The Colorado Avalanche are the reigning Stanley Cup champions. Their success was based on drafting and scouting. The core of the team was added at draft, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar and Gabriel Landeskog all featured in the top ten of their draft years.
While the team missed a few picks (Tyson Jost, Conner Bleackley), their overall score is high. The potential pool has been severely depleted in recent years due to graduates from the likes of Bowen Byram and Alex Newhook and trades. GM Joe Sakic traded prospects Drew Helleson and Justin Barron and all but two picks in the 2022 Entry Draft.
The only picks Colorado had in the 2022 draft were a sixth-round pick (193rd overall) and the very last overall pick of 255th at the end of seventh round.
The Avalanche will remain a competitive team for the foreseeable future, with a young squad of Makar, Mackinnon and Rantanen all in their prime.
But the pipeline is starting to thin and the team is short of many picks in the near future to help fill in.
1. Sean Behrens, LD – University of Denver (NCAA)
Drafted: 2021 round two, 61st overall by Colorado Avalanche
The 2021 second-round pick had a great D+1 campaign as a freshman, with Denver scoring 29 points in 37 games and leading the Pioneers to an NCAA championship. Behrens is back for at least another year of NCAA development as there is no rush to graduate him.
The Avalanche blueline is brimming with young talent, so getting into the top 6 with Cale Makar, Devon Toews, Sam Girard, Josh Manson and Bowen Byram is no easy feat. The departure of Helleson and Barron will help.
2. Ben Meyers, C/LW – Colorado Eagles (AHL)
Drafted: Free agent signed in 2022
The NCAA’s top free agent of the 2022 class was Ben Meyers with one ball. Meyers played three seasons at the University of Minnesota and was a finalist at Hobey Baker. Meyers is a bit undersized but an effective and strong player who combines vision, skill, a high level of competition and a two-way game. He has leadership qualities and is versatile.
The 23-year-old may never make the Avalanche top-six for long, but he should become a regular NHL player after playing in the AHL for a few years. Meyers represented the United States at both the Olympics and the 2022 World Championships, averaging 12 points in 14 games.
3. Justus Annunen, G – Colorado Eagles (AHL)
Age: 22]Ht/Wt: 6-4/209
Drafted: Round three 2018, 64th overall by Colorado Avalanche
If there’s one position where the Avalanche could be thin, it’s in goal. Annunen brings a draft pedigree as a third-round pick. He already has an U18 gold medal and an SM Liiga championship on his resume. He played his rookie season in the AHL last year and posted a 24-13-6 record with two shutouts. His game earned him a brief NHL recall, where he played his first two NHL games.
Still only 22 years old, the Avalanche can be patient with the tall 6-4 Finnish keeper and develop him further in the AHL. He has a future NHL starting goaltender in mind.
4. Oskar Olausson, C/W – Colorado Eagles (AHL)
Drafted: 2021 round one, 28th overall by Colorado Avalanche
The 2021 first-round pick made his North American debut in the OHL last year, scoring 49 points with the Barrie Colts and Oshawa Generals. His performance dipped slightly as a member of the Generals, but he bounced back in the WJC with five points in seven games for Sweden.
Olausson’s best weapon is his shot, heavy and accurate. His style of play and vision may be limiting or sub-par for a top-six NHL forward, but he’ll play his rookie season in the AHL and try to prove he’s aspiring.
5. Martin Kaut, RW – Colorado Eagles (AHL)
Drafted: Round one 2018, 16th overall by Colorado Avalanche
The 2018 Czech first-rounder has been in a downward spiral for several seasons. He made his North American debut in the AHL in his D+1 season and played to the bill of a first-round pick and scored 26 points in 63 games.
Despite playing limited games in his sophomore season, he added another 18 points in 34 games and made his NHL debut with three points in nine games. The following two campaigns were one fight, he played in 11 more NHL games. He’s struggled to show he can be as successful in the NHL as he is in the AHL, where he has 94 career points in 165 games.
He is in danger of becoming a tweener and could end up back in Europe. This is a crucial season for Kaut.
6. Jean-Luc Foudy, C – Colorado Eagles (AHL)
Drafted: 2020 round three, 75th overall by Colorado Avalanche
Still only 20 years old, the speed demon is entering his third season in the AHL thanks to the pandemic. Normally I’d like to see more performance when players have two seasons of AHL development under their belt, but Foudy still only played 99 career games prior to this season. Look for Foudy to play a bigger role with the Eagles and have a breakout season. Still, his NHL potential will likely top out as a third-row winger and penalty killer with some offensive advantages.
7. Alex Beaucage, LW/RW – Colorado Eagles (AHL)
Drafted: Round three 2019, 78th overall by Colorado Avalanche
Beaucage had a difficult year of transition into pro hockey. His points per game dropped from well over a point per game in the QMJHL to 0.3 in 40 games. But by the end of the season, he was back on track as he scored five points in eight playoff games. He’s off to a good start in his second season with the Eagles and is on track for a 48-point season.
Beaucage is a sniper and high volume shooter. He shoots from almost anywhere, handles the puck well and has good offensive instincts. His playstyle speaks for a top 6 role, but that could be capping at the AHL level. We will see.
8. Nikolai Kovalenko, RW/LW – Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (KHL)
Drafted: Round six 2018, 171st overall by Colorado Avalanche
The son of former NHL winger Andrei Kovalenko (AKA AK-47) is now a 23-year-old KHL veteran with four seasons under his belt. In his third team in that tenure, his debut with Torpedo has gotten off to a scorching start as he is on track with 51 points.
Kovalenko is signed in the KHL through the 2023-24 season, but maintaining his current production would certainly warrant an NHL contract offer.
9. Shane Bowers, C/RW – Colorado Eagles
Designed: 2017 round one, 28th overall by Colorado Avalanche
Bowers is a prime example of poor player development. After being selected in the first round of the USHL, where he posted strong numbers, Bowers played two NCAA seasons with the Boston Terriers. He averaged 53 points in his 77 career games with the Terriers.
After his sophomore season, he was signed by the Avalanche and played 48 games as a rookie, scoring 27 points. His games played were limited for the following two years as he lingered on the Taxi roster, playing just 28 games and 37 games in subsequent AHL seasons. His score is down and he has yet to see any NHL time.
Dropped out of college and not playing enough at the pro level, his stock has bottomed out. He cleared waivers to start again in the AHL this year. On the positive side, he has a career year behind him after nine games with 48 points. With a full and productive season in the AHL, he could become relevant again.
10. Ivan Zhigalov, G – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Drafted: 2022 round seven, 225th overall by Colorado Avalanche
Zhigalov, who went undrafted in 2021, was the last pick in his D+1 year. The Belarusian played in the QMJHL last year, with the Sherbrooke Phoenix posting a 26-9-3 record. Zhigalov was released by the Phoenix and picked a second time in the import draft and plays in the OHL with the Kingston Frontenacs. His play was outstanding with a 2.65 GAA and .919 SV%, and he was named Goalie of the Week early in the campaign.
Zhigalov has height, athleticism, solid positioning, tracks pucks well and is a great teammate. This file will be a long-term project to make the NHL, but don’t sleep on this player.
Sampo Ranta – The speedy Finnish winger and University of Minnesota graduate has yet to find his groove at the pro level.
Colby Ambrosio – The 2020 runner-up begins his junior season at Boston College and tends to sign after this year.
Nick Leiverman – A 24-year-old seventh-round pick from 2017 is exercising his option to play a fifth season with Notre Dame.
Matthew Stienburg – Scored a point per game as a junior at Cornell and is back to play his senior year. Should end the year in the AHL unless he becomes a free agent next summer.