Three years ago, the Colorado Avalanche did what a lot of teams haven’t been able to do in recent years: they won a draft lottery over the Edmonton Oilers. Then they promptly turned that top pick into Nathan MacKinnon, went on an incredible run and won the Central Division just one year after finishing near the bottom of the entire NHL.
It was a great story for the fans in Denver. Problem is, it also represents the last time the Avalanche actually qualified for the postseason — and the only time they’ve done so since 2010.
Some key guys from that 2013-14 lineup are long gone now, and Colorado is suddenly faced with the daunting task of attempting to climb back into a playoff spot while playing in arguably the toughest division in hockey.
So what do the Avalanche do? Well, they have some decisions to make on pending free agents (Mikkel Boedker), money to hand out (MacKinnon) and maybe even a potential trade or two to make (Tyson Barrie?).
And they also have the 10th overall pick in the draft to work with at the end of this month.
As it turns out, that pick is a pretty pivotal one for this franchise, for a few reasons. First of all, it’s a lottery pick in a draft that’s fairly wide open after the first three to four selections. And they need to make these selections count, since none of the guys they took in the first four rounds of the 2014 draft are even still with the organization.
That means Colorado has to start re-stocking the farm system, and picking at No. 10 is a great spot to start doing that. The Avalanche will have options and some pretty decent ones at that.
The top of the draft is pretty well set in stone. Whatever order you want to put them in, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujarvi and Matthew Tkachuk seem destined to go in the top four spots. From there, however, opinions vary. And there’s a pretty solid crop of talented players that are still left to spread out across the draft board.
Teams generally look to take the player that they deem the best available at the very top of the draft, regardless of position. But there are three or four strong defensemen who could work their way into the top ten this year, plus another handful of forwards outside of that first group. And Patrick Roy’s squad is in the range where you can start to look at specific needs, if you’re so inclined.
The thing is, the Avalanche’s most pressing needs aren’t necessarily crystal clear at the moment.
If they’re looking to add a center that can maybe help offset the loss of Ryan O’Reilly down the line, Windsor’s Logan Brown or Clayton Keller of the USA U-18 team could be options. Mississauga’s Michael McLeod or Tyson Jost of Penticton could warrant consideration as well.
They may just want to add a talented winger instead though. At that point, Pierre-Luc Dubois of Cape Breton or Alexander Nylander of Mississauga could be what they’re looking for — assuming one of them slips to that far.
Such a decision could ultimately hinge on what they plan to do with Boedker though. After dealing away Alex Tanguay, Kyle Wood and Conner Bleackley to get the speedy winger, it would make some sense for them to keep him.
But he may want more money than his production level in Colorado is worth in the eyes of the front office. In that scenario, scooping up a forward at No. 10 makes sense — even though that forward isn’t going to step in right away and replace Boedker.
Then there’s the blue line, where the Avalanche have a very coveted asset in Barrie. Problem is, he’s also a restricted free agent, and they don’t seem completely sold on paying him the money he might command. If they were to actually go down the path of trading him, it would almost certainly bring back a pretty sizable return.
It would also leave a noticeable void on the backend though, and that could make grabbing a defenseman early in the draft a top priority.
There are some good ones, with London’s Olli Juolevi, Sarnia’s Jakob Chychrun, Windsor’s Mikhail Sergachev and Jake Bean of Calgary (WHL) leading the way. And while they won’t all still be available by the time Colorado picks, at least one or two should be.
In other words, the Avalanche are a team to keep an eye on as the draft approaches. If things get crazy and they really do move Barrie, they’ll be shaking things up considerably — not only for themselves, but for the team they trade him to and the market on blue liners around the league in general.
If they don’t go down that path and they want to add another piece up front instead, they should be able to land a quality prospect that could join an already gifted young core of forwards at the NHL level in the not-too-distant future.