When it comes to the annual NHL draft the Colorado Avalanche appear more likely to turn to NCAA-feeder leagues for their selections than to Europe, with six players currently playing college hockey to just three overseas. The Avalanche management team has assembled a respectable group of NCAA and European prospects and while none are ready to make the jump to the NHL at the present time, at least four players could see duty at hockey's most elite level within two years, three of whom are goaltenders.
Sami Aittokallio, G, Ilves (SM-liiga)
Drafted 4th round, 107th overall, 2010
An athletic goaltender with sharp reflexes, Sami Aittokallio is starting to develop into the type of goaltender the Avalanche had hoped he would become when they selected him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. The 19-year-old Finn spent the 2011-12 hockey season between several professional leagues in Finland. Playing primarily in the top-tiered SM-liiga, Aittokiallio tallied a .910 save percentage and a 2.82 goals against average playing for an Ilves Tampere squad that would finish the year in last place.
Aittokallio will turn 20 this offseason, an age when many young European netminders opt to cross the Atlantic to play in the AHL and further their development. The skilled goaltender is still likely a season or two away from a stint in the NHL.
Jens Hellgren, D, Mora (Allsvenskan)
Drafted 6th round, 155th overall, 2007
After virtually disappearing from the Avalanche's prospects' radar, Jens Hellgren put himself back on the map in 2011-12 with a strong season in Sweden's second-tiered professional league. Playing for Mora in the Allsvenskan, Hellgren surpassed his previous three-year combined point total in just one season, notching six goals and 15 assists in 50 games. His 21 points placed him second among Mora rearguards.
The big blueliner will be expected to take on an even larger role next season with Mora. If he continues to improve his offensive and defensive zone play, a promotion to the Elitserien is likely at which point he will attract attention from general manager Greg Sherman and possibly even other NHL clubs.
Joachim Nermark, C, Linkoping (SEL)
Drafted 4th round, 93rd overall, 2011
Joachim Nermark is an excellent skater and is often commended for his defensive zone play, but he had a trying rookie season in the Elitserien in 2011-12. The 18-year-old first-year pro failed to record a point in 17 games and recorded just a single goal in 12 contests in the Allsvenskan.
Nermark needs to put a frustrating rookie season behind him by getting stronger and bulking up over the summer offseason. He is at least a productive Elitserien season or two away from playing professional hockey in North America.
Paul Carey, LW, Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)
Drafted 5th round, 135th overall, 2007
Paul Carey is a crafty forward with soft hands and a unique ability to finish, but for a fourth straight season, he failed to truly blossom offensively for the Boston College Eagles. As a senior in 2011-12, Carey has 17 goals and 12 assists in 43 games, playing mostly on the second or third line.
Carey's Boston College Eagles are currently taking a run at a National Championship. When the tournament concludes, the Avalanche will be faced with the decision of whether or not to offer Carey a professional contract.
Nate Condon, C, Minnesota Golden Gophers (WCHA)
Drafted 7th round, 200th overall, 2008
Like Jens Hellgren, Condon has been one of Colorado's most improved prospects this year. An energetic offensive sparkplug who creates for himself and his teammates, Condon nearly doubled his freshman production this past season. The diminutive pivot scored 11 goals and added 19 assists in 43 games as a sophomore in 2011-12.
Kieran Millan, G, Boston University Terriers (Hockey East)
Drafted 5th round, 124th overall, 2009
As a senior for the Boston University Terriers in 2011-12, Kieran Millan had a stellar season. The Edmonton-native compiled a .923 save percentage en route to posting a 20-14-1 record. Millan looked more human in his brief Frozen Four performance however, surrendering five goals in a first round elimination at the hands of the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Overall, Millan put together an impressive four-year NCAA resume which includes an 81-42-12 record, a .915 save percentage and a National Championship. This would normally be enough to earn a contract offer from the NHL organization that retains your rights but the Avalanche have a slew of promising goaltenders on the rise, including Kent Patterson.
Luke Moffatt, RW, Michigan Wolverines (CCHA)
Drafted 7th round, 197th overall, 2010
Luke Moffatt failed to flourish offensively in his sophomore season but the Avalanche were aware that he might be a long-term project when they selected him in the seventh round in 2010. The Paradise Valley, Arizona-native found the net six times and added 10 assists in 2011-12 for the Michigan Wolverines, good for a three point improvement from his freshman campaign. He also notched an assist in a first round loss to Cornell at the Frozen Four tournament.
Moffatt is likely to play out his college eligibility and is therefore unlikely to make the jump to the pros until 2014. He'll continue to work on his skating and decision-making skills with the puck.
Kent Patterson, G, Minnesota Golden Gophers (WCHA)
Drafted 4th round, 113th overall, 2007
Kent Patterson is a reliable goaltender, capable of making the big momentum-changing save when his team most desperately needs it. The University of Minnesota senior posted a 2.32 goals against average and seven shutouts en route to winning over 60 percent of the games he played in during 2011-12.
Patterson will likely receive a contract offer from the Avalanche at the end of the NCAA tournament.
Gus Young, D, Yale Bulldogs (ECAC)
Drafted 7th round, 184th overall, 2009
Like Moffatt, the Avalanche see Gus Young as a project. The 20-year-old took some encouraging steps forward in 2011-12 as a sophomore at Yale, recording three goals and nine assists in 35 games. He also led Yale defenders with 36 penalty minutes.
Young plays with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, which is something that many Colorado defensive prospects lack. His willingness to play a physical game will aid his development, which will likely include another couple seasons of college hockey.