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Mining The Draft – Can The Avalanche Strike Later-Round Gold? Defense Edition



Colorado Avalanche 2023 NHL Draft

Hello again friends, Hello!

CHN readers! long time, no type… literally. I’m back (temporarily) to help Evan wade the NHL draft waters.

I will be providing some thoughts/insight into several draft prospects and with my opinion, discuss why Colorado Avalanche General Manager Chris McFarland and Director of Amateur Scouting Wade Klippenstein should look at these players in the later rounds of the 2023 NHL Draft. The odds of finding genuine NHL caliber talent in the later rounds is slim, not going to sugar coat it. However, as technology and scouting techniques/staff continually improve, so do the chances of firing your shot and hitting on a prospect with a draft dart beyond the first few rounds or so. 

Building To Win

The Avalanche ascended the mountain but a season ago, the cost of that and the attempts to again rein as champions came at a price. That’s a price that you simply pay every darn time, right? Players are assets, pawn pieces in the game of ‘Stanley Cup life’. Players have cost associations, as well as hold value in form of draft capital, paying for success costs both. The acquisition of such players as Josh Manson, Artturi Lehkonen and Alexander Georgiev have been pivotal for the Colorado Avalanche. The first two played huge roles in the cup run and the latter looks to be the one needed to backstop another.

It did, however, leave a gap in the prospect pool. Not only did they lose high-end guys like Justin Barron, but missing out on those higher-end talents on draft day leaves you with less future replenishment as players start to move on via free agency, trade or simply have the curtains draw on their prime years. Also, with the cap not producing the affluence some had predicted, cap flexibility is necessary – ELCs provide that.

The Draft And It’s Prospects

The modus operandi for this draft for me is simple: find players that have high floors and relatively safe ceilings. Organizational depth is getting thin and it is time to find some bodies that are going to play, or be able to at some point.

How do I see the Avalanche finding new assets and depth players with little-to-no draft capital? Hitting on some 2023 picks will help. It is my view that this is a very deep class that should yield many potential future NHL players.

But let’s not kid ourselves here, the proof won’t be in any hockey pudding for three, four, five… six seasons from now. Late round picks take time because they are exactly that, late round picks. Flaws and growth patterns in mind, the excitement in plucking a needle from a hay stack is always welcomed.

So with that said, time to dive into some prospects!

The Late Crew, As Such

The importance in ranking later picks for me is minimal. By this stage of the draft, draft boards have changed dramatically and values change, as do needs/wants. For this reason, I’m grouping a bunch of prospects together that should yield significant value between picks 155 and 219.

I believe there may be a few guys floating around in the fifth and sixth rounds that I would be completely for the Avalanche taking. This, to me, is the range where potential fourth round targets can slip to for many reasons. As for the seventh round, anything can happen.

Here are six defenseman (and some other mentions) that I see as good fits in no particular order.

The Defenseman

Sawyer Mynio – Seattle Thunderbirds #43

Left Shot Defenseman 

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 163 Pounds

D.O.B: April 30, 2005

2022-23 Stats: 68 GP – 5G – 26A – 31 PTS

The Good Stuff:

Defensively elegant; a perfect way to summarize Kamloops native Mynio’s game. There is such a subtle, yet obvious, strength to this play, being his defensive details. Whilst he doesn’t boast a super high-end defensive toolkit, leaving him somewhat one-dimensional, Mynio does what he does best, better than most.

Mynio is a total puck shark with strong anticipation and puck disruption techniques. There aren’t many better in this class at being able to read skating patterns, engaging the body with leverage and stripping pucks- thus causing turnovers.

But his game is not as simple as rush defence only. It’s his hockey sense, stick discipline and puck recognition – identifying how to win his battles, win possession and create offence. He uses great pre-scanning and spatial awareness, making sound judgements on how to advance the puck with pace. There’s not many better at making good passing reads and decisions under duress exiting his own zone than Mynio. 

He isn’t necessarily a skater with great cadence, but he does explode from his base and closes space quickly.

There is great understanding of assignments in varying depths of the defensive zone. He locks on to bodies, drives back to the hard areas – finding ways to disrupt high danger chances by ripping at pucks, lifting sticks and strong body usage. He’s somewhat old school in a sense, puck and body first, but is also creative enough to find clean exits.

The Improvements:

For Mynio, being able to extend plays with his feet, utilise his edges more often and show more acumen in his rush support and abilities offensively. His baseline defensively is so so good, but NHL requirements these days ask that you play at great pace and have forms of offensive contribution.


