As things stand currently, the Avs will enter this June’s entry draft with 5 of the first 76 picks, including potentially the top spot. Before that probably changes at the deadline we’re going to take a look at some needs in the Avs amateur system, specifically defenders.
Since 2009, the last year that produced an NHL defenseman for Colorado in Tyson Barrie, the Avs have drafted 20 D’s (only 5 in the top 50). Ten of them are still with the org in some capacity and four are currently in the amateur phase. This is an area that should be addressed, especially since they went goalie and forward heavy last June. Let’s take a look at the amateur portfolio:
Cale Makar is the top prospect in the Avs system at any level or position. He’s also the top defenseman at UMass and perhaps the entire NCAA. As early as this Spring he will pull on an Avs sweater and make his NHL debut. That’s great news for fans and the organization but it also means there will only be 3 others left in the amateur ranks.
Hometown kid Nathan Clurman was drafted in the 6th round 2016 and promptly went back to high school for reasons that perplexed many of us, including the Avs staff I’m sure. Last year he bounced around with a few USHL teams before matriculating at Notre Dame in September. He’s played all but one game for ND this year as a 3rd pairing defensive defenseman and looks like he’ll be there for the full 4 years.
Also on the Notre Dame squad is 2017 7th round choice Nicky Leivermann who has been the extra defenseman more often than not in 17 games so far as a freshman. Like Clurman he will probably take the full four years to develop.
Nothing wrong with either pick, taking a flyer on guys like this in the bottom 50 of the draft is standard procedure and even though it rarely pays off at least the NCAA track offers a long term horizon in case they bloom late.
Daniil Zhuravlev was selected with an extra 5th round pick they came up with after trading back from the 2nd round in last June’s draft. He’s still very young, won’t turn 19 until April, and made Russia’s World Junior team as their youngest defenseman last month. Betting on a player like Zhuravlev from Russia, where the Avs seem to have a scouting advantage right now, has a much better likelihood of paying off than someone from the usual North American spots. It might be advantageous for both the Avalanche and Zhuravlev to sign the youngster this summer and set him on the pro track with the Eagles. I wouldn’t say it’s all that likely but it wouldn’t be a bad move.
Even though he’s not technically an amateur, Conor Timmins still has yet to play a pro game and may as well be part of this discussion. A year ago he was nursing an ankle injury that kept him out until the very end of the regular season for Sault Ste Marie then he sustained a concussion in the OHL finals that has prevented him from making his pro debut. He’s played 29 games in the last calendar year and unfortunately has no timetable for recovery. For all intents and purposes he has graduated since if and when he recovers from the concussion he will start on the pro track.
Rolling into the summer, the Avs will be left with 2 long-term projects and a guy with an interesting but unclear future left in their amateur system. The cupboard will be bare. This is where those 5 picks in the top 100 (at least) come in.
Since I focus on what happens after the draft and not before I’m going to bring in one of our BR draft experts, QueenJK, for a discussion on both now and the future.
e06: I’ve laid out what’s in the amateur pipeline above. Quickly what are your thoughts on those 4 fellows and Timmins plus where that puts the Avs in general as far as addressing future needs.
QJK: It is a concern as you mentioned that there likely won’t be any graduations at the position in the coming fall from the amateur pipeline to professional system. Timmins’ timeline will also remain uncertain as well in regards to his health and how quickly the Avs want to give him a NHL opportunity.
Other than Makar, who broke the organization’s mold in many different ways, there isn’t a propensity to have many high end defenseman in the system as Makar was the only first round defenseman drafted by the Avs since Duncan Siemens in 2011 and the only one drafted with their natural pick since Kevin Shattenkirk in 2007.
Therefore, the Avalanche continue to lack both quantity and quality when it comes to talent at the defensive position in futures.
e06: Without getting into specific players, what are some things Colorado should be looking to accomplish on the defender side in June?
QJK: Maintaining the five top 100 picks is crucial, especially since the Avalanche already burned their fourth round pick, in order to try and infuse both quality and quantity into the pipeline. The Avs tend to go pretty conservative in rounds 2-3 so with a higher volume of picks they should be able to take a greater variety of players and perhaps take some European defenseman who are of a greater talent level than Andrei Mironov and Anton Lindholm. Europeans who have played in a men’s league are also usually closer to contributing at the NHL level.
An array in style of defensemen would help diversify the system as well as the Avs generally stick with limited defensive players or the big two-way type. A premium should be placed on puck skill as that is one of the big limitations in getting prospects to graduate from the AHL level.
As always revamping the development system should be a priority and it is important to avoid re-signing a lot of AHL level defenders to clog the system. Going after some NCAA free agents could supplement the deficit on defense as well are items that should also be on the summer to-do list.
e06: Just generally speaking are there any strengths in this draft at this point as far as types of defensemen available or areas to look?
QJK: This draft seems to be settling between two different types of defenseman; the steady two-way variety and the new era puck mover. The offense inclined defensemen used to get the puck mover label but a new type seems to have emerged where puck moving is a primary high-end strength but it’s more a defensive focus than for offense generation. This is not the draft for premium offense from defensemen and that’s why there are few projected to go high in the first round but from the mid to late first round a lot of the aforementioned puck movers will start to go off the board.
e06: Assuming for the moment that the Avs keep the 5 top 100 picks they have and they stay in the general vicinity of where they lay, who are some specific D’s that fit into that draft portfolio and why.
