Avalanche Top 20 prospects

By Matt MacInnis

Avalanche Top 20 Quick Glance

1. Marek Svatos
2. Wojtek Wolski
3. Johnny Boychuk
4. Cody McCormick
5. Linus Videll
6. Sean Collins
7. Peter Budaj
8. Tomas Slovak
9. Mikko Kalteva
10. Victor Oreskovich
11. Denis Parshin
12. David Jones
13. Ryan Steeves
14. Brett Hemingway
15. Mark McCutcheon
16. Frank Skyldany
17. Tyler Weiman
18. Richard Demen-Willaume
19. Brad Richardson
20. David Svagrovsky

1. Marek Svatos, RW – 22, Colorado Avalanche (NHL)
Acquired: Drafted 227th overall, 2001
Previous Rank: 1 (No change)

The 2003-04 season was a greatly abbreviated one for Svatos who began the season as one of four rookies on the opening night roster of the Avs, only to be injured the second game of the season and subsequently miss the next 78 games. It was another shoulder injury for Svatos forced him to sit out so much of the season. He came back with two games left in the regular season and immediately made an impact, scoring twice in his first game back, including the game-winning goal. Svatos had a very strong first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs wreaking havoc on the Dallas Stars, with one goal and five assists in the five-game series. His lone goal was the overtime winner in game 5 of the series. However, he was held pointless against the San Jose Sharks in the Conference Semi-Finals.

Svatos is a very small (5’11”, 175 lbs), shifty, winger that possesses true breakaway speed. He has good all around offensive skills, possessing strong puck handling skills and a quick and accurate shot that can catch goaltenders off-guard. When he came to North America in 2000-01 to play with the Kootenay Ice of the WHL, it was expected that he would struggle with the North American game due to his size, but he showed that he is able to play in the tougher conditions despite his size.

Due to a mixture of injuries, contract problems, and participation in the World Junior Championships for Slovakia, Svatos has been unable to put together a full season in North America since arriving four years ago. He has suffered numerous shoulder injuries and needs to remain healthy in order to be successful. It is possible that if he bulks up his body will be able to take the grind of an NHL schedule, but he will need to prove that this year after just four NHL regular season games. Svatos is expected to start the 2004-05 season with the Avalanche, and could play on one of the Avs top two scoring lines. However, undoubtedly, staying healthy is the Svatos’ goal this season. If he is able to overcome his size, Svatos has the skill level to be an upper tier second line scorer.

2. Wojtek Wolski, LW – 18, Brampton Battalion (OHL)
Acquired: Drafted 21st overall, 2004
Previous Rank: Unranked (N/A)

Wojtek Wolski put up solid numbers this year for Brampton, averaging slightly more than a point per game (29 goals, 41 assists, 70 points in 66 games played). He participated for Team Cherry in the annual CHL Top Prospects game, scoring a goal, and was named the team’s Player of the Game. The days leading up to the 2004 Entry Draft were tumultuous for Wolski, as he was charged with assault stemming from an alleged incident at a house party. As a result of some of the controversy surrounding him at the time, Wolski may have slipped several places on draft day.

Touted as a big, talented, forward, Wolski plays a finesse game despite his 6’3”, 200-pound frame. His desire has been questioned by some because he doesn’t use his body as much as observers feel he should, but the Avalanche hope that he will develop a bit of a mean streak in time. For a big man his skating ability is extremely good. His shot is good and hard, and he has the ability to get through traffic to use it. Defensively Wolski is very competent for a young player, demonstrating an awareness of his responsibilities at that end of the ice.

Wolski would like to jump right into the NHL this season but has said he will do whatever the organization asks of him. If he returns to the CHL, he is a candidate to make Team Canada for the 2005 World Junior Championships. Halfway through the summer training camp, he started playing on a line with 2005 Draft prospect Sidney Crosby and Ducks prospect Corey Perry, performing well according to reports. However, all may be for not if Wolski has a strong training camp with the Avs and is able to crack the starting lineup and stick with the team. He has the raw offensive ability to be a first line scorer if everything works out, but a more conservative projection places him as a reliable second line winger.

