Avalanche 2007 draft preview

By Jason Menard

Top 10 prospects

1. T.J. Hensick, C
2. Ryan Stoa, C
3. Chris Stewart, RW
4. Kyle Cumiskey, D
5. Denis Parshin, RW
6. Nigel Williams, D
7. Tom Fritsche, LW
8. Raymond Macias, D
9. Codey Burki, C
10. Johnny Boychuk, D

The Colorado Avalanche are in a transitional period as they try to move from the glory days of Forsberg, Sakic, and Tanguay to a bright future anchored by relative newcomers Peter Budaj, Wojtek Wolski, and Paul Stastny. And with four picks in the first two rounds of the NHL entry draft, the Avs are looking to add some pretty solid complementary pieces to the talented youth foundation they’ve already built.

The club enters the draft with its own first rounder, 14th overall. In addition to their own second-round selection, they acquired Calgary’s second-round selection when they shipped Alex Tanguay to the Flames in return for Jordan Leopold and a pair of second rounders. Later that year, they added Anaheim’s second-round selection for peddling off George Parros.

As part of the Parros trade, Anaheim obtained the right to swap third rounders with Colorado (although the Ducks’ selection – along with the right to swap — is now property of the Tampa Bay Lightning). This, in effect, will drop the Avs to the end of Round 3, and the Avalanche has the rest of their selections, save for their sixth-round pick, which was traded to San Jose in return for Michael Vernace.

What that means is that the Avalanche have an immense amount of flexibility before them in the draft. With the 14th pick in Round 1, along with the 14th, 18th, and 30th picks in the second round, Colorado may be able to package a few selections to move up in the first round, acquire a second first rounder, or peddle picks for more immediate help.

Team Needs

The club has come a long way in retooling its roster from the glory days when they were an annual Cup contender. But while the forward unit is well on its way replacing its Forsbergs, Drurys, Tanguays, and Sakics with the new breed of Statsnys, Wolskis, and Parkers, it still has a way to go before the Bourques and Blakes along the blueline are updated, not to mention a Patrick Roy between the pipes.

The club has acquired impressive depth up front and has already used that to start obtaining the rest of the pieces of puzzle. But until a more solid blueline and netminding presence are obtained, the franchise won’t be able to mount a challenge to relive its past glory.

Organizational Strengths

Up front, the club has benefited from the rapid development of its young forward talent. Wolski went from the junior ranks to becoming a solid point-producing contributor at the NHL level, while Stastny surprised many by challenging for rookie-of-the-year status. With young talent like the aforementioned duo, Brad Richardson, and Marek Svatos learning under the tutelage of and examples set by veterans like Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk, and Scott Walker, the club is well entrenched with talented, versatile forwards for the next few years.

In addition, with prospects such as T.J. Hensick, Ryan Stoa, and Codey Burki in the pipeline, the Avalanche are blessed with significant depth and talent down the middle for years to come.

This embarrassment of riches has already been leveraged by the club in an attempt to shore up weaker areas of the club and organization as a whole. Last year, the Avs parlayed a talented – but surplus – forward in Alex Tanguay for Jordan Leopold, a promising blueliner in whom Colorado was hoping would step up to fill a void. And while the trade didn’t bring the immediate returns the club was hoping for, there is still time for the transaction to reap ample rewards for the Avalanche long term.

Organizational Weaknesses

The biggest weakness is between the pipes. Saddled with Jose Theodore’s unwieldy contract, the Avalanche are in the unenviable position of having the league’s highest-priced and least-performing backup netminder. Peter Budaj stepped up, but hasn’t instilled the club with the confidence in goaltending play that they once took for granted with Roy between the pipes. The system is largely devoid of quality netminders as well, with only Tyler Weiman in the system and last year’s seventh-round flier Billy Sauer as a more long-term project.

Defensively, the club has populated its blueline with quantity, if not quality. Leopold didn’t bring the immediate returns the club had hoped for, while Jean-Michael Liles, Brett Clark, Ken Klee, and Karlis Stratins aren’t exactly tearing up the league. Compounding this is the loss of much-maligned, but serviceable veteran blueliner Patrice Brisebois to unrestricted free agency.

In addition to the trade for Leopold, the Avs attempted to shore up their blueline prospects by taking Nigel Williams in the second round and Kevin Montgomery in the fourth. Williams has the size that the team loves, but hasn’t put all the pieces together, while Montgomery’s development was stunted by a mid-season move from the NCAA ranks to the OHL‘s London Knights, and a subsequent injury that plagued him the rest of the season.

Draft Tendencies

Years of solid performances at the NHL level have left the Avalanche in the challenging position of having to select later in the rounds, but they’ve shown a deft ability in obtaining talented prospects despite their draft positioning.

Last season marked the first draft for GM Francois Giguere who filled some mighty large shoes at the draft table for the departing Pierre Lacroix. What we saw last season was a willingness to draft based on skill rather than need, as Chris Stewart was selected with their first-round pick despite of a surplus of forwards in the organization. And Montgomery’s selection shows that Giguere may have learned a thing or two about mining the later rounds for hidden games – a hallmark of the Lacroix draft strategy.

Hockey’s Future 2007 Mock Draft Result:
Jonathan Blum, D, Vancouver Giants

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.