QJK: Bowen Byram should be in consideration for the Ottawa pick wherever it lands. He’s top end two-way defenseman that profiles to eat a lot of minutes do it all at the next level. He might not have premium offense in the NHL but has the puck skill and playmaking ability that will. Byram leads all defenseman in the WHL with 18 goals and is having an excellent season. If anyone projects as a long term Erik Johnson replacement it’s him.
With the Avalanche pick and on through the second round there’s a whole group that would fit well into the Avalanche system as higher level talent with puck skill. Philip Broberg would be a steal past the middle of the first round as a blazing skater and great puck mover.
Matthew Robertson is the more big physical and defensive variety but has scored 22 points in 34 games in the WHL and could be another solid two-way option.
Ryan Johnson is a smart steady puck mover as well who doesn’t have big production in the USHL but flashed at the WJAC. He’s committed to Minnesota and the Avs could tandem him with fellow prospect Sampo Ranta.
Moritz Seider starred at the World Junior Championship Division 1A where he helped Germany earn a promotion to the main event next year. He is a big body and playing men’s pro in Germany so likely is not far from contributing. Yet another slick puck mover as are many in this draft.
Moving on to the third round is where some gems might be available in Vladislav Kolyachonok who plays for the disaster of a team in Flint but yet has compiled 23 points in 34 games. He again fits the puck mover profile.
Anttoni Honka has fallen down the draft board over the last several months for some inconsistency but could be available in the mid rounds. He has flashy puck skill and would add a much needed dynamic element to the pipeline.
e06: That’s a very good point about PMDs changing from “3rd wing” status, where teams were looking for scoring first and play in the d-zone was less of a concern, to what we see now from a player like Sam Girard, who is elite at zone exits and entries but doesn’t generate the quantity of offense that Tyson Barrie does. With successful teams now concentrating their shots from more dangerous areas, the idea of a pure scoring defenseman might be something that’s on the downside of a cycle.
I’m all for it. I think the talent that Girard has in the d-zone goes very underappreciated because people look at his scoring stats and anecdotally at some turnovers or missed coverages then come to the conclusion that he’s playing poorly. He’s not. This is a trait that teams should be targeting and building off of. What’s not working is the old school thought that a guy like Sam needs a crease-clearer to complement that skillset when in reality they ought to be doubling down on the quickness and the puck skill. When we look at the Avs recent struggles a lot of it boils down to defensemen being slow to react, slow to shift coverage, slow to adjust gaps, slow to attack when there’s an advantage available and slow to turn defense to offense when they do gain the puck.
What you’ve described with a bunch of these fellows seems to fall in line with a defense that will soon be built around Girard and Makar. Makar’s d-partner at UMass is a total offensive guy which goes against the narrative that he’s the new Barrie when it’s more like he’s the guy that can make up for a guy like Barrie while also producing plenty of offense himself.
I really like the idea of drafting a player like Bowen Byram. I haven’t watched him much at all so I’m not going to say that should be main focus but if the Avs continue to pick in the mid-1st round plus area of the draft then this could be the last chance for a while to acquire an elite D. I’m not a big believer in BPA so I’d like to see the Avs come up with 3 defensemen in the first 3 rounds this year unless we’re talking about some big reaches or taking a meathead defensive D. I’m not concerned about the 5th/6th/7th round selections but the Zhuravlev choice seems like a winner so if there’s an option there go for it.
What are your thoughts here, should the Avs go heavy on D or take what’s given to them? At this point, what would a solid final draft look like to you?
QJK: My biggest hope is to keep all five top 100 picks and hold on to the slim chance the Avs could add on to that quantity. I wouldn’t force the issue too much on loading up on defensemen with this draft because after Shane Bowers and Martin Kaut graduate to the NHL then the forward pipeline is going to look barren as well. However with the five picks then it’s appropriate to expect two or three are used to shore up the defense in the system.
With the advantage of having those five picks the Avs should take the opportunity to diversify more than they normally would. I would like to see different types of forwards and defensemen each from different paths (CHL, NCAA route, European Pro). They should still take what the draft board gives them but bet on skill, hockey sense and take a few risks. Ideally the first round picks are split on a forward and defenseman. If they wait until the second round to pick a defenseman I’d heavily consider a European pro or NCAA route player since they have difficulty developing second round CHL defensemen.
e06: They have trouble developing any defensemen, I’m not sure where they are selected or come from makes a difference. That’s the caveat to pursuing a path like this, the organization has to follow through and get over their fetish with prospects that have 3rd pair PK specialist ceilings at best. Makar and Girard (and even Zhuravlev) bring hope that drafting talent for the blueline might be something they’re coming around to.
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What’s your take, dear reader? Do the Avs need a slightly D-heavy draft or should they roll with the list?
Thanks a bunch to QueenJK for the ’19 Entry Draft knowledge and thoughts on needs and strategy.