3. Johnny Boychuk, D – 20, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
Acquired: Drafted 61st overall, 2002
Previous Rank: 2 (Down 1)

The drop of one ranking of Johnny Boychuk has very little do to with his play over the 2003-04 season and everything to do with the Avalanche’s first round selection of highly touted Wolski at the 2004 Entry Draft. Boychuk saw his point total drop from 48 in 2002-03 to just 33 this season, although he did play in five fewer games due to injury. Although his point production decreased, Boychuk helped the Moose Jaw Warriors have their franchise best season with 41 wins.

At 6’2”, 215 lbs, Boychuk has the size to be an NHL defenseman. He plays a hard-nosed physical game and is well known for his devastating open-ice hits. He enjoys mixing it up with opposing players on the boards and after the whistle, and has shown that he is not afraid to drop the mitts. For a defensive defenseman, he does possess decent offensive capabilities. His slapshot is in the mid-90’s and he makes a smart first pass on the breakout. He plays with confidence in himself, but needs to be consistent and play with the same physical edge every night.

Boychuk signed a three-year contract with the Avs late in 2003. After spending the past season in the CHL, he will now move to play with the Hershey Bears in the AHL. He will have a chance to play top-four minutes with the Bears if he adjusts quickly to the professional game. Avalanche fans can probably begin to look for him in the NHL around 2006-07, though he could see spot duty before then if he impresses. With the Avs having a very strong defense, he won’t be rushed along. Boychuk projects to be a solid fourth defenseman with the Avs.

4. Cody McCormick, RW – 21, Colorado Avalanche (NHL)
Acquired: Drafted 144th overall, 2001
Previous Rank: 5 (Up 1)

Cody McCormick remains a prospect according to Hockey Future’s forthcoming revision of its Prospect Criteria. McCormick split his time between Hershey of the AHL and the Avs, spending 32 and 44 games in the two leagues respectively. With five points McCormick certainly didn’t assert himself as a dominant offensive force in the NHL, but he played a solid all around game which earned him just over eight minutes of ice time per game.

During his time in the NHL, McCormick played primarily on the fourth line, worked hard, and forechecked well enough to keep himself with the big club for half the season. He is a high energy player who hits well and at 6’2”, 205 lbs McCormick is tough customer. He got into seven fights during the season, including two in one period against the Calgary Flames.

McCormick is going to be an effective role player in the NHL, being able to fight, but brings something to the ice other than pure goon tactics. McCormick will try to solidify his NHL spot this season. He has a future as probably a third liner, especially if he can get a little faster to become a more fearsome fore-checker to match his hitting ability.

5. Linus Videll, LW – 19, Sodertalje (Sweden Jr)
Acquired: Drafted 204th overall, 2003
Previous Rank: 4 (Down 1)

Although Linus Videll played slightly more games with Sodertalje’s U20 junior team, he basically split time between the junior league and the Swedish Elite League, playing 27 junior league games and 23 in the SEL. Videll earned a call-up to the SEL by ripping up the junior league, scoring 20 goals and tallying 35 points in just 27 games. In 23 games, playing minimal minutes on depth lines, he registered two assists.

Videll is a natural playmaker who creates a lot of offense from the left side. He is extremely effective at using his 6’3”, 215 lbs frame to protect the puck from opposing players. Videll has a good shot in close, but beyond the faceoff circles he has some problems with accuracy. He also is a surprisingly fast skater.

Videll is on the roster of Sodertalje for next season and should be able to stick with the SEL team for the season. It is unlikely he will get ice time on a scoring line, but he could become a more rounded player as he will be forced to be more defensively responsible. He has second line potential down the road.

