It feels like a good time to review the Colorado Avalanche draft history since Joe Sakic assumed the mantle of President of Hockey Operations in 2013. Colorado has reached the playoffs in each of the past two years and is poised for a third straight appearance despite a flurry of early-season injuries. The draft has been a big part of why the Avs are where they are. Seeing who Sakic has drafted is an excellent barometer for gauging his overall job performance.
Avalanche Draft History Under Joe Sakic
Every successful team has remained that way if based on their ability to identify and select new talent every season. No class has every player reach the NHL but getting one or two from each makes life much easier for a front office. Every hit in the draft means one less player they need to acquire via free agency or trade. Even prospects that aren’t good fits with the drafting organization might find success with another organization or overseas. The first three rounds are where most talent is found but gems are occasionally found after that.
Drafts and the Current Roster
The 2019-20 Avalanche feature several players acquired under Sakic’s watch. It reveals that he has done quite well since 2013. The previous regime only drafted one of Colorado’s current stars. However, a decent chunk of the current roster is there because Sakic has been aggressive on the trade market. That should be taken into account but is a separate aspect of his performance.
Drafted Players by Year
There have been 24 forwards selected under Sakic’s watch but only three are will with part of the Avalanche’s current core. The other 21 are a mix of peripheral players, prospects or ones no longer with the organization.
Nathan MacKinnon stands out in a big way from this class. He is among Colorado’s best players ever and is still just 24-years-old. He remains the shining beacon on Sakic’s résumé. MacKinnon was the only forward drafted Colorado drafted but that isn’t a bad thing when he leads all 2013 picks in scoring. None of the other players taken are still with the organization. Will Butcher is the only other 2013 draftee that is even in the NHL and his entire time has been spent with the New Jersey Devils.
Sakic whiffed hard in 2014. He took Conner Bleackley from WHL Red Deer when Jared McCann and David Pastrnak were still on the board and taken with the next two picks. Anton Lindholm has played in 62 games and Julien Nantel could be a depth call-up but there just isn’t much else to say about the 2014 class.
Things start to brighten a bit in 2015. Mikko Rantanen has gone from the 10th overall selection to one of the NHL’s best wings. He is an absolute sniper and is already 31st in scoring for the Avs behind Chris Drury. His selection ranks very highly. After that, it falls off a bit but A.J. Greer does have some potential as a bottom-six grinder. J.C. Beaudin played for the Avs briefly but not with the organization at this time.
Rantanen saves this class from being a second straight bust but the team could have gone a couple of different directions with their next picks. Roope Hintz, Jordan Greenway and Vince Dunn were all taken after Greer. Beaudin also was taken one pick ahead of Anthony Cirelli who has done quite well with the Tampa Bay Lightning. It is easy to review things in hindsight but it makes one wonder what stood out for Colorado’s actual selections.
2016 is where we start to reach the portion of Sakic’s tenure that is harder to grade. First-round pick Tyson Jost still has plenty of potential at just 21-years-old but hasn’t put it all together yet. He has just 57 points in 160 games and was pushed down the depth chart when Colorado acquired Nazem Kadri to fill its second-line centre spot. Jost does have some solid underlying numbers this year so things could be turning around for the young forward.
Adam Werner has made a surprise debut this year as well with Colorado’s opening goalies both going down. He had a 40 save night against the Winnipeg Jets but had a rough encore facing the Edmonton Oilers. Keep an eye on the 22-year-old Swede. The team’s other picks still have something to prove. Notre Dame’s Cameron Morrison is the most promising; he has nine points in 10 games and could be a bottom-six option. This is a class that has something yet to prove but the time to do it is approaching fast.
Future articles will talk about 2017 as the Cale Makar draft and how much it meant for the Avalanche. Makar burst on the scene in the 2019 postseason and has shown no signs of slowing down in his first regular season. The 21-year-old has 22 points in 20 games and should be a runaway for the Calder Trophy this year. He’s, in fact, on pace for 90 points so far this year. This would emphatically top the current record for points by a rookie defenceman, held by Hall-of-Famer and four-time Cup winner Larry Murphy, who netted 76 in 1980-81.
The Avs have several other players from this class that could impact the NHL roster in the future. Nick Henry is certainly an option at wing with positive grades on his offensive instincts. 6’1″ goalie Petr Kvaca is doing well in the Czech Republic but isn’t listed on the team’s website. It is unclear what his future is with the organization at this time.
2018 has the most mystery of any in the Sakic era. Martin Kaut has top-nine upside but has missed half of the games his team has played at the AHL level. He did score 12 goals and 26 points in 63 games last year but is struggling mightily this season. The most intriguing forward after Kaut is Sampo Ranta. The 6’2″ Minnesota Golden Gopher has four goals and eight points to tie as Minnesota’s leading scorer so far this season. There is a lot to like about Ranta’s game but reports have his defence and hockey sense as potential issues.
The other player to watch from this draft is Justus Annunen. The 6’4″ (193cm) Finnish netminder has been outstanding with Karpat. He has played in 12 games with an incredible .946 Save Percentage and 1.28 Goals-Against-Average. There is plenty of room to grow for the 19-year-old and this season certainly boosts his stock internally.
The most recent class possesses the highest talent level of any in the Sakic era. Bowen Byram should be in the NHL next year on the Avalanche blue line. He has outstanding potential with all the tools of a modern defender. Alex Newhook was Colorado’s second first-round pick in the last draft and is a definite top-six option in the future. He has five goals and eight points in 11 games for Boston College this year. Byram and Newhook are projected to factor in heavily to Colorado’s competitive window after this year. The team’s other six picks also have some upside. The best of the rest is Alex Beaucage who is among the best scoring forwards in the QMJHL.
Sakic has made 50 picks in his six years running the Avalanche Draft. Only five are on the current NHL roster and over a dozen from the first three years have left the organization. Hitting on MacKinnon and Rantanen is great but it feels underwhelming when you consider Pastrnak and Hintz might also be Avs in a different reality.
However, there is every reason to believe Sakic has adapted well to the modern NHL game built around speed and puck movement. Kaut, Byram, Newhook and Timmins will all be in the NHL in the next several years with Henry, Ranta, and Beaucage behind them. The Colorado farm system is so deep that Sakic could start turning some of those prospects into reinforcements for the NHL squad.
Sakic’s draft history looks good overall despite some bad misses in early drafts. It feels as though Sakic might be too focused on drafting from the CHL but that is not a unique criticism; most GM’s still draft Canadians more frequently than Americans or Europeans. The Avs have taken players in recent years from outside the traditional Canadian leagues like Makar and Newhook that could prove huge for their next Stanley Cup run.