility.
Once graduted he came to the 2002 training
camp, where he was assigned to
Reading of the
ECHL. He only played nine games that
season and was bought out of his contract as his skating never improved.

 

Jordan Krestanovich, LW,
5th Round, 152nd Overall (
Calgary, WHL)

Status:
NHL Prospect

NHL
Games: 22

 

Krestanovich was drafted
in the fifth round because a solid rookie season in the WHL, which included a run
to the Memorial Cup Championship game where
Calgary lost to the
host
Ottawa 67s. He improved each of his next years including
the 2000-01 season when due injuries to fellow 1999 draftees Pavel Brendl and Kris Beech, Krestanovich raised his offensive game recording 100
points. He started the next season with
the Avalanche’s AHL affiliate the Hershey Bears and saw action in eight games
in the NHL. In the three seasons Krestanovich played for the organization, he recorded an
average of half a point per game. At the
2004 deadline the Avalanche traded Krestanovich to
the Minnesota Wild for fellow minor leaguer Chris Bala. With the Wild’s ability to average players
into serviceable NHLers, Krestanovich
might still see regular duty in the big leagues.

 

 

Anders Lovdahl, C,
6th Round, 158th Overall (HV71
Jonkoping, Sweden)

Status:
NHL Bust

NHL
Games: 0

 

The
Avalanche drafted Lovdahl as a special project, as he
was not on the radar screens for many teams and was a virtual unknown until he
was drafted. He came to develop his
skills in the WHL the following season, playing for both
Calgary and Moose Jaw in the same
year. Lovdahl
played another 17 games in the 2000-01 season before
returning to
Sweden and joining Tranas of Division 2.
He has continued bouncing around from team to team, including a brief
stint in
Denmark, playing for
eight different teams in the five seasons since being drafted. Lovdahl has good
size and reports say he skates well and posses a good shot, but hasn’t been
consistent enough, having trouble staying on any Tier 2 Swedish club team.

 

Riku Hahl, C, 6th Round, 183rd
Overall (HPK
Hameenlinna, Finland)

Status:
NHL Player

NHL
Games: 92

 

Riko Hahl was selected by the Avalanche for his potential as a
solid checking line center, as they knew that his upside was limited. He continued to improve in
Finland for two years
while serving his mandatory military service and arrived for training camp in
2001. Hahl split the next two years between the
Avalanche and Hershey of the AHL, playing more games in the NHL in the second
year. He was limited to only 28 games
this year because of a shoulder injury suffered five games into the
season. Hahl
has a bright future as a fourth line checking center and because of his size
and checking ability, should be invaluable to the Avalanche in future Stanley
Cup runs.

 

Radim Vrbata, RW,
7th Round, 212th Overall (
Hull, QMJHL)

Status:
NHL Player

NHL
Games: 208

 

After
being rated at the No. 48 position by Central Scouting among North Americans in
his draft year, Vrbata suffered a substantial free
fall. He ended up being drafted by the
Avalanche in the seventh round after having a good rookie season with
Hull. While he steadily improved in his second
season, his third season in the QMJHL saw him explode with 102 points in 55
games and saw him make his professional debut with Hershey in one playoff
game. The Avalanche didn’t want to rush
Vrbata so they had him start his season in the AHL, but he didn’t last long
there as he put up 22 points in 20 games and was quickly called up. He ended his rookie campaign with the big
team and had 30 points, including 18 goals, in 52 games. Vrbata started the following season with high
hopes, as the Avalanche had him playing as a top six forward. He was performing at par with his pervious season,
when the Avalanche, desperate for toughness, traded him at the 2003 deadline to
Carolina for playoff
tested Bates Battaglia. Vrbata has slowed down a bit, mostly because
of playing in the tight system the Hurricanes employ, but his skating and pure
offensive touch will make him one of the true steals of this 1999 draft.

 

Jeff Finger, D, 8th Round, 240th
Overall (
Green Bay, USHL)

Status:
NHL Prospect

NHL
Games: 0

 

Despite
being the last of four defensemen selected in this draft, Finger might have the
brightest future presently. He played
one more season for the Green Bay Gamblers before joining
St. Cloud of the
NCAA. He stayed at
St. Cloud for three
seasons, becoming assistant captain, and decided to forego his senior season to
turn pro. He started the 2003-04 season in
Reading of the ECHL
and gained a promotion, due of his play, to Hershey 10 games into the season. Finger’s solid defensive play and hard hits
allowed him to stay in the AHL for the rest of the 2003-04 year. As long as Finger is disciplined in
administering his huge hits, his solid defensive play and leadership skills could
lead to a future as a No. 5 or 6 defenseman in the NHL.