Colorado Avalanche 2013 draft review

By Blake Benzel

Nathan MacKinnon with Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic - Colorado Avalanche

Photo: Colorado’s first overall pick, Nathan MacKinnon, was the first selection of a new era for the Avalanche, now led by Patrick Roy (left) and Joe Sakic (right) (courtesy of Rich Graessle/Icon SMI)

In the truncated 2012-13 NHL season, the Colorado Avalanche did not have the inauspicious honor of having the worst record in the NHL – that went to the Florida Panthers – but they did win the draft lottery and picked first in this year’s draft, giving them their pick of the litter, so to speak.

Heading into the draft, the Avalanche had seven picks – one in every round – and a number of organizational holes to fill. Despite flirting with the idea of trading the first pick, the Avalanche did not actually make any moves on draft day, instead opting to keep all of their picks and use them to pick the players they had targeted. For the most part, they stuck with the same strategy they have in the past two years, selecting a player from the USHL for the first time since 2010 as well as a player from the United States National Team Developmental Program for the first time since 2010. Apart from that, the team stuck to the party line, drafting primarily from the CHL.

After stocking up on forwards over the last two drafts, the Avalanche selected primarily defensemen this time around, picking only one forward and one goaltender otherwise. With the selections, the Avalanche are now stocked full of defensemen in their system – a position that was a weakness for the team at the NHL level last year.

Nathan MacKinnon, C, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
1st Round, 1st Overall
Height: 6’0 Weight: 183

It was as much of a certainty as you can get in the NHL Draft that the Avs would take MacKinnon, what with Joe Sakic doing everything but starting a “Seen MacKinnon?” campaign in Denver, but draft day came along and there was still that air of uncertainty in the air.

The Avs did end up taking MacKinnon, though, foregoing the pick many viewed as the “safe” pick of Seth Jones (NAS).

MacKinnon is one of those players that come along once, maybe twice a generation. He is an unbelievable offensive talent, as evidenced by his 63 goals and 153 points in 102 games for Halifax in the QMJHL after 194 points in 98 games for Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota.

He was widely renowned as one of the top three players in the draft, and Colorado obviously thought him the best player, and a big reason why is his skating ability. His first step was the best in the draft this year and could be one of the best ever, and he has the hands and the shot that you would expect from the first overall draft pick.

What truly makes him special, however, is his physical game. MacKinnon’s compete level is extremely high and he has the strength to both fight through checks and finish them. He is really the type of player that you can slot in anywhere and feel comfortable, and that type of versatility is good, especially on a team like Colorado who seemingly has a logjam at the center position.

Even with star forwards like Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, MacKinnon could quickly ascend to become the Avs' best player, as he has all of the makings of a future All-Star and yet another young forward that Colorado can build around going forward.

Hockey's Future shot video of MacKinnon at the 2013 NHL Draft. You can view his extended remarks in this HF video.

Chris Bigras, D, Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
2nd Round, 32nd Overall
Height: 6’1 Weight: 186

The Avs took Chris Bigras from the Owen Sound Attack with the 32nd overall pick, and began preemptively filling the holes in their organization that will be opened up after a few of their prospects graduate to the big squad this season.

Bigras plays a simple, yet effective game. He is smart, he is a solid puck-moving defenseman, and he is a terrific skater.

Bigras has NHL potential written all over him and could make that happen sooner, rather than later, if his developmental arc continues as it has. His athleticism and his hockey smarts are what are really intriguing about him and he could find himself surpassing many of Colorado’s already established defensive prospects very quickly if he progresses as it seems he will.

Spencer Martin, G, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
3rd Round, 63rd Overall
Height: 6’2 Weight: 198

Martin garnered a lot of attention this past season for the Mississauga Steelheads, helping to lead the team to the playoffs despite the fact that the Steelheads were the second-lowest scoring team in the OHL. Martin stormed out of the gates this season, posting a 12-5-0 record and a 2.84 goals against average and .915 save percentage through November, before faltering in December. He won just five of his next 27 games and was replaced in the playoffs as the team’s starter.

Despite those struggles, however, the Avalanche are getting a strong goaltender in Martin, who plays the butterfly style. Martin likes to use his size and is very adept at challenging shooters and is very solid moving post-to-post.

