Defensive depth evident in Colorado Avalanche Fall Top 20

By Chau Vo
Mikko Rantanen - Colorado Avalanche

Photo: Top Colorado Avalanche prospect Mikko Rantanen has over 100 professional games on his resume already (courtesy of Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)



Defense wins championships and that is what Patrick Roy returned to Denver to accomplish. Despite his team taking a step back in his sophomore season behind an NHL bench, Roy is confident the lessons learned will only help the team going forward. In addition to his role as head coach, Roy holds a second title as Vice President of Hockey Operations, giving him a voice in all player personnel decisions. The new philosophy as to how the team will be constructed both now and in the future is trending towards an emphasis on size, character, and skills. Roy has also shown he is open to drafting and signing free agents from Europe’s top leagues, something that occurred less frequently in the years prior to his return.

Hockey’s Future latest Top 20 list for the Avalanche features many new faces from the most recent draft as well as old favorites. Mikko Rantanen supplanting Chris Bigras at the top of the list does not take away from the fact that Bigras remains the Avalanche’s best defensive prospect. While not likely, there is a small possibility both players could be playing for the Avalanche as early as opening night of this season.

20. (18) Julien Nantel, LW, 6.5D

Drafted 7th round, 204th overall, 2014

No one predicted Julien Nantel was going to take such a dramatic leap offensively for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in his draft plus-one season. He became the team’s fourth highest scorer, scoring 26 goals and 61 points, after only putting up 34 points in 68 games the year before. If Nantel continues to improve at the rate he is now he could easily end up being a seventh round steal for the Avalanche.

19. (19) Anton Lindholm, D, 6.5D

Drafted 5th round, 144th overall, 2014

Anton Lindholm is a playoff performer and the trust Skelleftea put in him the previous two seasons shows it. Even though he was only 20 years old, Lindholm faced a lot of the SHL’s best offensive players and fell just short of securing a SHL championship victory both seasons.

It would be interesting to see how Lindholm stacks up against AHL forwards but for now he is expected to continue developing in Sweden’s top professional league. He plays a quiet game so it’s not possible to gauge him as a player based on points alone – he had just seven assists in the regular season – but when his team is doing well it’s safe to say Lindholm is doing his job.

18. (NR) J.C. Beaudin, C, 6.5D

Drafted 3rd round, 71st overall, 2015

After trading Ryan O’Reilly to the Buffalo Sabres, the Avalanche selected J.C. Beaudin 71st overall in hopes that one day he will be able to fill O’Reilly’s shoes one day. The two-way center is strong defensively and has leadership qualities to go along with excellent skating abilities. Beaudin reads plays at a high level but still needs to work on his offensive game, though the 53 points he tallied in his first full season with Rouyn-Noranda suggests there is some upside there.

17. (15) Troy Bourke, C, 6.5C

Drafted 3rd round, 72nd overall, 2012

With his first full season of AHL hockey out of the way, Troy Bourke will look to establish himself as a dependable minor league forward for the San Antonio Rampage next season. As a rookie, Bourke found himself limited to small roles in favor of veteran players.

Bourke is still a project prospect in that he needs to work on his strength, size, and speed before being seriously considered for any NHL role. He has shown he is a versatile player and can play any forward position and on the special teams if necessary.

16. (14) Colin Smith, C, 6.5C

Drafted 7th round, 192nd overall, 2012

The Avalanche’s speed demon is relentless on the forecheck and dangerous in the offensive zone. With the way the Lake Erie Monsters set their lines last season he played anywhere from second line center to fourth line center on any given night.

With two AHL seasons under his belt, Smith enters his third looking for another shot at the NHL. Last season, he received a one-game call up to the Avalanche. Based on pure offensive skills alone, Smith could make a case for being the Avalanche’s top prospect.

15. (7) Will Butcher, D, 7.0D
Drafted 5th round, 123rd overall, 2013

The 2015-16 season will be an important one for Will Butcher as he will finally step out from the shadows of Joey Laleggia (EDM) and onto the top pairing for the University of Denver Pioneers. The junior defenseman will have big expectations not only defensively but also offensively.

Last season, at the World Junior Championships, Butcher carried the top pairing for Team USA and did so admirably despite the United States exiting the tournament without a medal. He finished the season for the Pioneers with 18 points in 38 games.

A highly skilled defenseman, Butcher is small in stature but his game is anything but that. He fares better than expected in the defensive zone but still needs to work on his skating which is only average at the moment.

14. (6) Joey Hishon, C, 7.0D

Drafted 1st round, 17th overall, 2010

Even though Joey Hishon has seemingly recovered from taking nearly two years off of hockey to recover from a concussion, his long-term future with the Avalanche is up in the air. The 2010 first rounder has yet to establish a firm foothold on the Avalanche roster as he hasn’t shown enough offense to be considered a top-six player and does not play a style that would befit the team’s bottom two lines.
Two seasons ago, Hishon made his first NHL appearance in the first round of the 2014 playoffs but failed to make the team out of training camp a few months later and was sent down to the AHL. He wouldn’t see an NHL call up until later in the season where he played 13 games scoring two points.

13. (12) Spencer Martin, G, 6.5C

Drafted 3rd round, 63rd overall, 2013

Spencer Martin suffered a bad break in the middle of last season when a collision with a teammate forced him to miss the remainder of the 2014-15 OHL season with an ACL injury. Without Martin, the Mississauga Steelheads were unable to turn their season around and went 10-29. The replacement by committee method proved to be a failure for the club.

With an NHL contract in hand, Martin could play in either the AHL or ECHL next season depending on where goaltender Roman Will ends up. If Will is to back up Calvin Pickard in San Antonio then Martin would have a job in the ECHL with the Fort Wayne Komets. However the Avalanche may prefer Martin to back up Pickard in the AHL with limited starts as he completely heals from his injury. Another possibility is his return to the Steelheads for his OHL overage season.

12. (NR) A.J. Greer, LW, 7.0D

Drafted 2nd round, 39th overall, 2015

A.J. Greer spent his freshman season for the Boston University Terriers as the youngest forward in the nation. He could have returned to prep hockey and dominated but instead accelerated his studies so that he could play college hockey with the Terriers. Greer spent the majority of the 2014-15 season playing on the fourth line and even found himself a healthy scratch on some nights but as the season went on his hard work earned him more and more ice time. He is expected to compete for a top-six position next season as a sophomore.

Greer made a name for himself at the Avalanche’s summer rookie camp and stood out from his peers. His effort level was far above anybody else’s and he used the opportunity to his advantage to display his skills and ferocious compete level.

11. (11) Borna Rendulic, RW, 6.5C
Acquired via free agency in May, 2014

One of multiple free agent signings in the Spring of 2014, Borna Rendulic was the second of the group to make his NHL debut. The 23 year old played in 11 games for the Avalanche before suffering a broken leg that ended his season.

In his limited time with the Avalanche, Rendulic scored his first NHL goal and assisted on one other for two points in those 11 games. Rendulic’s impression on those who saw him play was that he certainly has the size, skills, and shot to be an NHL regular but needs to bring it all together before he becomes one. He needs to learn to use his size to his advantage and work on his positioning away from the puck before he can be trusted with more ice time.

If it weren’t for the bad break he suffered in January of 2015, Rendulic would have certainly gotten more NHL experience under his belt. With the bottom-six positions not entirely set in stone, it is possible Rendulic may steal a spot on opening night. A strong training camp performance to show he is 100% healed would certainly help his case.

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