Avalanche 2003 draft evaluation

By Ryan MacLeod

The Colorado Avalanche came out on the lower end of the spectrum at one of the deepest drafts in recent NHL history. Lacking a first-round pick for the second time in three years, the Avalanche had eight selections, six of which turned out to be NHL busts. The team picked up six forwards and two defensemen and only two of their 2003 draftees have more than three games played in the NHL.

It was a trade with the Los Angeles Kings, two years before the draft, which stripped the team of its first-round selection.  On Feb. 22, 2001, Colorado General Manager Pierre Lacroix traded the pick as part of a deal that brought defenseman Rob Blake to the Avalanche. While it cost them the 26th overall pick in a great draft year, the trade did pay immediate dividends, as Blake helped lead the team to a Stanley Cup that spring.

Colorado wanted to accomplish two things in this draft.  First, add more size and grit to their forward ranks and second, pick up a few, reliable, stay-at-home defenders to compliment a prospect pool ripe with offensive blue liners.

The Avalanche averaged 20.8 NHL games played per pick.

Dave Liffiton, D – 2nd Round, 63rd Overall (Plymouth Whalers-OHL)

NHL Games Played: 3
Status: NHL bust

Billed as a stay-at-home type, Liffiton was expected to add a gritty element to a prospect pool that was made up mostly of offensive defensemen. At the time, he compared his style of play to a well-known Avalanche blue liner in Adam Foote and boasted a booming shot from the point to boot. However, it wasn’t long before the team decided to part ways with the 6’3 defender, sending him to the New York Rangers, less than a year after he was drafted, in the trade that brought Matthew Barnaby to Colorado.

In 184 career AHL games he’s managed to score six goals, 24 assists and a +10 with a whopping 484 penalty minutes. He’s turned out to be a solid defender at the farm level, but likely won’t be getting more than spot duty in the NHL throughout the rest of his career.

David Svagrovsky, RW – 4th Round, 131st Overall (Seattle Thunderbirds-WHL)

NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL bust

On draft day, Svagrovsky projected as a strong power forward with decent skill and a great reach that was supposed to pay huge dividends down low and along the boards. He was coming off a solid rookie performance with the Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL) where he scored 17 times with 25 assists in 68 games, however, that would prove to be the last season he showed any type of offensive upside. The Czech winger’s numbers plummeted the following year with Seattle, recording a paltry six goals and 11 assists in 52 games. From there, injuries and poor performances took hold of his career. Between 2004 and 2007 he played most of his hockey in the Central Hockey League, with short stops in the ECHL and the AHL, but never showing enough promise to stick around.

This past year the 6’3 winger took his game back home to the Czech Republic to skate for HC Sparta Praha in the Czech extraleague.  In 20 games, he had one goal and ten penalty minutes.

Mark McCutcheon, C – 5th Round, 146th Overall (New England Jr. Coyotes-EJHL)

NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL bust

Expected to be picked perhaps late in the second round, McCutcheon was passed over until Colorado scooped him up early in the 5th round, 146th overall.  At 6’0 and skinny, he was considered small in the pre-lockout era and had been knocked for below average skating. However, being the son of current Buffalo Sabres Assistant Coach, Brian McCutcheon, he had a good hockey pedigree and a penchant for scoring timely goals in junior.

He played four years of college hockey with Cornell University (NCAA) but didn’t manage to record a goal until his third season. He’s not currently under contract with an NHL club, but spent the past year with Colorado’s AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, scoring two goals and seven assists with 73 penalty minutes in 63 games.

Brad Richardson, C – 5th Round, 163rd Overall (Owen Sound Attack-OHL)

NHL Games Played: 136
Status: NHL Player

The best player of this Colorado draft class, Richardson has played in 136 NHL regular-season games, compiling 19 goals and 21 assists. A fifth-round draft pick, he surely would’ve gone higher if not for the pre-lockout prejudices regarding player size. At 5’11, 190lbs he’s still yet to earn a full-time job in the NHL, but has played in as many as 73 games in a given season.

Early scouting reports pegged Richardson as an exceptional skater with a great work ethic and strong offensive skills, scoring 97 points in his final year of junior with the Owen Sound Attack (OHL). If he’s to secure a roster spot in the NHL, he will have to continue developing his defensive positioning in order to fill out a third or fourth line role. He is a Restricted Free Agent this summer.

Linus Videll, RW – 7th Round, 204th Overall (Sodertalje Jr.-Sweden)

NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL bust

At the time, some hockey observers considered Videll to be a steal in the seventh round of the draft.  Ranked 34th among European skaters by Central Scouting, he was known to have good puck handling skills, a good shot and a long reach. However, the 6’3 Swedish forward proved to be nothing more than a wasted pick and never managed to bring his game across the ocean.

He’s played 112 career games in the Swedish Elite League for Sodertalje SK, potting 14 goals, adding 18 assists and 10 penalty minutes.

Brett Hemingway, F – 7th Round, 225th Overall (Coquitlam Express-BCHL)

NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL bust

Hemingway was a scoring star in junior and continued to produce during a four-year college career with the University of New Hampshire (NCAA), but has never been able to turn enough heads to earn full-time duty in a league above the ECHL level.  On draft day, scouts had him pegged as a good skater with great acceleration, overall speed and good balance.  He even possessed good size for an 18-year-old at 6’1, 185lbs.

Hemingway bounced between three ECHL teams this past season, before finally sticking with the Alaska Aces. In 67 career ECHL games, he’s found the back of the net 21 times and recorded 29 assists with 64 penalty minutes.  He does not have a contract with an NHL team.

Darryl Yacboski, D – 8th Round, 257th Overall (Regina Pats-WHL)

NHL Games Played: 0
Status: NHL bust

Listed at 6’3, 225lbs on draft day, this towering defender was selected purely for his size and work ethic. Having suffered three concussions by the age of 18, he was considered a high risk/decent reward player. However, things didn’t pan out in Colorado and after not signing a rookie contract he re-entered the draft in 2005, but went unselected.

His hockey career ended after playing only two games for the Calgary Hitmen (WHL) during the 2005-06 season, in his last year of junior eligibility.

David Jones, RW – 9th Round, 288th Overall (Coquitlam Express-BCHL)

NHL Games Played: 27
Status: Prospect

As teams were packing up their bags and heading home, the Colorado Avalanche were busy making one of their best picks of the draft, grabbing Jones in the ninth round, 288th overall.  Seen largely as an enigma, Jones was relatively unscouted in the BCHL. However, he had shown strong character by being selected as class valedictorian at his high school and winning several community involvement awards. Measuring 6’2, 200lbs on draft day, the right winger out of Guelph, Ontario was seen as another big-body presence for the team and showed potential as a role player.

Jones got his first crack at an NHL job this year, recording two goals and five assists in 37 regular-season and postseason games with Colorado. While he seems to lack finish right now, he did show he has the ability to be a decent power forward in the league. He is under contract with the Avalanche through the 2008-09 season.