Avalanche 2001 draft evaluation

By Kyle McMahon

The strong Colorado Avalanche teams have been traditionally built around wise drafting, a notion once again reaffirmed in 2001. Colorado went heavy on forwards, selecting eight in total with their ten picks. All but one of their players was drafted from North America, with five choices hailing from the Ontario Hockey League. Another two were drafted out of American colleges.

Four of Colorado’s draftees have made it to the NHL, three of them playing significant roles with 188 big league games between them so far, for an average of 47 games per pick overall for the class. This is all the more impressive considering that the Avalanche didn’t even have a pick until late in the second round. Rather, they used a plethora of middle round picks to stock up on prospects, and the future looks bright because of it.

Peter Budaj, G – 2nd Round, 63rd Overall (St. Mike’s Majors, OHL)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 34
DOB: 09-18-82 HT: 6’1 WT: 200

With their first pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Colorado selected goaltender Peter Budaj. A native of Slovakia, Budaj came over to Canada to play the majority of his amateur career. In his final season of junior he was named to the OHL second all-star team at the season’s conclusion. Budaj twice represented Slovakia at the World Junior Championship, posting a superb .919 save percentage in his second tournament. He turned pro for the 2002-03 season, serving as a backup for the Colorado’s AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears. In total, Budaj would spend three full years in Hershey. Each season saw his playing time increase, his win totals grow, and his save percentage improve. After recording 29 wins, a 2.65 goals against average, and a .919 save percentage in 2004-05, the Avalanche decided that Budaj’s game was technically sound enough for him to replace Phil Sauve as David Aebischer’s backup in the NHL.

The rookie performed reliably to be sure, but even Budaj must have been surprised to suddenly find himself in the starter’s role when Aebischer was swapped for the injured Jose Theodore. Unfazed, the young goaltender shut the door on Calgary and Los Angeles for his first two career shutouts in his initial two weeks as the No. 1 stopper, and overall he performed well enough to keep Colorado in the playoffs until Theodore recovered. The final line read 14-11-6 with a .900 save percentage in his first NHL campaign, as well as three starts with the Slovak Olympic team in February, which must have Colorado feeling very good about their future between the pipes.

Danny Bois, RW – 3rd Round, 97th Overall (London Knights, OHL)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 0
DOB: 06-01-83 HT: 6’1 WT: 210

Danny Bois showed himself to be a gritty winger with a nose for the net in his four-year junior career with the London Knights. He has strong leadership traits as well, serving as captain of the Knights starting in 2001-02. Bois wrapped up his amateur career in 2003-04 with 40 points in 52 games, a career high, to go along with a lofty 240 penalty minute total. The winger’s hard work was unable to yield a contract with the Avalanche, so Bois instead signed on with the Binghamton Senators, Ottawa’s AHL affiliate. His first season was spent protecting his teammates rather than setting them up for goals, as his six-point, 287 PIM stat line would attest. But things all changed this past year, 2005-06. While his penalty totals only decreased slightly, his offensive numbers ballooned to 18 goals and 35 points. Bois can now be considered a prospect within Ottawa’s system, which likely suits the Ontario native just fine.

Colt King, LW – 4th Round, 130th Overall (Guelph Storm, OHL)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 0
DOB: 03-04-83 HT: 6’2 WT: 220

While journeymen players are common throughout professional hockey, they are a far less frequent occurrence at the junior hockey level. Nonetheless, left winger Colt King suited up for no less than six teams over five years in the OHL. After an abysmal 1999-00 rookie season that saw him score but two goals, King rediscovered the offensive touch that got him taken highly by Guelph in the OHL priority selection draft. His 25-goal, 52-point effort in his second season turned him into a wanted commodity, and also got him drafted by Colorado in the fourth round of the NHL draft.

The next three years saw King move from team to team, providing each new club with a mix of toughness and scoring ability, though he never was able to duplicate the offensive totals of his sophomore campaign. His lack of foot speed was likely one factor in the Avalanche not offering him a contract at the conclusion of his final OHL season, 2003-04. Being a bit of a loose cannon explains his difficulty sticking with clubs as well.

King instead went to the ECHL where he could rely on fast fists as opposed to fast legs in 67 games with the Augusta Lynx. He would return to the Lynx for the 2005-06 season, but was traded to Utah after 18 games. One of the ECHL’s premier fighters (nearly 300 PIM this past year), he made an impact with his new team on the score-sheet as well, with 17 goals and 26 points in 49 games with the Grizzlies.

His rights have been traded to the ECHL Phoenix Roadrunners for the upcoming season.