As his struggles in the second half of the OHL season indicate, he needs to get a little tougher between the ears in order to be a standout professional goalie, but that is something that is typically learned with maturity and he will have some decent people within the organization to mentor him along the way.

He certainly has some development left to do, but the good news for Colorado is that he will be allowed to do it. They have four very solid young goalies already playing in the pro ranks in their system, so Martin will not be rushed along and will be given the proper time to develop. If he develops well and proves that his stellar start to last season is what the team can expect from him, the Avs have yet another terrific goalie in their system.

Mason Geertsen, D, Vancouver Giants (WHL)
4th Round, 93rd Overall
Height: 6’4 Weight: 203

If the Avs were looking for the team’s next standout stay-at-home defenseman, they may not have to look much farther than Geertsen. Already around 200 pounds at 18 years old, Geertsen is a physical force to be reckoned with on the blue line. He can flat out hit, and he is not afraid to show it.

His downside, however, is that he does not have much of an offensive game to speak of. His two goals and 14 points split between the Edmonton Oil Kings and Vancouver Giants in the WHL this season were both career highs for him, as were his 130 penalty minutes. Geertsen also has a propensity to over-commit, which can leave him vulnerable to some of the more talented forwards.

He is going to take a lot of development, but right now, Geertsen certainly has a lot of the skills that teams look for in their bottom-two defensemen. If he can iron out the wrinkles in his game, he could play an important role in the NHL in the future.

Hockey's Future spoke with Geertsen at the 2013 NHL Combine, a conversation that was captured for this HF video.

Will Butcher, D, USA U-18 (USHL)
5th Round, 123rd Overall
Height: 5’11 Weight: 175

Butcher is a very highly skilled offensive defenseman that has put up solid, consistent numbers at every level he has played. He is a spectacular skater that can be counted on to play big minutes on the power play and when his team needs a goal. He has very strong puck skills and is stellar at making either a first pass to break out of the zone or a last pass to set up a goal. He has a strong shot and is showing improvement in the areas of the game that he is lacking in.

“I’m an offensive defenseman,” Butcher said at the draft, when asked about his game. “A puck-moving guy and a team player.”

As skilled as Butcher is offensively, his defensive game leaves something to be desired. He needs to improve in his decision-making and his defensive game, while better, is still greatly lacking. He can take too many risks with the puck at both ends of the ice, which is a huge problem, but his offensive game outweighs any negative that he might have on the defensive side.

Butcher is committed to play at the University of Denver.

Hockey's Future shot video of Butcher at the 2013 NHL Draft. You can view his remarks in this HF video.

Ben Storm, D, Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
6th Round, 153rd Overall
Height: 6’6 Weight: 216

The first thing you are likely to notice about Storm is his size. At age 19, Storm is big with a capital “B.”

As you would expect from a defenseman this big at this young an age, Storm is a hitter and has great range. His skating, while not at an elite level, is passable and he has a strong compete level and a terrific work ethic.

Beyond that, however, he does not have much to offer. He has some offensive skills, but how well they will transfer to the higher levels is uncertain. After posting 15 goals and 35 points at Calumet High in Michigan, Storm posted just 12 points last season in 52 USHL games. While he could surprise with his offensive game this next season, it is unlikely.

Storm is committed to play at St. Cloud State University.

Wilhelm Westlund, D, Farjestad J20 (Swedish SuperElit)
7th Round, 183rd Overall
Height: 5’11 Weight: 184

Westlund is, to be blunt, a project player. That being said, however, he is a very intriguing one. In addition to his 15 points in 33 games at the junior level in Sweden, Westlund skated in the Sweden’s top pro league, the Swedish Hockey League, for 26 games during his draft year.

He is a very dependable, safe player that sees the ice and thinks very well. He is not going to stand out in any one area, but he is going to be very solid at what he is good at. While his skating needs to improve and he needs to get much bigger and stronger, he could project well as a bottom-pairing defenseman in the NHL if he can fill these holes, or at least augment them a bit.

While he is a long way off, his reliability on the blue line is likely what landed him on Colorado’s radar and is what will get him a good, long look as he develops further.

Follow Blake Benzel on Twitter: @HPTbcbenzel