Avalanche 2004 draft preview

By Al Wright

Avalanche Top 10 Prospects

1. John-Michael Liles
2. Cody McCormick
3. Marek Svatos
4. Riku Hahl
5. Johnny Boychuk
6. Mikhail Kuleshov
7. Mikko Kalteva
8. Tomas Slovak
9. Tyler Weiman
10. Peter Budaj

Team Needs

Coming off a disappointing early elimination in the 2004 playoffs, the Colorado Avalanche have had plenty of time to concentrate on how they can improve their club at the draft table this summer. Still a strong team, the Avalanche don’t have gaping holes in their roster, and holding the No. 21 overall pick they won’t have a lot of control over their destiny anyway. Given the choice between players of equal ability, however, they could probably most use an impact defenseman.

Organizational Strengths

Prospect goaltender Peter Budaj got most of the ice time with AHL affiliate Hershey Bears once Philippe Sauve was called to the parent club posting a respectable 2.80 goals against average and .916 save percentage. Budaj is the star goaltending prospect, but after him the depth in that area drops off quite a bit.

Former Michigan state defenseman John-Michael Liles graduated to the parent club in the 2003-04 season playing 79 games and scoring 34 points. But there’s not many like him to follow on the blueline, with little top end talent in the system.

Organizational Weaknesses

The Avalanche over the years have had a win now philosophy usually trading away top picks and prospects for top players like Rob Blake in 2001, Steve Konowalchuk in 2003, and other players such as Matthew Barnaby, Ossi Vaananen, and Bob Boughner. It has paid off in two recent Stanley Cups, the last in 2001. Because of all the trades, there isn’t much in the system at any position. There are many role players and depth players in the system but there are really no quality scoring future first line wingers in the system.

There are many weaknesses to touch on but that’s the price you pay to win two Stanley Cups. Colorado has a strong history of finding diamonds in the rough such as third round pick Milan Hejduk, and intense energetic fifth round pick Dan Hinote. But for every Hejduk there are 50 David Jones. The Avalanche have many centerman in the system such as Cody McCormick and Sean Collins who will never be household names. On defense, other than Liles and possibly Tomas Slovak there aren’t too many players who will see ice time in Denver anytime soon barring a serious rash of injuries.

Draft Tendencies

Colorado have been very unpredictable over the years with their draft picks. They’re not afraid to pull the trigger on a trade to stockpile draft picks like they did in 1998. General Manager Pierre LaCroix is very secretive and shrewd, not showing which way he is leaning on draft day. He’s not afraid to give up prospects in order to acquire more picks, but this year’s draft is considered weak depth-wise, so don’t be surprised to see him trade away his first pick 21st overall for a player to fill a hole on the pro roster.

Colorado has never been a team to shy away from drafting European players, Hejduk in 1994, right winger Marek Svatos in 2001 from Slovakia, Finnish center Riku Hahl in 1999, and many more. They also have a slight tendency to favor players from the OHL.

Colorado has tended to draft bigger players over the past few years such as 6’3” defenseman Mikko Viitanen in 2001, 6’3” left winger Linus Videll in 2003, 6’3” right winger David Svagrovsky in 2003, and 6’3” defenseman Eric Lundberg taken 94th overall in the 2002 draft. Colorado leans towards size, character and speed.

The Avalanche have picks in every round in 2004 except the fourth which was traded to Chicago. They also have the 72nd overall pick in the third round acquired via trade.

Player most likely to be taken (Hockey’s Future mock draft result): Al Montoya, G