Colorado Avalanche 2012 draft preview

By John Canario

Photo: Fans of the Colorado Avalanche have quickly developed an affinity for potential Rookie of the Year Gabriel Landeskog, the team's top pick at the 2011 NHL Draft (courtesy of Russell Lansford/Icon SMI)

 

The Colorado Avalanche finished the season with a 41-35-6 record and seven points out of a playoff berth. The future is bright though, as the Avalanche have a solid young core of talent at the NHL level with more on the way.

Top 10 prospects:

1. Stefan Elliott, D
2. Duncan Siemens, D
3. Tyson Barrie, D
4. Cameron Gaunce, D
5. Mark Olver, C
6. Kent Patterson, G
7. Kieran Millan, G
8. Mike Connolly, C
9. Sami Aittokallio, G
10. Joey Hishon, C

Team Needs

More than a year removed from the trade that sent right winger Chris Stewart and defenseman Kevin Shattenkrik to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for defenseman Erik Johnson, center Jay McClement, and a first round selection, the Avalanche find themselves in need of offense on the wings. Expect them to primarily target gritty, scoring wingers in this year's draft as they are starved for talent at left and right wing, in the NHL and at the minor league and junior levels.

The team is fairly deep from the blue line back in terms of prospect depth, so expect fewer draft picks to be spent on defenders and goaltenders than in years past.

At the NHL level, the Avalanche have a league-high nine restricted free agents to either offer contracts to or let go this offseason. Among this group are Matt Duchene, Peter Mueller, Steve Downie, Ryan O'Reilly, Jamie McGinn, and Johnson, all of whom are likely to be re-signed.

Organizational Strengths

With big things expected of Duncan Siemens, Stefan Elliott already having established himself as an everyday NHL player, and Tyson Barrie and Cameron Gaunce appearing more and more ready for extended play with the parent club, the Avalanche are currently strong along the blue line.

The Avalanche is also strong down the middle, especially in the NHL ranks with Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny, and Ryan O'Reilly firmly entrenched as the team's centers. Pivots Mark Olver and Mike Connolly have proven themselves capable of producing consistently at the AHL level and saw brief action with the Avalanche in 2011-12. Both could find more permanent positions in Colorado next season. OHL superstar Michael Sgarbossa also turned a lot of heads this past year with a 102-point campaign and will likely be relied upon by the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters for his burgeoning offensive abilities in 2012-13.

Colorado made a substantial investment in 24-year-old Russian goaltender Semyon Varlamov when they acquired him from Washington, and he'll likely be their starter for the foreseeable future. While they don't have any blue-chip prospects between the pipes, the Avalanche have a wealth of promising young goaltenders in the system. Impressive NCAA graduates Kieran Millan and Kent Patterson were recently signed to entry-level deals after their teams were ousted at the Frozen Four tournament. The two will likely share backstopping duties next season in Lake Erie, while WHL workhorse Calvin Pickard could spend one final year in junior. Sami Aittokallio is the lone European goaltender in Colorado's system and has been quietly putting together an impressive resume that includes strong performances in Finland's top professional league and on the international stage for Finland's Under-20 team.

Organizational Weaknesses

The glaring weakness on the Avalanche's current roster is their lack of depth on the wings – a factor which likely contributed to their 24th-placed ranking in goals scored in 2011-12. After 19-year-old Gabriel Landeskog, the Avalanche lack a left winger capable of scoring 25 goals in a season. They are slightly better off on the right wing with a trio of respectable scorers that includes David Jones, Milan Hejduk, and Steve Downie, but they still lack a speedy right winger with the elite offensive talent to match the skill level of centers Stastny and Duchene.

Draft Tendencies

Over the past three drafts with general manager Greg Sherman at the helm, the Avalanche have made a total of 21 draft choices. Of the 21 players selected, an overwhelming 15 prospects have come from Canadian major junior leagues, with six having come from the OHL, six from the WHL, and three from the QMJHL. Of the remaining six selections, two hailed from Europe, two from the US National Team Development Program, one from the NCAA and one from a Massachusetts high school. By position, nine forwards , eight defensemen and four goaltenders were chosen by the Avalanche in the past three drafts. Only two of their 21 picks were used to select overage players.

Sherman dealt the Colorado Avalanche's first round selection in 2012, as well as their second round pick in either 2012 or 2013 to the Washington Capitals for goaltender Semyon Varlamov. If the Capitals opt not to take the Avalanche's second round pick this year, Colorado's first pick will come 41st overall. If Washington elects to use this year's second round selection, the Avalanche will not draft until the 54th position. The Avalanche will also have the 72nd, 132nd, 162nd, 192nd picks.