I see Mynio as a solid number five or six defender on any NHL team. He will check the top lines, block shots and be a handy contributor on the penalty kill. There will be an expectation that he finds more offensive flair, but on a Seattle team loaded on defense, Mynio took on reduced offensive roles. The offensive development will come in time. Consistently ranked between 160 and 230, here’s to hoping that Mynio falls that far.

Ben Robertson – Waterloo Black Hawks #21

Left Shot Defenseman 

Height: 5’10”

Weight: 183 pounds 

D.O.B: September 18, 2004

2022-23 Stats: 61 GP – 3G – 42A – 45 PTS

The Good Stuff:

An argument could be made for the product of Potomac Falls, Virginia as being the best transition defenseman available from the USHL this year.

Few are able to transition the puck from their own end with the same speed and conviction as he is. Robertson does a stellar job of getting his head up early, maps out his lanes and attacks with plans A, B and C in his pocket. Although he doesn’t have the length of some of his peers, he is able to thwart off stick checks and body contact with his sure-handed puck control and small-area edgework.

When in the cycle, he is able to shift gears accordingly with poise and versatility. There’s his high-to-low game, where he can work up and down the walls shifting defenses, seeking to create passing lanes or forge his own scoring opportunities.

He’s also a very calculated and deliberate distributor from the point and from the walls. He can walk the line, shifting and manipulating traffic at the net front as good as anyone. This allows for him to show off his offensive vision, finding the opportune time to fling a puck on net or to work someone open. His passes are crisp, accurate and usually well-weighted.

All in all, he’s a very good puck manager who doesn’t cause catastrophic errors. The importance of puck possession and how to manage that, especially off of his own stick, is very apparent in his game.

The Improvements:

It’s his work in his own end. Almost all of it needs work. He isn’t horribly bad defensively, at all so let’s settle that. He gets plenty of touches and is always present around the puck, it’s away from the puck and his ability to find it that needs to level up.

When he should be engaging bodies at the net or chasing pucks into the corners, too often I’ve viewed him puck watching, avoiding contact, in hope of getting soft touches in soft areas. That doesn’t work at the NHL level. He also can lose his positioning and gap control in rush defence too for similar reasons. Just too many offensive thoughts too early in a defensive sequence, spending the puck before you have it.

I’d love to see him lengthen that stride a little more too.


I have some doubts Robertson lasts to the Avs’ fifth round pick, but the harsh NHL Central Scouting ranking of #193 amongst North American skaters may scare some off. He has genuine offensive defender upside, albeit with some work to do. I can’t help but feel a system that demands more responsibility and pushes him to round out his defensive side will get the best out of him. He has the pace and hockey IQ to have genuine two-way defender claims, he just needs some sculpting. A few good seasons at Cornell in the NCAA should do that.

Matthew Mayich – Ottawa 67’s #22

Left Shot Defenseman 

Height: 6’2″

Weight: 187 Pounds 

D.O.B: December 21, 2004

2022-23 Stats: 64 GP – 5G – 17A – 22 PTS

The Good Stuff:

Was rewarded with a 50-place rise on his mid-term rank from NHL Central Scouting, ending the season at number 72 for North American skaters. Although I could make the argument 72 is too high, Mayich does possess some intriguing qualities, giving teams reasons to add him to their stable of prospects.

The noticeable higher-end defensive tools, mobility and all-around good hockey senses are the foundations upon which his game is built upon.

When watching Mayich, the compete and engagement he shows in his own end are at really good levels. This is due to a few things.

Firstly, his four-dimensional skating allows him to defend with good success in a multitude of ways. He has the lateral and north/south explosiveness to be able to close off transition and force play away from the middle of the ice. When defending in the cycle, he smothers and closes off spaces, not allowing for any fluidity in attack with his small area skating details. He is very active and always keeping his feet moving in the defensive zone, seeking to make impactful defensive plays.


Secondly, he knows how to use his frame and length to leverage position. Often, he is seeking to make contact at pace, jamming up on attackers with his stick and using his body to drive opponents off the puck. Mayich is far from a monsterous man, but the combination of speed and hardness gives him a very solid defensive presence. Loves to mix it up physically too, not afraid to create a tone or stand up for his teammates.

The development in his off-puck play offensively has also been a treat to watch this season. He shows capable skill in being able to identify when the good moments are to join the rush and look to sneak into good scoring areas.

His first pass and zone exit abilities have also shown areas of growth.