6. Sean Collins, LW – 21, New Hampshire (NCAA)
Acquired: Drafted 289th, 2002
Previous Rank: 4 (Down 2)

Sean Collins returned to the offensive form he showed in his freshman year at the University of New Hampshire, once again breaking the 40-point barrier after totaling just 32 in his sophomore season. Although it is prudent to note that Collins actually scored a career high number of goals in his second college season, only to see his assist total plummet. His finished second on the team in several stats this year, including points and plus minus. He also led the Hockey East Conference in short handed goals.

Collins is an undersized forward with a solid skill set and a good work ethic. He’s been playing on the top line in UNH for the past year, plus seeing time on both the power play and the penalty kill. He always is moving his feet and plays the game hard.

Collins returns to New Hampshire this season for his senior year of college. He will play a prominent role on the team and could lead in team scoring. After college ends, Collins will most likely apply his trade in Hershey or perhaps in the ECHL, depending on how he adapts to pro hockey as an undersized player. Collins has third line potential at the NHL level.

7. Peter Budaj, G – 21, Hershey Bears (AHL)
Acquired: Drafted 63rd overall, 2001
Previous Rank: 6 (Down 1)

Peter Budaj played his second professional season in Hershey in 2003-04, appearing in a career high number of games. Budaj struggled at times as the starting goaltender of a relatively weak Hershey team, posting a record of 17-20-6 with a GAA of 2.80, though he was able claim three shutouts. His development over the past season earned him a spot on the Slovakian World Cup roster.

Budaj is a fairly technically sound netminder. He needs to work a bit on his positioning as he sometimes gets caught leaning the wrong way, relying on his strong recuperating abilities to keep the puck out of the net. He is a goaltender with a strong desire to win, but sometimes can be prone to giving up a soft goal. He usually responds well after a weak goal.

Budaj has the potential ability to be a starting goaltender in the NHL. However, with David Aebischer and Phillipe Sauve in front of him right now, he won’t be rushed along. But neither of them have stepped up and claimed the No. 1 job in the long-term. Expect to see Budaj play another year or two in the AHL, waiting for a roster spot on the Avs to open up.

8. Tomas Slovak, D – 21, Hershey Bears (AHL)
Acquired: Trade with Nashville (for Sergei Soin)
Previous Rank: 10 (Up 2)

Tomas Slovak had a bit of a tough time in 2003-04, bouncing between Hershey (AHL) and Reading (ECHL) as he tried to secure himself a spot on the Bears blue line. The Slovak had some difficulty adjusting to professional hockey, having left the WHL at the end of 2002-03, but seemed to be gaining confidence throughout the season, regardless of what league was playing in. Unfortunately, Slovak suffered a hand injury late in the season while playing with Reading and missed the playoffs.

Slovak has good offensive abilities and is big enough at 6’1”, 205 lbs to keep forwards from taking advantage of him physically on the defensive end of things. He has a decent first pass, but his best asset is his booming shot, which makes him extremely effective on the power play. However, he was demoted at times during this year for his poor play and unsatisfactory work ethic. The Avalanche organization is hopeful that he learned his lesson and how to adapt to pro hockey this season and that he will respond in 2004-05 with the potential he has. More work is needed defensively as well.

Slovak’s maximum NHL potential is probably as a fourth or fifth defenseman. He is a good example of a power play specialist, and with some refinement, his defense could become solid enough to get more minutes down the road. Some were disappointed he did not make the Avalanche out of camp in 2003, and it’s unlikely he will to start 2004-05 either. However, if he performs early in the season and one of the Avs offensive defenseman goes down, Slovak could potentially get a callup.

9. Mikko Kalteva, D – 20, Jokerit Jr (Finland Jr League)
Acquired: Drafted 107th overall, 2002
Previous Rank: 7 (Down 2)

Mikko Kalteva came off a knee injury at the start of the season and ended up landing with Jokerit’s junior team for the overwhelming majority of the season. Appearing in 39 games he accumulated 24 points (14 goals, 10 assists), solid numbers for an offensive defenseman in the league, and good enough for third on his team in goals scored. He stayed with the junior team all season, getting a two-game callup to the SM-Liiga Jokerit during the season, plus getting into eight games in the playoffs. Kalteva also represented Finland in the 2004 World Junior Championships, where he played well defensively.

