Gabriel Landeskog assumes top role in Colorado’s fall Top-20

By John Canario
Photo: Gabriel Landeskog will look to make an impact in the NHL with the Avalanche right away. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

With a couple of first-round draft picks among the top 11 selections in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Colorado Avalanche's top 20 prospects has changed dramatically over the past six months. The updated rankings include a pair of new faces in the top two positions in Gabriel Landeskog and Duncan Siemens. Fourth-round pick Joachim Nermark also makes his debut, while Ryan Stoa and Justin Mercier make the biggest downward slides.

1. (NR) Gabriel Landeskog, RW, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 2nd overall, 2011

The Avalanche opted to make the Kitchener Rangers' Gabriel Landeskog the second overall pick of the 2011 draft, and he promptly assumes the top spot on Colorado's prospect rankings. The smooth-skating Swede has a tremendous shot, is reliable at both ends of the ice and is arguably the most NHL-ready prospect of the 2011 draft class. At just 18 years of age he is already at NHL-playing size and is not afraid to throw his body around. A man among boys at the OHL level last season, Landeskog notched 36 goals and 30 assists in 53 games.

The jury is still out on whether or not Landeskog's offensive skills are polished enough to ever become an elite scoring line player, but his work ethic and leadership skills guarantee that he will be a contributor on an NHL roster in some capacity.

Considering Colorado's need for scoring line wingers, Landeskog could play at the NHL level as early as the 2011-12 season if he puts forward a strong performance in training camp.

2. (NR) Duncan Siemens, D, 8.0C
Drafted 1st round, 11th overall, 2011

Still just 17 years old, Duncan Siemens' potential is through the roof. The hulking, young blueliner will pack 10 to 20 more pounds onto his generous frame over the remainder of his junior career, which should only further increase his stock as a physical, hard-nosed defender. He has an offensive side of his game as well, as he recorded five goals and 38 assists in 72 games for the Saskatoon Blades this past season.

Siemens will likely spend the next couple years in the WHL, getting stronger and working on his defensive zone play. In a few years Siemens could see himself reunited with Blades' defensive partner, Stefan Elliott.

3. (3) Stefan Elliott, D, 8.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 49th overall, 2009

Stefan Elliott, the 2011 WHL Defenseman of the Year, found the net 31 times and tacked on 51 assists in 71 games last season. The 20-year-old is a top-tier offensive rearguard with exceptional vision and a cannon for a shot. A reliable decision-maker, Elliott rarely makes mistakes and was a plus-62 in 2010-11. Elliott's only weakness at this point is that he lacks a physical side to his game.

Elliott has played out his WHL eligibility and will start 2010-11 with either the Avalanche or their AHL-affiliated Lake Erie Monsters. Elliott has the potential to be a top-pairing defenseman at the NHL ranks.

4. (1) Joey Hishon, C, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 17th overall, 2010

Joey Hishon was a big part of the reason his Owen Sound Attack were crowned OHL champions in 2010-11. A fluid skater with great vision and a nose for the net, Hishon is a well-rounded player with formidable offensive skills. Though modest in stature, the 19-year-old is a fearless leader and willingly goes to any area of the ice to engage in puck battles. However, he does have a long history of injuries, his most recent coming after a head-check in the Memorial Cup.

With a history of groin, wrist, and now concussion injuries, Hishon's inability to stay healthy might be his biggest obstacle on his path to the NHL. With little left to prove in junior following a championship and an 87-point season in 2010-11, Hishon will fight for spot on either the Avs' or Monsters' roster in 2011-12.

5. (2) Calvin Pickard, G, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 49th overall, 2010

The Seattle Thunderbirds' Calvin Pickard is the top-ranked netminder in Colorado's system. The quick, technically-sound goaltender has played in 130 games over the past two seasons, and has played very well despite a laborious workload. Having played on subpar teams the last couple years in Seattle, Pickard has been peppered with shots often forcing him to make spectacular saves. He upped his save percentage from .914 in 2009-10 to .916 last season, and has a good chance at cracking the Canadian roster at the upcoming Under-20 WJC in Calgary and Edmonton.

The Avalanche won't rush Pickard in his development, and he'll play at least one more year in the WHL before likely moving on to join Lake Erie for further seasoning.

6. (4) Cameron Gaunce, D, 7.0B
Drafted 2nd round, 50th overall, 2008

Cameron Gaunce broke into the NHL as a 20-year-old late in the 2010-11 season, and despite limited ice-time didn't look out of place. The former Mississauga St. Michael's Majors' standout spent most of the season in Lake Erie, where he was noted for his strong play in both ends. While he lacks the flash that prospects like Elliott and Tyson Barrie have, he is a significantly more physical defenseman. Gaunce showed he was not afraid of dropping the gloves against NHL players either, as he held his own in a fight with veteran Mike Komisarek in March of 2011.