Frantisek Skladany, C – 5th Round, 143rd Overall (Boston University, NCAA)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 0
DOB: 04-22-82 HT: 6’0 WT: 183

After a short junior stint with a lower-level club in his native Slovakia, Frantisek Skladany, who represented his country at the 2000 World Junior tournament, came to North America to develop his game in the college ranks. After a pedestrian freshman season at Boston University, Skladany came alive in 2001-02 with 13 goals and 26 points. The centerman likes to shoot the puck, and is not afraid of getting bumped by defenders in order to make a play. 2002-03 would go down as his best offensive NCAA campaign as averaged nearly a point per game for the Terriers. The shifty pivot was snake-bitten in 2003-04 with only three goals, put his playmaking (21 assists) didn’t appear to suffer. Skladany played five games in Hershey of the AHL after graduating that season, and spent the majority of 2004-05 in the United Hockey League while failing to register a point in 15 games while up with the Bears. 2005-06 was a step in the right direction as he played mostly in the AHL with Lowell, recording a goal and 10 helpers, but those numbers will have to grow a lot bigger if he ever hopes to see time in the NHL.

Cody McCormick, RW – 5th Round, 144th Overall (Belleville Bulls, OHL)
Status: NHL player
NHL games played: 89
DOB: 04-18-83 HT: 6’3 WT: 215

Avalanche General Manager Pierre Lacroix was looking for a big, bruising forward when he selected Cody McCormick from the Belleville Bulls. Never known for his offensive prowess, McCormick chose to make an impact with his physical play and grinding style, a style which quickly made him a leader by example with the Bulls. The Mt. Brydges, Ontario native’s last junior season (2002-03) was clearly his most memorable. At 19 years old, the bigger, stronger right winger was able to intimidate younger opponents with his body checks and his fists while also grinding out 36 goals, more than tripling his career output. Belleville lasted seven games in their OHL opening round playoff series, largely due to McCormick’s 11 points.

The Avalanche tend to give their prospects plenty of seasoning in the minors before promoting them, but McCormick was an exception as he split his rookie pro campaign between Hershey and the big club. He chalked up 73 penalty minutes and chipped in five points in 44 games in Denver and put up similar type numbers on the farm. The labor disruption kept the abrasive center (Colorado has employed him mainly at that position, as opposed to right wing) in Hershey for his entire sophomore season, but he was limited to just 40 appearances thanks to an injured shoulder.

When the NHL resumed in 2005-06, McCormick started out in the AHL, but his strong play led to a quick recall. In total, he dressed for 45 big league games this past year, scoring eight points and totaling 29 PIM. Despite averaging only seven minutes of ice time per game, McCormick, true to form, ranked fourth amongst Colorado forwards with 47 hits. Not quite a regular yet (a healthy scratch for all of Colorado’s playoff run), McCormick will have to make coach Joel Quenneville notice him by continuing to work hard and get his nose dirty in the corners.

Mikko Viitanen, D – 5th Round, 149th Overall (Ahmat Hyvinkaa, Finland-2)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games played: 0
DOB: 02-18-82 HT: 6’3 WT: 220

A native of Finland, Mikko Viitanen was the only defenseman selected by Colorado in the 2001 draft. The defensive-minded blueliner had two productive junior seasons, first with the Chicago Freeze of the NAJHL and then with Ahmat Hyvinkaa back in Finland for his 2000-01 draft year. 2001-02 saw him dress primarily with Finnish division one club Jukurit Mikkeli where he was an impressive +16 in 21 games played. Viitanen also played for Finland’s entry in that year’s World Junior Championship, and had a brief look with SM-Liiga’s Espoo Blues. 2002-03 was a step back for the sizeable defender, as he only played in 11 games total, including nine penalty-filled affairs in division one with Haukat. Despite this, the Avalanche brought Viitanen over to North America for the 2003-04 season which saw him shuffled between Hershey, and Reading of the ECHL, a process which was repeated the next year. Not counted on to score (just 21 points in over 200 games in North America), Viitanen bases his game around sound defensive zone coverage. He stayed up in the AHL with Lowell for the entire 2005-06 campaign and must build off that marginal success if he wishes to stay on Colorado’s radar.

