Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column that brings you the next crop of professional hockey players. As we go through the summer of 2023, each day our LWOS Prospects Writers will bring you a look at one NHL team’s top prospects or other topical article. Be sure to bookmark the site, follow Ben Kerr, Kyle Pereira and Frederik Frandson on Twitter, and spread the word for the site that will bring you analytical and critical profiles and scouting reports! You can find all the articles here as well as our extensive NHL Draft preview. Today, we look at the 2023 Colorado Avalanche Top Prospects.
For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
2023 Colorado Avalanche Top Prospects
1.) Calum Ritchie
Calum Ritchie, who was one of the most recent additions to the Colorado Avalanche prospects pool, was drafted 27th overall in the most recent draft. He immediately slots in as their top forward and overall prospect. Over the last two seasons in the OHL, Ritchie has produced 45 points (in 65 games) and 59 points (in 59 games). That comes out to 104 points in 124 games. While that production does not pop off the page, Ritchie was still highly regarded. As a matter of fact, he was taken later than every notable ranking had placed him (per elite prospects).
The name of the game for Ritchie is smarts. Everything about his game is focused on the smaller details and making all the right plays. Sure, that limits the explosiveness to his game and limits what he can produce offensively. But he is poised with the puck and hardly ever makes mistakes. Add to that a strong defensive ability and leadership abilities, and he is a guy that any coach would love to have in their lineup. Also, who’s to say that explosiveness cannot be found at some point in his game?
2.) Sean Behrens
Sean Behrens comes in as the top defender on this list for the Avalanche. Some pundits would argue that the 61st overall pick in the 2021 draft should be at the top. Deservedly so, as well. Since being drafted, Behrens has played two seasons at the University of Denver and looked great. As a freshman, he played 37 games and managed to produce 29 points. Then he followed that up last season with 21 points in 31 games. He is expected to play his third NCAA season this upcoming year.
Coming out of his draft season, Behrens was a jack-of-all-trades type. A solid two-way defender who limited mistakes and defended well. He was largely used as a puck-facilitator, who was relied on to move the puck up ice either on his own or with a pass. Behrens has only improved on all of those traits. Upside was a question. But not so much anymore, as he maintains solid defensive zone abilities, but improved his pace and decision-making. Not only that, but his size concerns (5’10”, 177 pounds) seem to be in the rear-view mirror. Behrens is still raw, but he looks more and more like an NHL defender with each passing season.
3.) Mikhail Gulyayev
Similar to Behrens, Mikhail Gulyayev is more of a 1C rather than the number three player on this list. That’s how strong of a selection he was at 31st overall in the 2023 draft. The 5’10” and 172 pound defender joins Behrens as a smaller blue liner that was maybe a bit overlooked due to size in the draft. But the Russian is very talented, coming off of a 13-game stint in the KHL as an 18-year-old (with one point). Playing largely in the MHL, Gulyayev produced at over a point-per-game, scoring 25 points in 22 games. This season, so far, Gulyayev has seen seven KHL games, scoring three points. Not bad, for a young kid.
Gulyayev is a fantastic skater, and he pairs that with high-end puck skills. With that combination, his offensive game can really pop. Add to it some strong playmaking abilities, and you have a future quarterback to your powerplay. Now, the Avalanche have Cale Makar in that spot for the foreseeable future. But, to put it into perspective, our own Ben Kerr actually compared the style that Gulyayev plays with to that of Makar. The upside certainly is not to the height of Makar, but who’s to say Gulyayev can’t be a nice secondary option behind him, some time down the line?
4.) Justus Annunen
Talk about a balanced pipeline. After two defenders and a forward, the Colorado Avalanche prospects list now adds a goalie. Justus Annunen was drafted 64th overall in the 2018 NHL draft. In parts of the last three seasons, Annunen has played both in the AHL and NHL. It started with a two game stint in the AHL back in the 2020-21 season, where he had a .900 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.93 goals against average (GAA). He followed that up by playing 48 AHL games and earning a record of 24-13-6. His stats weren’t as pretty, posting a .893 SV% and 3.01 GAA, but he did play two NHL games. Last season, he again played in the AHL, getting into 41 games with a record of 22-10-8. His stats were also much improved, with a .916 SV% and 2.55 GAA.