While he might see more time with Lake Erie in 2011-12, he has the leg up on the rest of the Avs' defense prospects who will be fighting for a roster spot with the parent club in training camp. Gaunce projects as a mid-pairing defenseman, capable of playing in all scenarios.

7. (7) Tyson Barrie, D, 7.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 64th overall, 2009

Not to be outdone by Elliott, Tyson Barrie's 2010-11 campaign signaled the culmination of one of the greatest five-year WHL careers for a rearguard in recent memory. The 2010 WHL Defenseman of the Year turned in his second straight season with a better than point-per-game average and represented Canada at the 2011 Under-20 WJC in Buffalo.

Barrie's a strong skater with a booming slapshot and great puck-moving skills. He will use his body on occasion but is not a particularly physical blueliner. His defensive zone play could also stand to improve.

Based on his offensive merits, Barrie could force Avalanche management to make a difficult decision regarding whether he starts the season in Lake Erie or Colorado.

8. (5) Joel Chouinard, D, 7.0C
Drafted 6th round, 167th overall, 2008

Despite a broken collarbone that kept him out most of the season, Joel Chouinard impressed in 2010-11 with eight goals and nine assists in 35 games for the Lake Erie Monsters. Chouinard's greatest attribute is the howitzer-like shot he can unleash from the point. However, he is prone to making some questionable decisions in his own end, and looked somewhat more apprehensive to play physically after returning from his collarbone injury.

Chouinard, who is due just $600,000 each of the next two years as an NHLer, could be an enticing prospect for the Avalanche to promote in 2011-12.

9. (8) Kent Patterson, G, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 113th overall, 2007

Kent Patterson is an athletic goaltender with ideal size and good reflexes. His ability to square up to shooters and take away most of the net allowed him to post a .916 save percentage and a 14-9-6 record for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers this past season.

Despite being a junior last season, it was Patterson's first as the Golden Gophers' starting netminder. In all likelihood, the Plymouth, Minnesota-native will spend another season developing in the NCAA, but could be just a year away from challenging for an NHL job if he continues to progress.

10. (10) Jonas Holos, D, 7.0C
Drafted 6th round, 170th overall, 2008

Jonas Holos split the 2010-11 campaign between Colorado and Lake Erie, and while he didn't blow anyone away statistically, he showed he is capable of playing against the top players in the world on a nightly basis. An excellent skater, Holos makes smart decisions and moves the puck well.

At the present time, Holos looks like a depth defender for the Avalanche as they decide what to do with the abundance of exceptional young talent they have along the blue line. With 39 NHL games already under his belt, the 24-year-old appears to have the inside lane on the Avs' prospects who will be battling for a job with the parent club at what should be a tremendously competitive training camp.

11. (11) Sami Aittokallio, G, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 107th overall, 2010

Sami Aittokallio is an exceptionally quick goalie capable of making acrobatic saves. The Finnish netminder is Colorado's top prospect currently playing overseas. Aittokallio split the 2010-11 season between the SM-Liiga and the Under-20 SM-Liiga, recording a .909 and .922 save percentage in the respective leagues.

At just 19, Aittokallio is expected to spend at least another season or two in Europe, likely in the SM-Liiga where he can work on the technical side of his game as well as pack on a few pounds.

12. (9) Mark Olver, C, 7.0C
Drafted 5th round, 140th overall, 2008

In 18 games with the Avalanche in 2010-11, Mark Olver did not disappoint. The diminutive center notched nine points and showed that he can contribute when given an opportunity to play on a scoring line. Olver didn't back down from playing aggressively at the next level either, recording 27 hits and 18 minutes in penalties. He ranked among Lake Erie's leaders in nearly all offensive categories as well.

One thing Olver needs to improve is his on-ice awareness at the NHL level, as he was absolutely crushed by Mike Komisarek after looking back to receive a pass during a game in March of this past season.

Despite the Avs' trio of young talent down the middle in Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, and Ryan O'Reilly, Olver has a good chance at cracking Colorado's roster in 2010-11.

13. (12) Kieran Millan, G, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 124th overall, 2009

Kieran Millan is the Avalanche's fourth-ranked goaltending prospect, but he has arguably the best resume of the bunch. As an NCAA rookie in 2008-09, Millan won the Frozen Four Championship as the starting backstopper for the Boston University Terriers. In three years at BU, the 21-year-old has compiled a 61-28-11 record en route to registering 2658 saves. Though undersized, Millan makes it difficult for opposing shooters with excellent lateral movement and above-average reflexes.