At 6’3”, 190 lbs Kalteva is not very physical, something the organization would love for him to work on. Kalteva likes to shoot the puck, and does so a lot, leading his team in the junior league with over 200 shots on goal. At the WJC he was asked to step up his defense as Sami Lepisto provided the offense from the Finnish blue line. Both his skating and his foot speed need a lot of work, but he is so positionally sound that often he can make up for his skating deficiencies.

Kalteva would like to play full time in SM-Liiga but most likely will split time between Jokerit and lower-tiered teams. He will likely remain in Finland until he is able to crack the SM-Liiga full time and be an effective player in that league, so he probably won’t appear in North American for another three years. Kalteva is a long shot for a top four role, but the raw potential is there.

10. Victor Oreskovich, RW – 18, Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)
Acquired: Drafted 55th overall, 2004
Previous Rank: Unranked (N/A)

Victor Oreskovich spent 2003-04 playing with Green Bay of the USHL, appearing in 58 games, and coming third in team scoring with 11 goals and 26 assists, and was the leader amongst the team’s rookies in point production. He had a good season, obviously impressing the Avs scouts enough to select him fairly high in the draft.

Oreskovich is a big 18-year-old (6’2”, 215 lbs) and he should continue to fill out over the next three years. This bodes well for Oreskovich who is a physical player who cannot be intimidated and refuses to back down from a challenge. He displays remarkable discipline for a young player, restraining himself when opponents try to provoke him. He has a solid offensive package, possessing good stick-handling that coupled with his size allows him to excel in traffic. He has a strong wrist shot and is unselfish with the puck. His combination of good skating and soft hands makes him a very promising player.

Oreskovich has committed to playing for the University of Notre Dame (CCHA) in 2004-05. He will spend several years in college refining his offensive game and the Avalanche hope that he will be able to fill a top six forward role. Oreskovich certainly has the tools to be an effective scorer in the NHL, but he is quite some time away at this point. An NHL arrival probably cannot be expected until 2008-09.

11. Denis Parshin, LW – 18, CSKA Moscow (RSL)
Acquired: 72nd overall, 2004 Draft
Previous Rank: Unranked (N/A)

Playing with CSKA in 2003-04, Denis Parshin had an excellent season in the Super league, scoring five goals and adding six assists. The fact that he was playing in the RSL as a rookie is a testament to his skill level. His performance with limited ice time in Russia was impressive enough for the Avs to pick Parshin early in the third round.

Parshin is a very small, extremely skilled winger. He plays a very typical historical Russian game, being strong in all offensive areas of the game, particularly skating, wrist shot, and stick handling. Some scouts felt he was the best stick handler in the entire draft, including the better known Russians. His blazing speed and skating ability give him the ability to dodge hits at times, but his miniscule stature made him slip a great deal in the draft, despite his amazing skill set.

Parshin is expected to once again play with Moscow in Russia this season. If he continues to display his skills he should be able to get more ice time, and subsequently should increase his stat production. Parshin has the raw skill set of a very good second liner, possibly even a front line player in the NHL. However, he’s extremely unlikely to reach that high potential because of his diminutive stature. Parshin is truly a boom or bust type of prospect.

12. David Jones, RW? – 20, Coquitlam (BCHL)
Acquired: Drafted 288th overall, 2003
Previous Rank: 11 (Down 1)

David Jones was opted to spend 2003-04 in the BCHL despite being offered an NCAA scholarship, and took the opportunity to break out for a huge offensive season as an older player in the BCHL. Jones saw his point total more than triple from 28 (35 games) to 93 (53 games).

Jones has demonstrated solid offensive skills so far in his career, but the next two years will be an indication of how he will respond to better competition. He is fairly agile on his feet and possesses good size (6’2”, 200 lbs), both of which help him to play in all situations. However, his overall package definitely needs refinement.

