We are about to enter the final days of May, and everything is still relatively quiet around the Colorado Avalanche. Hopefully that changes soon. There was, however, some small news this week, as Sampo Ranta made the decision to sign over in the Swedish Elite League. In addition, since things are a little quiet right now, I wanted to talk about a young player who I’ve been told to keep an eye on when training camp rolls around in September.
Going back to Ranta, the 3rd round pick in 2018 played a grand total of 18 games for the Avalanche over the past three seasons. Two of those games came in the postseason, as he actually made his NHL debut back in the 2021 playoffs. For the most part, he was relatively unimpressive in his NHL time, but an already thin system just got a little thinner.
Him leaving for Europe has, once again, brought the focus back on Colorado’s poor drafting record outside of high draft picks. Is it as bad as everyone thinks? We’ll dig into that. But first, I wanted to start with the player I’ve heard people should keep on their radar for next season.
Dark Horse Roster Candidate
I’ll preface this by saying that we are obviously months away from the start of next season. In 30-40 days, the roster could (and likely will) look drastically different for the Avalanche. But as of right now, I’ve been told by multiple people that a name to keep an eye on in a fourth line is Ondrej Pavel.
Pavel was one of the handful of undrafted college free agents the Avalanche signed earlier this year, and probably came with the least fanfare. That’s because he’s not a big scorer. At Minnesota State, he never topped more than 22 points. So with such low production in college, why is he someone to keep an eye on?
Well, he brings a lot of what teams like from a depth forward. He’s a heavy player, very good in the face-off circle, and a strong penalty killer. All of those things even carried over in his time with the Eagles. He’s not likely to be much of a scorer if he sticks at the NHL level, but they like everything else he provides.
Since I heard this, I dug into the film a bit more, and will have a film room up on him soon, with video from both his NCAA and AHL time. There’s still a long ways to go and a lot that will change between now and training camp, but remember that name.
As of right now, the Avalanche are holding on to that 27th pick next month. That could change if they find a trade they like, and if they do move it, it sounds like a lot of fans won’t be that beaten up about it. A big reason for that is Colorado’s drafting record outside of the top 10. It’s not great.
It’s been years since Colorado found that “diamond in the rough” after the first two rounds that surprises everyone. You’d have to go all the way back to Tyson Barrie to see someone who they drafted later in the draft and developed into an NHL player. The hope is that Nikolai Kovalenko can turn the momentum, but until he gets to North America (I’ve been told, as of now, to expect him to play games in Colorado late next season), we won’t know for sure. Jean Luc-Foudy also looks good right now, and should get another look next year. Sampo Ranta leaving for Sweden just kind of re-opened that wound, though, as there were relatively high hopes for him when he turned pro.
Scouting is not an exact science, and the Avalanche have had some issues outside of the sure-fire picks. Is it as bad as people think?
As much as people want to call Alex Newhook a bust, he’s not. Has he lived up to the expectations some had for him? Probably not, but maybe those were too high. Just take a look at that draft. The players drafted after Newhook aren’t that impressive. There’s still room for improvement, but that doesn’t make him a bust. He’s also just 22.
But a quick peek at the Avalanche roster from last year shows no players that the organization drafted after round one played full-time with Colorado. They even got rid of a former first rounder last season (Martin Kaut), as it just wasn’t working out. Some of their draft picks might excel in other cities (like Justin Barron), but the team will have to draft better if they want to stay competitive in the cap era, especially with the top players making so much money. They don’t exactly have a lot of draft picks to turn it around right now, though.
One way they’ve tried to supplement that is through undrafted free agents like Pavel. They hit once with Logan O’Connor, and are hoping to hit again. Ben Meyers struggled to score, but his underlying numbers are promising. Sam Malinski had a dynamite start to his pro career. so they’re hoping that’s a sign of things to come. None of them are draft picks, but any way you can find cheap, talented young players, you’re going to help your team.
But the drafting record is going to have to turn around at some point. It’ll be a while until they’re drafting really high again, so need to find a few more of those “diamonds in the rough” in the meantime.