NHL teams build their teams in many different ways. Some construct their clubs via free agency while others do it through trades. However, the main way teams create a roster is through the NHL Draft. Most years have maybe one or two players make the roster, but some years the general manger gets it right and gets a cornerstone or two for the franchise. The Last Word on Hockey is doing the best draft class for each team with the exception of the Seattle Kraken. Today we look at the Colorado Avalanche best draft class.
Colorado Avalanche Best Draft Class: 1979
The 1979 Draft represented the first for the Quebec Nordiques since joining the NHL. It certainly would have been hard to know what to expect from what amounted to a brand new franchise fresh off several seasons in the chaotic WHA. However, it turned out great for the future Colorado organization as it produced several of the best players in franchise history.
The first pick came in 20th overall in the form of future Hall of Fame skater Michel Goulet. It also included another player to skate in over 1,000 games, Dale Hunter. One also can’t ignore Lee Norwood and Anton Stastny in the next two rounds, respectively. It may not have been the deepest class or produced much postseason success, but it’s hard to argue with the sheer level of talent.
Michel Goulet, 1st round, 20th overall
It is mildly stunning to think of a future Hall of Fame player falling so far, but that is what happened. Goulet would go on to make some team regret overlooking his abilities. He would appear in 1,089 regular season games, tied for 10th most from the 1979 class. Goulet would also end up as the fourth most productive player from the year with 548 goals and 1,153 points. Only Mark Messier, Ray Bourque, and Mike Gartner produced more.
Goulet never won many awards despite his overall talent. He was an all star five times, but played in the shadow of much more famous players during the majority of his career in the 1980’s; it would have been hard to shine in an era that featured, among others, Wayne Gretzky. The even sadder thing is that Goulet never even won a Stanley Cup as a player. He came close in 1991-92 as a 31-year-old with the Chicago Blackhawks, but they fell in a sweep to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He wouldn’t play much longer as he suffered a concussion in 1994, which ended his career at the age of 33. It was a disappointing end, but it shouldn’t diminish the reality that Goulet was the franchise’s first ever superstar.
Dale Hunter, 2nd round, 41st overall
Goulet was the shining beacon of the 1979 class, but Hunter deserves his own recognition. The Petrolia, Ontario native produced for Quebec for years before heading to the Washington Capitals in 1987. Interesting, the pick that came back in exchange for Hunter turned into Joe Sakic. Overall, Hunter would appear in the fourth-most games of any 1979 draftee. His 323 goals and 1,020 points are sixth-best behind Messier, Bourque, Gartner, Goulet, and Glenn Anderson. Hunter never won a Stanley Cup, won an award, or appeared in an all-star game, but he was an outstanding talent in multiple ways. His career ended back with Quebec/Colorado after the 1989-99 season when the team fell to the Dallas Stars in the postseason.
Lee Norwood, 3rd round, 62nd overall
Norwood was the franchise’s first defender selected in 1979. The California native never players more than five seasons with any one organization, but still managed to collect 58 goals, 211 points, and 1,099 penalty minutes in 503 games. Norwood’s career doesn’t stand out on its own, but over 500 games from a third-round selection in an era where defenders existed largely to check and fight it more than noteworthy.
Anton Stastny, 4th round, 83 overall
The Stastny’s are truly one of hockey’s great families. Five members have appeared in an NHL game and it all began with Anton. He was the first Slovak-born player to be drafted to the NHL. Stastny only skated for nine seasons, but his 252 goals and 636 points in 650 games is still sixth all time in franchise history. Not bad for a European in an era that did not trust overseas players as much as it could have.
There are several classes worth mentioning in this franchise’s history. First, we have 1987 that featured the titanic talent of Joe Sakic. It also gave the NHL Garth Snow and his 368 career games. 1988 saw Quebec draft quite possibly its deepest class ever. A whopping seven players from that year skated in at least 278 games, led by Curtis Leschyshyn. Perhaps the most interesting “what-if” is 1991 where the team selected Eric Lindros, who refused to play in Quebec. He was ultimately traded for an absolute king’s ransom that brought so many players back. If Lindros had been more flexible, we might never have seen Peter Forsberg in an Avalanche uniform. That certainly would have been something.