As with all goaltenders who opt to go the college route, Millan has yet to face the challenge of playing a long season with an extended schedule. Millan will spend 2011-12 with the Terriers but could get the opportunity to take on the challenge of an 80-game season with Lake Erie as soon as 2012-13.

14. (13) Troy Rutkowski, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 137th overall, 2010

Troy Rutkowski is a good two-way defenseman capable of playing in any situation. Though not a great skater, Rutkowski chips in offensively with good vision and a heavy shot. He has good size and plays the game with a bit of a chip on his shoulder.

While impressive, Rutkowski's total of 90 points over the past two seasons might be partially inflated from playing on powerhouse Portland Winterhawks' teams. He will suit up for the Winterhawks again in 2011-12, and could get a sniff at 60 points in his fourth WHL season.

15. (15) Brad Malone, C, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 105th overall, 2007

An agitating forward with some underrated offensive skills, Brad Malone accumulated 40 points in 43 games as a senior at the University of North Dakota in 2010-11. While his puck skills may not be quite refined enough to warrant the title of power forward, Malone has certainly shown that he is a menace to play against. The 22-year-old's strength and pugnacity should serve him well as he tries to crack the NHL, though his average skating ability could hold him back.

Having signed a two-year entry level deal with the Avalanche, Malone will likely start the season in Lake Erie. He projects as a checking line troublemaker at the pro level.

16. (6) Ryan Stoa, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 34th overall, 2005

Once a top prospect, Ryan Stoa has seen his stock drop dramatically over the last season. The 24-year-old was drafted six years ago, and initially took great strides in his development, through college and on to the AHL ranks as a prolific goal scorer. The 2010-11 campaign was somewhat of a step back, with Stoa often disappearing for significant stretches. With an expiring contract and the Avalanche out of the playoff hunt, management opted to see what they had in the big power forward and brought him up for 25 games where he managed just four points.

The Avalanche re-signed Stoa to a one-year two-way contract this offseason, so this could be his last chance to prove to the organization that he is capable of competing in the NHL on a consistent basis.

17. (NR) Joachim Nermark, C, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 93rd overall, 2011

Joachim Nermark is an intriguing prospect who is known for his reliable two-way game. Despite often being applauded for his selfless defensive play, the 6'1 Swede has an unheralded offensive game that shone through during the 2010 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament when he tallied 11 points in five games.

A swift skater, Nermark could stand to play a little more selfishly and will spend a few more seasons in the Elitserien developing better hockey sense. He projects as a shutdown player and penalty-kill specialist with some scoring upside at the NHL level.

18. (14) Justin Mercier, C, 6.0 C
Drafted 6th round, 168th overall, 2005

Like Nermark, Justin Mercier is a hard-working two-way forward that can score the occasional goal. At 24 now, Mercier is settling into a role as a gritty, defensive, depth player for the Avalanche.

Similarly to Ryan Stoa, Mercier took somewhat of a step back in 2010-11. After an encouraging rookie campaign in 2009-10 that saw Mercier net 13 goals in 64 games, he managed just 12 despite playing in 16 more games last season in an increased role.

Unless he can consistently string together a series of more inspiring efforts in 2011-12, Mercier is likely to spend the year in Lake Erie.

19. (19) Luke Walker, RW, 6.0 C
Drafted 5th round, 139th overall, 2010

Luke Walker is competitive winger with a hard, accurate shot who also has a bit of a nasty side. The Castlegar, British Columbia-native has a desirable work ethic, and will spend another season with the Lake Erie Monsters adjusting to the pro game.

While he could see some time on one of the Monsters' scoring lines in 2011-12, he projects as a third-liner at the NHL level. His average skating ability and poor play without the puck are his two biggest hurdles as he makes his case for the NHL.

20. (16) Stephen Silas, D, 6.0 C
Drafted 4th round, 95th overall, 2010

Stephen Silas greatest strength is his puck-moving ability, finding open teammates in stride up ice. Aside from great vision, strong passing skills and a penchant for playing physical, Silas has many areas of his game that require improvement. The Belleville Bulls' defender does not possess the ideal shot of an offensive rearguard, he is not a great skater and he occasionally over-handles the puck which leads to giveaways.

Silas needs a bounce-back season in 2011-12, which could be a likely scenario on what should be an improved Bulls' squad. The 19-year-old's game is still a little rough around the edges, but he projects as a depth NHL defender who is still at least a few years away.