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Revisiting Recent Avalanche Drafts; What They Got Right…And Very Wrong

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Avalanche Lehkonen newhook

No team has ever hit on 100% of their picks at the NHL Draft. It just doesn’t happen. You can hire the best scouts in the world who know exactly what to look for and what players fit the mold of your team, but there’s still a lot of luck involved when you’re trying to project how 17 and 18 year olds will develop down the line. The Colorado Avalanche have done pretty well for themselves with high draft picks. Outside of the top 10? That’s when things start to get iffy.

With the 2024 NHL Draft a little over two weeks away, let’s take a look back at the last 10 years of first round picks for the Avalanche. They have gotten some very, very right, but they’ve also missed (and missed badly) on others. That’s just the way it goes.

2014 Draft

Let’s just get the worst one out of the way immediately. Conner Bleackley had a decent draft year in Red Deer that got him drafted 23rd overall by the Avalanche. Almost immediately after that, things fell apart.

I still remember his first training camp. He got put on the wing with Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly for scrimmages. That’s about as good as it gets for a young player, but it was painfully obvious the guy was not in shape. He got beat up in the scrimmages, and the organization just wasn’t happy with his performance. He got sent back to Red Deer and a year later lost the “C” from his jersey. The Avalanche had already made the decision not to sign him, so they moved him at the deadline in a package to bring in Mikkel Boedker. Arizona didn’t sign him either, so he re-entered the draft. St. Louis took him with a 5th and got some AHL games out of him, but he was never very good at that level. Just a total miss of a draft pick. It’s rare for first rounders to not even get a contract, so that tells you how bad it got.

On the board when the Avalanche selected: Jared McCann, who has three straight 25 goal seasons, went one pick after Bleackley. Two picks later, some guy named David Pastrnak went…

2015 Draft

Has anyone ever gone back and looked at this draft? It’s absolutely stacked. Connor McDavid at #1 helps, but look at the guys taken after him. Jack Eichel, Mitch Marner, Timo Meier, Kyle Connor, Matt Barzal, Travis Konecny, and plenty of others. Some pretty good names, but the Avalanche hit a real home run here, drafting Mikko Rantanen 10th overall. Yeah, you aren’t changing that draft pick.

2016 Draft

You can’t go back and change history, but I often wonder if anything would have been different if the Avalanche had let Tyson Jost stay at North Dakota a little longer. The 2016-17 season was awful for the franchise, and they were desperate for something good to happen. In that desperation, they signed Jost after a strong Freshman year in College and threw him right into the NHL. Maybe another year wouldn’t have changed anything, but Jost came into the NHL and was pretty much always the same guy from day one until the day they traded him. Not a lot of offense and didn’t have the size or skating to make up for it.

On the board when the Avalanche selected: The players taken immediately after Jost aren’t much better, but at 14th overall, the Bruins snagged Charlie McAvoy. Two picks later, Jakob Chychrun went to Arizona.

2017 Draft

Is anyone complaining about Cale Makar? Didn’t think so.

2018 Draft

Oh, Martin Kaut. Another one of those guys where I often wonder if anything would have changed had the Avalanche handled things a little differently.

Kaur’s best moments, without question, came in his first 9 games in the NHL. He looked tenacious on pucks and was even bringing a little offense. The Avalanche already had their minds made up, though. Once he hit 9 games, he was heading back to the AHL and not playing another NHL game so that they wouldn’t burn a year of his entry-level contract. Granted, the NHL shut down right after Kaut played his 9th game, but Colorado was pretty set with this decision. Kaut wasn’t invited into the bubble when the league returned, and they probably could have used him. That team got pretty beat up and were missing several regulars by the time they were eliminated by Dallas. If Kaut had gone into the bubble and built on what he had started earlier that season, would that have changed his trajectory? We’ll never know…or maybe we do.

Kaut never hit his stride in the NHL after that. His attitude didn’t help. He felt he deserved to be in the NHL, even though he didn’t play all that well in the chances he got. Granted, he wasn’t given much opportunity when you look at his ice-time, but they wanted him to take the bull by the horns. That never happened, and he just wasn’t that type of guy. He was dealt for Matt Nieto and is now back in Europe.

On the board when the Avalanche selected: K’Andre Miller, a solid top four defenseman for the Rangers, went six picks after Kaut.

2019 Draft

This is one I’d say the Avalanche did fine in. Bowen Byram at 4th overall and Alex Newhook at 18th. Byram had his share of health problems, but he still played a very important role on the team when they won the Stanley Cup back in 2022. His best hockey came during that Stanley Cup Final, and Game Six might still be his best NHL game to-date. He just didn’t have a good season this year, stagnating and getting stuck down the depth chart, so Colorado moved him for Casey Mittelstadt at the NHL Trade Deadline. A savvy move, if you ask me.

Alex Newhook showed promise, but never took that next step with the team. That doesn’t make it a bad pick, though. Newhook is still a solid NHL player. The hope was that he’d take the job of 2C after Nazem Kadri left in free agency, but when that didn’t happen immediately, the organization seemed to move on pretty quickly. He was dealt last summer for a 1st and a 2nd, which eventually turned into Ross Colton. Montreal is pretty happy with Newhook after his first year.

On the board when the Avalanche selected: In this fantasy world, the Avalanche could have had an absolutely stacked blueline, because Thomas Harley went just two picks later to the Dallas Stars.

2020 Draft

Colorado took Justin Barron 25th overall, and he did sneak into two NHL games for them before they moved him in a “win-now” trade. That “win-now” trade sure worked out, though. I would venture to guess all Avalanche fans are pretty happy with Artturi Lehkonen.

2021 Draft

That 2021 draft was a weird one. Teams weren’t really able to scout in person because of COVID, and the first round seems to be full of a lot of misses. Colorado took Oskar Olausson 28th overall, and while I think there was progress from Olausson in the AHL this season, I’m not so sure I see an NHL player there. He missed the end of last season because of shoulder surgery, so he’ll be rehabbing this summer.

On the board when the Avalanche selected: The players taken immediately after Olausson in the first round don’t look all that much better. When you get into the second round, you get Olen Zellweger, who is a nice prospect for the Ducks. There were some good players taken later in the second, like Logan Stankoven, but we’re talking 20 picks after Olausson, so a lot of teams missed on him.

2023 Draft

This one is far too early to really make any judgements, but I imagine the Avalanche are very happy with the early returns on Calum Ritchie and Mikhail Gulyayev. Both had strong D+1 seasons, especially Ritchie, who looked like a different player after shoulder surgery. I’ve heard from reliable sources that the Maple Leafs would have taken Ritchie with the very next pick if the Avalanche hadn’t, so he was wanted by other squads. Gulyayev will spend a few more years in Russia unless his contract gets bought out, so Colorado will have to be patient with that pick.

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