Despite having a rather shallow system outside of the pro ranks, the Colorado Avalanche slowly amassed one of the deepest pools of professional prospects in the NHL. From Stefan Elliott to Michael Sgarbossa and Mark Olver, the team has a wealth of pro prospects able to make the jump to the NHL when called upon. Throw in four goaltending prospects in the minors with the potential to play in the NHL, and the upcoming season promises to be worth watching for the Avs' prospects.
The number of pro prospects is a positive for the Avs, because the amount of top-end talent in their junior and amateur ranks is woefully low. The Avs are hoping that players like Colin Smith and Nate Condon can develop, and with the young roster that Colorado has, they should have the opportunity to do just that.
Top Pro Prospect
Stefan Elliott, D, Lake Erie Monsters (AHL)
Stefan Elliott stormed onto everyone’s radar last season with two goals and an assist in his first three games for the Avs last season before posting a respectable 13 points in 39 games for Colorado. With a defensive corps already full of NHL veterans, Elliott is likely going to get more seasoning in the AHL, which will give him some much-needed ice time. An offensive force in juniors, Elliott has not put up the same gaudy numbers in the pro ranks, but his skills should project him to be a productive, full-time member of the Avs blue line as soon as next season and for years to come.
Mark Olver, C, Lake Erie Monsters (AHL)
Mark Olver spent much of his time last season bouncing between the AHL and NHL, but he has proven that he can put the puck in the net at any level. His work ethic and high energy should suit him well at the NHL level and he is able to play at both ends of the ice. Despite his slight size, Olver should fit into Joe Sacco’s style of play seamlessly with his hard-nosed, spirited style. With a little time in the weight room, Olver may be able to move his way up the depth chart and prove to be an effective and productive member of the Avs’ roster.
Unsigned for 2013-14
Mike Connolly, LW, Lake Erie Monsters (AHL)
Part of the trade that sent T.J. Galiardi and Daniel Winnik to San Jose, Connolly produced well in his first pro season split between Worcester and Lake Erie. A smaller player, Connolly makes up for his lack of size with energy and speed. He has produced at every level he has been at so far and is willing to go to the dirty areas on the ice to make plays. Despite questions about his size, his work ethic could find him being a productive player in the NHL down the line. A restricted free agent after the season, Connolly has been held scoreless through seven games in Lake Erie this season.
Colorado did well with Gabriel Landeskog at second overall in 2011. Duncan Siemens, the Avs’ other first-round draft pick from the 2011 draft, is an already hulking blueliner that has not yet grown into his large frame. At 6’4 and 209 pounds, Siemens is already an imposing presence on Saskatoon’s blue line and is a surprising skater for his size. He has terrific lateral movement and great defensive instincts that serve him well in his own zone. He has a fierce side to him as well, loves to play the body, and never backs down from a fight. Despite the fact that he is raw and his mean streak oftentimes finds him in the penalty box, Siemens is steadily improving – especially in the offensive zone – and could find himself making an impact in the NHL down the road.
Among the wealth of Avalanche prospects, Joseph Blandisi may be overlooked by many, but he is a solid, two-way forward that appears poised to have a breakout season this year. After scoring 31 points in 68 games in his rookie campaign in the OHL, he has gotten more ice time with the Attack and produced six goals, 14 points in 19 games this season. He has good hands and he likes to hang out around the net, which puts him in the position to get tip-ins and rebounds – something that makes young forwards extremely valuable. He has definite holes in his game and his defensive play is something that he needs to work on, but if he continues to fill those holes he looks to be a solid prospect for the Avs’ future.
Dillon Donnelly is not going to set the world on fire with his offensive abilities, but he is a tremendous stay-at-home defenseman that plays his man very well. While he is not a terrific skater, Donnelly is the type of player that every team loves to have – a physical defenseman that is willing to stand up for his teammates. He is not flashy, but he has the potential to be a steady presence if the organization has sufficient patience to let Donnelly develop.
Top Amateur Prospect
Nate Condon, C, University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (WCHA)
In his junior season with the Golden Gophers, Nate Condon appears to be doing everything that he needs to do in order to develop his game and take it to the next level. A terrific skater that is consistently improving, Condon followed up a 17-point freshman campaign with 30 in his sophomore season. The Wisconsin native is a pass-first type of player with good vision and is close to a point-per-game pace with eight points in nine games as a junior. While he needs to improve his grit and tends to play smaller than his 198 pound frame, he has improved tremendously in that area from his freshman year. Faceoffs also remain a concern for him, but he will have plenty of time to hone his abilities both at Minnesota and in the AHL.
Top European Prospect
Joachim Nermark, C, Linkopings HC (SEL)
The pickings in the Avs' European system are woefully slim, but that does not mean that Joachim Nermark is a slouch. A terrific two-way player, Nermark has a solid, projectable frame and is a terrific skater. He has a good shot, but he is very reluctant to use it and will need to become more aggressive on the offensive end of the ice in order to really succeed at the next level. While he is reluctant to play the wing, he should continue to progress. He has the speed to be able to make an impact, even as a defensive forward, at the next level.