Annunen stands at 6’4” and 216 pounds, so size is not an issue at all. He takes up a lot of the net and plays smooth in the crease. He also does not lack much in the way of athleticism. Despite his size, he can really move well. But, it has always been consistency with the Finnish netminder that has drawn concerns. Additionally, his NHL numbers leave a lot to be desired. In four NHL games, he has gone 2-1-1, with a .859 SV% and 3.93 GAA on a very good Avalanche roster. But goalies take weird paths to the NHL sometimes, and Annunen has the make of a starter. Time will be the ultimate decider, but Annunen has the traits to be “the guy” for the Avalanche down the line.
5.) Nikolai Kovalenko
Kovalenko is a winger who was drafted in the sixth round (171st overall) in the 2018 NHL draft. The son of former NHLer, Andrei Kovalenko, the young Russian winger has recently thrived in the KHL despite his age. Now six years in a row, Kovalenko has been a mainstay in the KHL, but just recently began breaking out. Last season, he produced 54 points in 56 games, displaying that he is more than capable of playing at a high level against men. Now this season, thus far, he has started off at a point-per-game pace. Scoring nine points in his first eight games, Kovalenko is rising fast up the Colorado Avalanche prospects pool.
Kovalenko, who is expected to come over to North America at the end of this KHL season, is a speedy forward who can play a variety of roles. As mentioned, his speed is a massive weapon at his disposal. He forechecks as hard as anyone, and uses that speed element to catch defenders off guard. Once he gains possession, he loves to shoot and can be a strong goal-scoring option. However, that doesn’t mean he looks off passes, as he can still play a solid playmaking game when needed. He plays a very in-your-face style, never giving his opponents room to operate. Now with the potential of joining the NHL soon, Kovalenko becomes all the more enticing.
6.) Jean-Luc Foudy
Jean-Luc Foudy, a centre (who has since moved mostly to the wing) that was drafted in the third round (75th overall) in the 2020 NHL draft, is looking to make a bigger impact in the professional ranks. Over the last three seasons, Foudy has seen games at the AHL level. He started his AHL career with 14 points in 34 games, a modest statline. He followed that up with a larger sample size of 65 games, managing to score 26 points. But it was last season where he left his mark. Playing in 46 games, he produced a solid 36 points, earning a call-up to the NHL squad. Unfortunately, in his nine-game stint, he did not manage to score any points.
Coming out of the draft, Foudy was largely considered a top-50 talent. That was largely due to his outstanding skating ability, considered by many as the best skater in the class. Not only that, but he played at such a fast pace in the OHL that the potential was extremely high. But the major concerns were defensive zone ability and consistency, paired with an underwhelming season. Now, consistency issues remain, but he was able to translate his fast paced style to the AHL, a massive development. Now, the new concern is injuries. Foudy needs to recover quick, and hope that he can pick up from where he left off last season. The upside is still there in spades, let’s see if Foudy and the Avalanche can unlock it.
7.) Oskar Olausson
Oskar Olausson, another winger on this list, is a former first round pick (28th overall) by the Avalanche in the 2021 NHL draft. Olausson is on the larger side compared to the other names on this list, standing at 6’2” and 181 pounds. However, he has struggled since being drafted. The season after the Avalanche called his name, Olausson joined the OHL’s Barrie Colts. However, he was there for only 22 games before being dealt to the Oshawa Generals. In 55 combined games, he scored 49 points, a very underwhelming statline for a first round pick in the OHL. Last season, Olausson would play in the AHL. He drew into 63 games and managed to produce a respectable 20 points. He even managed to get into an NHL game, but came up empty handed.
Coming into the 2021 draft, Olausson was regarded as a solid shooter with decent all-around skills. That remains to be the case today, except he has gotten bigger, which adds an element to his game that was previously lacking. Olausson still has speed that burns opposing defenders and can wreak havoc when forechecking. His offensive skills are a bit more balanced between shooting and playmaking as well, making him more of a dual-threat. Additionally, his strong defensive zone play remains at the AHL level, making him a more reliable young player for AHL and NHL coaches to deploy. Olausson may not become a top-of-the-lineup player, but he looks projectable to an NHL middle-six down the line.
8.) Sampo Ranta
Sampo Ranta, a winger who is expected to play in the SHL this upcoming season after not re-signing with the club. Now, the former third round pick (78th overall) in the 2018 NHL draft would likely have ranked higher had he been signed. But, after failing to come to terms, he elected to head to Sweden. Ranta was able to play parts of the last three seasons in the AHL and NHL, at the conclusion of his NCAA career at the University of Minnesota. Playing in 110 AHL games, he was able to score 43 points, not bad production for a young player. He managed to get into 16 total NHL games as well, but failed to register a point.