The Improvements:

For Mayich, it’s mostly going to be how much more positive play can come from his own tape. Yes, he’s good at some rush aspects but finding consistency in transition. He’s somewhat robotic when tasked with moving the puck up ice, he’ll need to build on his creativity and look to move pucks with more pace and accuracy. The signs of improvement are there, as to how much translates, that is yet to be known.


Given how well he defends against his peers right now, there’s no reason to doubt as this class matures, Mayich won’t also continue to grow as a stout defenseman. He has great overall mobility and individual defensive skills that for me give him bottom pairing upside. If that offence grows and he finds confidence within it, he could be a little more than just a defensive specialist.

Ty Higgins – Acadie-Bathurst Titans #55

Right Shot Defenseman

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 187  Pounds

D.O.B: September 26,2004

2022-23 Stats: 68 GP – 13 G – 21 A – 41 PTS

The Good Stuff:

An older player for this draft class by birth-date, but with that, comes some maturity. The Stratford, Ontario native was a pillar this season on the Titan blue-line, pitching in 23 minutes a night in all situations. With Higgins, two-way habits and compete defensively is what will draw the most attention to scouts.

Ty has one of the better gap control techniques in the QMJHL, showcasing on a nightly basis the ability to gap up, leverage and shorten the ice in one-on-one situations. He is able to show good cadences in his back skating and enough lateral movement in conjunction with his timing to make plays on the puck with his stick. He usually looks to get a read on the opposing attackers skating pattern and meets the puck at the earliest point possible. Finishes his checks too.

Whilst he doesn’t boast high-end power skating elements, he is very clever with his edges and body usage. In his own zone, he shows good craft in drawing the forecheck to the dirty areas on retrievals. He uses his frame, edges and strength on the puck to move pucks quickly, on either side of his body, with average-to-good proficiency when evading pressure.

Offensively, he has shown more propensity in extending plays with his feet. Looking to play with more jazz in walking the line; activating into the higher slot and also seeking more touches in the cycle mostly. Playing with forced fluidity and looking to play more as a distributor rather than a shoot-first type guy has really helped his edge utilization improve as the season matured. I like his offensive creativity and dare.

In terms of his general hockey sense, he is very controlled. Safe is a good term for him. He doesn’t over emphasise forcing pucks into areas when not applicable, he’d rather just make simple plays, regardless of the direction of play. He is sound in his positioning and is rarely drawn wide or narrow. I like his composure and he has that little extra bite; a tough but disciplined sixth gear physically when called upon.

The Improvements:

The biggest thing for Higgins will be adding some explosiveness to his game. He isn’t slow, but he does lack top end skating elements that would probably see him be an earlier pick. He can get caught to the outside on longer skating patterns a little too much for me. Adding that dash of speed should correct it.


I saw his offensive side blossom as the season wore on, a nice new bow to add to his very well-rounded quiver of defensive skill. He finished the season with a bit of a flurry, showcasing offensive zone exploration and taking onus on himself with more offensive touches; production followed. He has some really good elements in his defensive game that cannot be ignored and that is facts. Rush and zonal defence is key in any modern game.

Ty is not an overly easy player to evaluate as a whole. He has some great traits but also has some knots that need massaging out of his game. He ranks as high as 110 and as low as 240 on public draft lists, so there is room for serious discussion on what his ceiling could be.

Emil Pieniniemi – Kärpät U20 #61

Left Shot Defenseman 

Height: 6’2″

Weight: 170 Pounds 

D.O.B: March 2, 2005

2022-23 Stats: 31 GP – 1G – 12A – 13 PTS (U20 Only)

The Good Stuff:

Disclaimer here. Of all the defenseman I will list, Emil has probably the biggest bust factor, but if developed properly, I like his ceiling.

This young Finnish, two-way blue-liner, has incredible athleticism. Blend that with a pro-style skating stride and good offensive toolkit. He has flashes of eye-catching brilliance. He has the size and mobility to his game that’s very desirable, something that jumps out at you right away.

In the offensive zone, Pieniniemi has a great set of tools. He almost activates into a forward with his movements. The ability to play the small areas, carve his way through traffic and drive the net is rather appealing. Cannot dismiss his bag of tricks and puck deception in his best moments.

The ability to read his own zone, swoop onto loose pucks and and find ways to make plays at range is a delightful feature to his game. Once in possession, Emil displays good initial scanning, picking his skating lanes in good time and offers good deception with his edges, reach, and puck control in order to navigate zone-to-zone.

