The Colorado Avalanche sit atop most projections for the 2021-22 season. Many have the team winning the President’s Trophy, and most agree that they’ve got the best odds to win the Stanley Cup too. Prior to last season, that sentiment was largely the same, as these high expectations are becoming the norm in Denver. But what doesn’t get talked about enough with this team is their draft prowess. The Colorado Avalanche draft strength ranks among the best in the league. And the proof is in the pudding on this year’s roster.
Colorado Avalanche Draft Strength Shines on 2021-22 Roster
Last time around, the team had players in the fold like Philipp Grubauer, Brandon Saad, Joonas Donskoi, and Ryan Graves. They lost those pieces and more heading into this season, but still, the franchise remains head and shoulders above the rest in most hockey fans’ minds. General Manager Joe Sakic didn’t make any massive splashes to replace the talent lost, outside of trading Connor Timmins and a draft pick to the Arizona Coyotes for Darcy Kuemper. Yet still, they continue getting picked by pundit after pundit to win it all. Even those who don’t have the Avs raising the Cup have them at or near the top of the standings.
The biggest factors making Colorado so dangerous are their internally grown players. Some of them stand out as obvious: Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar, for example. Each of those players came to Denver via the entry draft as first-round picks. But, they’re not the only ones on the final 23-man roster Colorado brought through their own system.
In fact, eight of their 23 players to start 2021-22 are homegrown. Not to mention the fact that ten players in their system below also came via the draft, one of which (Justin Barron) was one round of cuts from making the final roster just a couple of days ago.
First Round Draft Picks of the Colorado Avalanche
The most intriguing detail to note is that, of the eight players Colorado drafted on its current roster, all but one was a first-round selection. Colorado boasts seven of its own first-round picks, taken from 2011 to 2019, on its opening night roster.
That’s right. Since 2011, the Avs selected 11 different players in the first round. That comes out to one per season, but it’s important to note they didn’t have a first-rounder in 2012. They made up for it in 2019 and drafted two players in round one. Of those 11, all but one remain in the Avs system. Only 2014 first-rounder, Conner Bleackley, wound up elsewhere (and is now in the ECHL, with no NHL experience).
Generational Picks: Best of the First Round
The Avalanche and their success in the draft stem largely from their ability to select future superstars consistently. Granted, they drafted near the top of the order a few times, and without surprise, those players wound up being the best of the bunch.
Which takes us back to 2011. The Avalanche, after going 30-44-8, drafted Gabriel Landeskog with the second overall pick. Two years later, after the lockout-shortened campaign when the Avs finished 16-25-7, they selected Nathan MacKinnon first overall. Fast forward another two years, and Colorado took Mikko Rantanen at tenth overall after a 39-31-12 season. The common theme? Colorado, for that stretch of time, struggled tremendously. But the seeds of the rebuild came with those struggles, in the form of these three players. The trio today represents arguably the best forward line in all of hockey.
But the success didn’t begin right away. It took another two abysmal years, from which the Avs picked up two more top-ten first-round picks. First came Tyson Jost in 2016 (tenth overall), then Cale Makar in 2017 (fourth overall). Makar brought that same level of superstardom as any of the top forwards mentioned above did but to the Avs’ blueline. Suddenly the team possessed the kind of draft-built core that teams dream about when entering a rebuild.
Diamonds in the Rough: Mid-Round Picks
After Makar’s selection, the Colorado Avalanche draft strength shifted from top-ten picks to later in the round. After all, the team hasn’t missed the postseason since Makar was drafted. Initially, the Rantanen-MacKinnon-Landeskog trio essentially put the team on their back and carried them to the playoffs in 2017-18 and 2018-19. In that span, the Avs added Martin Kaut (2018, 16th overall) and Alex Newhook (2019, 16th overall). In both of those seasons, Colorado squeaked into the playoffs as the second wild card team. That second year, Makar joined the club in the postseason against the Calgary Flames and immediately proved to be an impact player.
A bonus first-round pick became available to the Avs in the 2019 draft as well. They selected Bowen Byram at fourth overall, thanks to a conditional first-round pick they received from the Ottawa Senators in the blockbuster Matt Duchene trade a couple of seasons earlier. That meant a lottery pick for a team that just lost in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs; not something you see very often. Colorado capitalized tremendously, picking up another high-end defenceman.
Yet to be Seen: Late-Round Picks Yet to Prove Colorado Avalanche Draft Strength
Since then, the Avalanche have been one of the league’s top teams. They lost in the second round in the two seasons since too but finished near the top of the standings in the regular season. As a result, they selected 25th overall in 2020 and 28th overall in 2021. With those picks, the team took Justin Barron and Oskar Olausson, respectively.
There’s plenty of time for these two to make an impact. The roster is deep and strong as it stands today, largely because of the draft picks that came before them. That gives them time to develop in juniors and the minor leagues, and the hope is they’ll earn call-up opportunities as time passes.
For their paths, they don’t need to look far for a role model. The Avs kept both Alex Newhook (2019 first-rounder) and Sampa Ranta (2018 third rounder) on their 23-man roster to begin this season. Both players developed in the Avalanche organization and earned opportunities to fill in late last season. Then, with the departures this summer, they’ve been promoted to roster regulars, at least to start the season. If they make the most of their opportunities, it’ll pave the way for guys like Olausson and Barron moving forward.
Colorado Avalanche Draft Strength on Opening Night Roster
Though Nathan MacKinnon will miss the opener due to COVID-19, the depth on this team that developed from within remains astounding. Landeskog, then MacKinnon, then Rantanen, then Jost, then Makar, then Byram, then Newhook…that’s quite a track record of first-round picks. And that’s ignoring Martin Kaut in 2018, who remains in the system. And, it ignores Olausson and Barron who just recently entered the organization in the last two drafts.
The Avs draft well. That much is clear. If they win a Cup, which is well within expectations this season, a lot of it will be owed to their ability to draft and retain picks.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images