Pierre-Luc Emond, C – 5th Round, 165th Overall (Drummondville Voltigeurs, QMJHL)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL games played: 0
DOB: 10-10-82 HT: 6’0 WT: 200

Pierre-Luc Emond, a playmaking center, was Colorado’s lone draft choice out of Quebec. Weighing in at a sturdy 200 pounds, Emond is not afraid to drive to the net in search of a rebound or deflection. He is also noted for his quickness on the faceoff dot. After tallying 36 assists and 46 points in total in the 2000-01 season with Drummondville, the centerman expected to go in the top 100 selections of the 2001 Entry Draft, but slipped down to the end of the fifth round where the Avalanche claimed him. Two more 40+ point campaigns were is store for Emond after a trade to Cape Bretton. At the conclusion of his junior career he appeared in four late-season games with Hershey, scoring a goal in the process. The centerman elected to play a year of Canadian collegiate hockey in 2003-04 with UQTR, a year which saw him bag 40 points in 29 matches. Emond has since put up nearly 80 points in two years with Trois-Rivieres of the LNAH, a low level of professional hockey. It is doubtful he will ever see action higher than the ECHL.

Scott Horvath, RW – 6th Round, 184th Overall (UMass-Amherst, NCAA)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games played: 0
DOB: 02-14-82 HT: 6’2 WT: 225

Scott Horvath was from the mould of a prototypical power forward. He is big, strong, and physical, while displaying soft hands in traffic and along the boards. The Avalanche drafted the Connecticut native after his lone season of NCAA hockey, before which he was a standout in the New England prep school league. He headed to Canada and the OHL to start the 2001-02 season, and put up 19 goals and 32 points in 2002-03 with the St. Mike’s Majors. From there he moved on the ECHL, scoring 12 goals as a rookie pro in a season split between Toledo and Atlantic City. After an unimpressive 2004-05 season with the Boardwalk Bullies, Horvath signed on with Missouri of the UHL for 2005-06, playing most of the campaign with Port Huron after an early season trade. He registered 24 points in total. Horvath will be a career minor leaguer.

Charlie Stephens, C – 6th Round, 196th Overall (Guelph Storm, OHL)
Status: NHL bust
NHL games played: 8
DOB: 04-05-81 HT: 6’3 WT: 225

Despite a standout junior career, first with St. Mike’s, then on to Guelph, and finally London, Charlie Stephens never matured into the NHL caliber player expected when Washington drafted him 31st overall in 1999. He re-entered the draft in 2001, plummeting to 196th overall, where Colorado nabbed him. Stephens spent time with the Canadian national junior team and had four consecutive seasons of over 50 points while in the OHL. His pro career started off well with another 50-point year as a rookie in Hershey in 2002-03, and included two games with the parent Avalanche club. Mid-way through the next season, after recording his first two NHL points in six games with Colorado, Stephens was traded to Ottawa for veteran scrapper Dennis Bonvie, and impressed with 32 points in 37 games for the Senators’ farm team in Binghamton. A sub-par 2004-05 campaign was followed up with a career-best 23-goal, 67-point performance in 2005-06, so there is still hope of another crack at the NHL. But with each passing season, the window of opportunity to make good on past potential closes a little more.

Marek Svatos, RW – 7th Round, 227th Overall (Kootenay Ice, WHL)
Status: NHL player
NHL games played: 65
DOB: 06-17-82 HT: 5’9 WT: 187

Marek Svatos is a classic example of a talented player being overlooked by the scouts and management due to his small size. The 29 other NHL teams who passed on him before Colorado scooped him up with their final pick in the draft would surely love to have him now. Before arriving in the Canadian Rockies to play in the WHL, the speedy winger had a brief, but incredible stint in the Slovak Jr. League with the Kosice juniors. In only 39 games Svatos pumped in 43 goals to go with 30 helpers, which got him promoted to the pro club for 19 games as well. His next two years were spent in Kootenay where injuries and contract issues with his former club limited him to 92 games, but the offensive wizard still generated 61 goals and 118 points and was also named a Second Team All-Star for the 2001-02 season. He also scored seven goals with Team Slovakia at the World Junior Championship.

The biggest roadblock to the NHL seemed to be injury troubles. A bad shoulder meant only 30 appearances with the Hershey Bears in his first professional campaign. Almost all of the next season was spent rehabilitating as well, but Svatos was ready to go by early April and made his dramatic arrival on the NHL scene. He scored twice in Colorado’s final four regular season games before making a name for himself in the post-season with six points, including an overtime winning goal against Dallas. The work stoppage kept Svatos in Hershey for all of 2004-05. He would have liked a few more goals (just 18 in 72 games), but more importantly he finally got in a full season without missing long stretches on injured reserve. When he returned to the Avalanche for the 2005-06 season, the diminutive forward picked up right where he left off. With 32 goals, nine of them game winners, and 50 points through 61 games, Svatos was creeping into a Calder Trophy race that included the likes of Crosby and Ovechkin. But alas, another shoulder injury ended his season prematurely. If he can just manage to stay out of the trainer’s room, Svatos has the makings of a top-line sniper in the NHL.


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