Defensively, he uses very much the same aspects I listed above (skating, reach and mobility) to find success. Whilst he may not be a shut-down type or overly consistent in his defensive acumen yet, he is able to cover some holes in his game with his speed, range and a no quit attitude. He skates deep with his man, forces them wide to the walls and uses his length to suffocate interior passing lanes. He does this at a great pace, often forcing attackers into making unstructured plays under pressure. Emil has a great sense of when to contain or pressure and closes spaces quickly.

The Improvements:

As nice as it is having someone at six-feet-two rushing the puck up ice and playing with fluidity, it’s not hard to pick up that he struggles with his finishing. I do question his hockey IQ. Mainly based off of the fact his puck management isn’t his strong suit. Too often he’ll settle for shots from poor locations or look to force pucks into areas that are not to an advantage. Finding more balance and top end speed is also a must. Added strength should see that occur.

He’ll need to learn how to pace himself, extend plays and utilize teammates more as he develops. Finding ways to implement more of a physical edge to his play won’t hurt either.


I feel that he’s worth the squeeze if you get him at the right spot. He does come with a warning label that states “patience required”. I’ve seen him at 74 on one list, and generally in the mid-100s on others. Fifth or sixth round seems about right for me considering the risk versus the reward.

Justin Kipkie – Victoria Royals #3

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 195 Pounds

D.O.B: July 28, 2005

2022-23 Stats: 67 GP – 5G – 25A – 33 PTS

The Good Stuff:

Was a standout rookie in the WHL this season. Showcased some really good two-way ability and did so lodging big minutes.

As someone who has seen a fair bit of Kipkie, I must say, his ascension this season was surprising but great all the same. Previous concerns I held evaporated quickly. The size and length you can’t teach, but the way he demonstrates the understanding of how to use it and get the most from his body has been a pleasure.

The way he can position himself, altering a forwards skating pattern, is first class. Kipkie does a great job of keeping play to the outside, forcing play to the corners and away from danger areas. He has a great sense of anticipation, knowing when to close the middle off and how to position his stick and body to do so. That length he owns allows for good general mobility and he closes gaps with deceptive power and speed.

Stick discipline and stick strength also aide him in being a good rush and cycle stopper. In my opinion, he’s one of the more complete one-on-one puck battle defenders in the WHL for this class.

He’s shown some real acceleration in his offensive capabilities this season, something that should catch a scouts eye.

He has always had a decent shot, boasting strength and accuracy, this season he displayed evidence of better shot selection and also better tools to access areas to shoot from. His timing in rush support, the added poise and finesse when on the puck and an overall better understanding of his own game has propelled his production. Kid can go bar down when given a good look.

The Improvements:

Power skating and building more of a physical brand to his game. Kipkie is very crafty with his size, but expectations will be that with his natural gift, he’ll be more bruising with it as he progresses levels.

So in all, power elements, power elements and MORE power elements as a port of call.


Given how far he’s come in such little time, and with the Royals building again, I think he’s on good trajectory to become a standout WHL defenseman. Does that mean a capable NHL defender? I believe so. No better league for development than the ‘Dub’. Kipkie has hallmarks of a fine, all situations defenseman at the next level. Would be a heck of a pick.

Other Notables:

Elmeri Laakso – SaiPa # 21

Lots to love about this overage defender from Finald. I felt he was perhaps unlucky last season not to get drafted, but he got back to the grind and has shown improvement in a solid Liiga campaign. He’s a steady two-way skater who uses speed and solid hockey senses. Good puck management. Offense is starting to come along. Sneaky good value.

Luke Coughlin – Rimouski Océanic #10

High-end skater that is a ball of energy. Can escape pressure and move the puck zone-to-zone with flair. Not afraid to mix it up either. Being a mobile, offensive defender at the next level will be his calling. Working at his defensive IQ and off puck play is needed.

Josh Van Mulligan- Medicine Hat Tigers #22

Six-foot-two defender that just oozes upside. Has a great combination of reach and mobility. Fantastic two-way acumen. Strongest asset is probably his ability to recover from defensive positions and aid in transition and rush support.

Kristian Kostadinksi – Frölunda HC J20 #24

Huge body at six-foot-five and and 215 pounds. Played a big shut-down role for Frölunda and his home nation internationally and excelled doing so. With that wingspan and heaviness, there’s got be something there, right? Not many offensive tools but the defensive acumen is worth a pick alone.

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