Jones will begin playing for Dartmouth in the fall and at 20 years of age, he should be able to step into a role more readily. He will probably play a regular shift as well as getting some time killing penalties. Jones’ development could go either way. If he shows a quick adaptation to the college ranks and performs well he could leave college early.

13. Ryan Steeves, C – 21, Yale University (NCAA)
Acquired: Drafted 227th overall, 2002
Previous Rank: 12 (Down 1)

Ryan Steeves finished his fourth year at Yale and had signed his first professional contract by the middle of July. Steeves saw his offense fall off in his senior year, dropping from 15 goals, 38 points in his junior year to 10 goals, 26 points in 2003-04. However, with Chris Higgins leaving Yale, the entire team’s offensive production went down.

Steeves is a small, shifty type of player, with great speed and acceleration that found him getting loose for many breakaways this past season, converting on many of them. However, Steeves is much more of a playmaker than goal scorer, using his teammates as much as he can. Steeves will have to overcome his small stature as well as difficulties in the faceoff circle.

Steeves begins playing with Hershey this season, and needs to quickly establish that he can play against larger opponents. The Avs are currently strong at center, so it’s unlikely he will make the big club anytime soon. 2006-07 is probably a fair projection of his arrival in the NHL if he can prove himself.

14. Brett Hemingway, LW – 20, University of New Hampshire (NCAA)
Acquired: Drafted 225th overall, 2003
Previous Rank: 9 (Down 5)

Brett Hemingway’s big drop in the rankings is largely due to the strong draft that the Avs had at Raleigh this past June, with three of the players selected there bumping him down. Hemingway’s freshman season at UNH was a solid way to debut after coming out of the Port Coquitlam program in the BCHL. Playing alongside fellow Avs prospect Sean Collins, Hemingway skated in 34 games (seven goals, 12 assists).

At 6’1”, 185 lbs, Hemingway needs to fill out some more in order to play the same game he does not at the professional level. Hemingway is a good skater with great balance who works hard and drives to the net. He sees the ice very well and is able to react to the play happening around him before most of the players on the ice. However, he needs to more consistently be physical.

After performing very well in the NCAA in his first year, Hemingway will look to build on that. Three years still from professional hockey, Hemingway has a long time to improve his stock in the organization, which will happen if he continues to develop at UNH.

15. Mark McCutcheon, C – 20, Cornell (NCAA)
Acquired: Drafted 146th overall, 2003
Previous Rank: 14 (Down 1)

Mark McCutcheon entered college hockey this season after two extremely successful seasons playing for New England of the EJHL. McCutcheon struggled offensively however, notching just four assists while skating in all 32 games for the Big Red. McCutcheon has an NHL frame at 6’1” and a growing 185 lbs, but needs to improve on his physical play down the road. He has a knack for scoring when it counts, and will need to relate his success in juniors at scoring timely goals at Cornell to be effective.

McCutcheon is a project type player who is going to need quite some time to physical develop and get used to playing a role. While he does possess good hands, his skating will probably hold him back from being a scoring line player down the road. He plays a chippy style, but sometimes goes over the top. McCutcheon projects to be a physical, two way, fourth line center. He will take at least three more seasons before being considered for the Avalanche.

16. Frank Skyldany, C – 22, Boston University (NCAA)
Acquired: Drafted 143rd overall, 2001
Previous Rank: 8 (down 8)

Frank Skyldany took a major step back in his fourth and final year at Boston University. Although his 21 assists was good enough to lead the team, and his 24 points was second on the team, his overall offensive production plummeted from the season before, dropping from 14 goals to just three in 2003-04. Upon graduating he signed his first pro contract and competed in five AHL games with Hershey.

The Avalanche hope that the young Slovak can put it together and score goals. He was expected to register better numbers this season and disappointed, but the Avs remain hopeful, giving him a contract. He will spend 2004-05 with Hershey.