Despite not being on a contract, the Avalanche still own his rights and could extend a qualifying offer, per MileHighHockey, which would keep him under Avalanche control for another four seasons. Thus, he sticks. Ranta is a power-forward, standing at 6’2” and 200 pounds. He plays a heavy game, both due to his willingness to shoot the puck hard and because he likes getting to the dirty areas and playing the body. Ranta seemingly plays a pro-style that should translate somewhat well to the NHL, though that has yet to happen. If he finds success out in Sweden, maybe he and the Avalanche can reunite. But the odds are certainly long. There remains promise, however.
9.) Alex Beaucage
Beaucage, drafted in the third round (78th overall) in the 2019 NHL draft, is looking to earn his first NHL call-up. Over the last two seasons, Beaucage has played in the AHL. That comes after he concluded his QMJHL career with 214 points in 209 games, across four years. In his rookie AHL campaign, Beaucage played 40 games, and scored 12 total points. Last season, Beaucage was awarded with a larger role in the AHL, and was expected to take a step forward. Instead, he managed just 20 points in 63 games.
Another bigger forward, standing at 6’2” and 192 pounds, Beaucage was drafted for the same reasons as Ranta. A forward who is not afraid to get involved physically and loves shooting the puck. Beaucage initially had a higher floor, but it is his skating and lack of scoring in the AHL that hurts his projection a bit. While he still could wind up as a bottom-six forward at some point, he was drafted because of his scoring abilities along with the physical traits. While Ranta was able to develop those aspects more in his game, Beaucage has seemingly hit a wall. However, he is still signed and thus poses a better chance of making an impact this season. Can he get his first call-up?
10.) Colby Ambrosio
To wrap up the Colorado Avalanche prospects list, we have another forward. Ambrosio, drafted in the fourth round (118th overall) in the 2020 NHL draft, is not at all similar to the two names above him, however. He is undersized, standing at 5’9” and 170 pounds. Additionally, he is still playing in the NCAA, yet to have gotten time at the professional levels. Across 98 NCAA games thus far, Ambrosio has scored 58 points. This season, he will play once again with Boston College for his senior year.
Ambrosio is small, but he plays as if he is a few inches taller. Utilizing his strong skating abilities, he attacks opposing defenders on the forecheck effectively. Not only that, but Ambrosio’s game also features a strong willingness to get shots off at a high rate. That shooting ability hasn’t exactly translated smoothly to the NCAA just yet, but the expectations are still relatively high for the winger. An all important senior season will either cause Ambrosio to jump up this list or fall off of it completely.
HM (Round 4 or Later): Taylor Makar
Who better to highlight for the Colorado Avalanche prospects who just missed out than the younger brother of Cale Makar? Taylor Makar, drafted in the seventh round (220th overall) in the 2021 NHL draft, is playing with his brother’s former team, UMass Amherst, in the NCAA. Over the last two seasons with UMass, the younger Makar has scored one point (in 17 games as a freshman) and 12 points (in 32 games) last season. While the numbers certainly aren’t all that impressive, he still deserves some mention.
The younger Makar has strong skating ability and loves to shoot (runs in the family). With that said, a pattern is certainly developing, as he is yet another power-forward (6’3” and 190 pounds) who plays hard physically and loves to shoot. Makar certainly fits the mold of the kind of prospects the Avalanche are gunning for. While his raw skills and overall effectiveness is yet to be seen, the younger Makar has some pro-style habits that, if he can hit his stride in the NCAA, could be built upon to form some sort of NHL career. It’s a long shot, but if family genetics has anything to do with it, then the younger Makar isn’t a bad gamble.
In The System
The Colorado Avalanche prospects are solid, but not amongst the top in the league. Their NHL squad also isn’t very young anymore, especially at forward. The top young guns to have already graduated to the NHL are the elder Makar, Sam Girard, and Bowen Byram, plus Mikko Rantanen when looking at players at or below the age of 26. Meanwhile, some names to have just missed the top-10 list under contract are Matthew Stienburg and Trent Miner. As for players not yet under contract who just missed out are Andrei Buyalsky, Nikita Ishminikov, and Chris Romaine.
Looking at the Colorado Avalanche prospects top-10, plus some names who just missed out, it’s clear they have targeted forwards to round out their roster down the line. However, the prospect pool clearly lacks depth outside of those guys, and it’s no secret why. Having won the Stanley Cup in 2022, the Avalanche have been competitive for a while now. That means a lack of picks, especially high-end ones. The Avalanche will remain contenders for some time, but there will be a day where the Avalanche must rebuild their pipeline to avoid a long rebuild.
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