17. Tyler Weiman, G – 20, Tri-City Americans (WHL)
Acquired: Drafted 164th overall, 2002
Previous Rank: Unranked (N/A)

Tyler Weiman finished up his time in the WHL in 2003-04, posting a solid record of 23-21-7 with the Americans, although he did have the benefit of a strong defense in front of him, including 2003 first round pick Shawn Belle. Appearing in 54 games, Weiman played a lot of hockey this season, and stepped up his play to register a career best 2.66 GAA.

Weiman is a little short for a goaltender (5’11”, 215 lbs), but is very quick and agile, enjoying to challenge shooters, though he has a tendency to overplay and let in goals that look very bad. Consistency is an issue with him, but when he’s on he can win a game for his team by himself. Weiman will work as the backup in Hershey in his first pro season. He has backup goalie potential.

18. Richard Demen-Willaume, D – 18, Frolunda (Swedish J20 SuperElite)
Acquired: Drafted 154th overall, 2004
Previous Rank: Unranked (N/A)

Richard Demen-Willaume was the fourth player selected at the 2004 draft by the Avalanche. He spent the majority of the 2003-04 season with Frolunda in the Swedish Junior league, playing in 35 games (6 goals, 7 assists). Early in the season he was projected as one of the best Swedish defenseman, but as he became more defensively oriented later in the season his stock appears to have dipped.

Demen-Willaume has great size (6’3”, 195 lbs) and has good skills for a blueliner. If he is able to continue to work on his defensive play while maintaining his offensive flair, the Avalanche could have a very promising prospect on their hands. Demen-Willaume has the tools to be a second pair defenseman, but is a long time away. He will continue to play mostly in the junior league this season, and hopefully jump to the SEL in 2005-06. After a year or two in the SEL, he could come across to North America.

19. Brad Richardson, C – 19, Owen Sound (OHL)
Acquired: Drafted 163rd overall, 2003
Previous Rank: 13 (down 6)

Brad Richardson was injured for all but 15 games this season, although he did perform well (7 goals, 9 assists in 15 games) in his extremely limited time. Another undersized pivot in the organization (5’11”, 170 lbs), Richardson needs to put on some muscle before stepping into the pro ranks.

Richardson has good all around offensive skills, including good wheels and an uncanny ability to make what seems like an impossible pass. He is expected to return to the CHL for a fourth season, hopefully being able to suit up for all of Owen Sound’s games this time around. Richardson is a long shot as an every day NHL depth player.

20. David Svagrovsky, RW – 19, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Acquired: Drafted 131st overall, 2003
Previous Rank: 15 (down 5)

David Svagrovsky left the Czech Republic at the end of the 2001-02 season to adapt to the North American style of play. He seemed to adjust well, winning the Thunderbird’s Rookie of the Year award (17 goals, 25 assists), but slumped through most of the 2003-04 season, scoring just six goals and registering merely 11 helpers.

Svagrovsky is a big winger at 6’3”, 200 lbs, with room to grow into a very big man. He has good hands and is a smart player, using his long reach and big body to his advantage whenever he can. He will play once again for the T-Birds and hopefully can return to his WHL rookie season form. He has the potential to be a third line player in the NHL, but his development went south in his second year in North America, which is not a good indication for the Avalanche organization.

Analysis

A strong 2004 draft has injected some fresh blood into what many consider a weak group of prospects. However, the Avalanche have demonstrated an ability recently to turn late picks into high quality NHL players and prospects, so it is unwise to write off the organization’s prospect pool simply because they don’t possess many prospects picked within the top 100 in their draft year. The Avs may not have many high profile prospects, but if history is an indication, they have an ace or two up their sleeve.

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.
Dario Ronzone, Jeff Dahlia, Angelique Murray, Jeff Arnim, Darko Manojlovic, DJ Powers, Johan Nilsson, Jason Shaner, and Jason Ahrens contributed to this article.