Avalanche Build Even More Solid Roster Depth in 2021 Draft

After years of wheeling and dealing to move up the draft board, the Colorado Avalanche were content to sit tight with their draft picks over the weekend and select players who they can develop and have high expectations for in the future. The Avalanche had four picks, one more than originally planned, thanks to a recent trade with the New Jersey Devils that recouped their second-round pick that was lost in the Devon Toews deal with the New York Islanders.

Recently, Colorado has focused heavily on drafting defensemen with their first-round selections, including Cale Makar, Bowen Byram and Justin Barron. With their defense in good hands for the foreseeable future, general manager Joe Sakic emphasized offense at the 2021 NHL Draft, while also selecting a defenseman who was too good to pass on with that newly-acquired second-round pick. In total, the team selected three forwards and one defenseman and brought brothers together in the process.

Colorado Avalanche Executive Vice President Joe Sakic
Colorado Avalanche Executive Vice President Joe Sakic (Photo by RJ Sangosti / The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Here’s a look at those selections, and what can be expected from them in the future.

Round 1 – Pick #28 – Oskar Olausson, RW, HV71 – Sweden, 6’1”, 180 pounds

From before the draft, it seemed the Avalanche and Oskar Olausson were linked. Olausson, as they say, “checks all the boxes” and perfectly suits what the organization is looking for, skilled offensive playmakers with speed and scoring ability. Olausson’s speed jumps off the screen. So, is it any surprise the Avalanche would covet a player who will have no problem adjusting to the speed of the NHL?

When asked what they liked about Olausson, director of amateur scouting Wade Klippenstein said:

“He fits our identity. We’re a team where obviously speed and skating is a big piece for us. Very good skater, big body, can score, can shoot the puck. Just a lot of check marks with Oskar.”

Olausson doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. He just needs time to work on polishing his game so he is ready for the pro level. The height is there, at 6-foot-1, his skating is among the best in the draft as are his puckhandling skills. He has an NHL-ready shot and he isn’t afraid to play physical.

Oskar Olausson Sweden
Oskar Olausson, Sweden, 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

Olausson was a dominant force on the HV71 junior team scoring 16 goals and 13 assists in 16 games. He played another 16 games for HV71’s men’s team and though his production dropped to three goals and an assist, his four points ranked eighth among U19 skaters and fifth in points-per-game rate. Olausson was one of the youngest players on Team Sweden at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. He didn’t score, but the experience of playing with men has helped push Olausson’s development ahead of the curve. 

Prospects always have room for improvement and for Olausson, it’s his frame. At 180 pounds, he needs to add some bulk, which should happen as he gets older and hits the weight room more consistently. The Avalanche have a terrific player on their hands and, taken 28th-overall, he could become a steal once he reaches the NHL and displays his skills.

Olausson is set to return to HV71 – which was relegated from the Swedish Hockey League – where he will spend his first. A fun coincidence – or perhaps no coincidence – he has the same agent as Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog.

Round 2 – Pick #61 – Sean Behrens, D, US National U18 Team – USA, 5’10”, 176 pounds

I don’t envy the Avalanche announcers whenever Sean Behrens makes it to the NHL and plays alongside last year’s first-round pick, Justin Barron. Though their names are spelled differently it is pronounced the same – despite Justin’s added ‘s’ – which will make for some interesting calls.

Behrens is another player who could have GMs smacking their foreheads for letting him slide to the end of the second round. The Avalanche likely didn’t plan on selecting a defenseman, but when Behrens fell to them at no. 61, he was too good to pass up. I love Behrens’ game and, given time to mature, the organization might have a hybrid Makar-Samuel Girard on their hands.

However, I don’t expect Behrens to become a player who will dominate Colorado’s blue line. My comparison is based on his smaller size (Girard), and that he knows what to do with the puck and is a great two-way defenseman (Makar). He is not shy to be offensive. He also isn’t afraid to set himself up for a one-timer or get in close for a dangerous wrist shot.

But where Behrens really shines is his passing ability and his vision. He is an assist machine and one of the best passing defensemen to come out of this draft. He has phenomenal hockey sense, especially with his passes, finding teammates, and setting them up for scoring opportunities.

Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic
Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Behrens might be listed at 176 pounds but he doesn’t play like it and looks much bigger on the ice. He isn’t afraid of anyone and his on-ice effort makes him that much more respected. In time, he should fill out and his body should be more NHL ready in a couple of years. The Avalanche were likely drawn to his decision-making abilities, which has worked out for them so far with players such as Makar.

Behrens was selected with the pick the Avalanche received from the Devils in exchange for Ryan Graves, so they must be delighted to not only have recouped a draft pick but also managed to replace their former defenseman. Behrens will be attending the University of Denver next year, so management won’t have to travel far to keep a close eye on him.

Round 3 – Pick #92 – Andrei Buyalsky, C, Dubuque Fighting Saints, 6’3”, 178 pounds

Andrei Buyalsky is the perfect low-risk, high-reward pick. He is a tall but slender forward whose biggest impact is on offense, though he needs to get more involved defensively. He has a tendency to hover around the defensive zone waiting for his teammates to obtain the puck, which is when his play-making ability kicks into high gear. When he gets the puck, however, and no matter the zone, he is off like a rocket.

Buyalsky impressed when he moved to the US Hockey League last year, and in 36 games piled up 32 points (15 goals, 17 assists). He could be a diamond in the rough selection; he has the skill, but it needs polishing. He needs to work on his defensive game, and it doesn’t have to reach the level of Valeri Nichushkin, but it needs to be noticeable because right now it isn’t, and if he can’t round out his game, he won’t make the Avalanche roster.

Buyalski is committed to the University of Vermont next season, which is a good spot for him to work on different aspects of his game.

Round 7 – Pick #220 – Taylor Makar, LW, AJHL, 6’1”, 172 pounds

What a weekend for the Makar family. First, Makar signed a six-year contract extension worth $54 million, then his younger brother Taylor Makar was drafted by the Avalanche. I don’t think Colorado has ever had a seventh-round pick that fans have been this excited about. However, Taylor has a long road ahead of him if he wants to play on the same ice as his brother.

I knew little of the younger Makar heading into the draft other than that he was Cale’s brother. But, I’ve since learned that the two are like night and day. However, Taylor has good size and can play in all three zones. His shot is decent, and the one comparison you can make to his brother is his hockey sense. He’s smart with the puck but needs work on his puck-handling ability. He’s been known to turn the puck over in the worst possible area, but he also brings a physical game. Cale described his brother best as a “pest”. He’s a work in progress, but the DNA is there.

Cale Makar Colorado Avalanche
Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Was this a selection to please Cale and the Makar family or does management believe Taylor has promise? Sakic argued the latter:

“He’s come a long way. Every year he’s gotten better and better. Obviously, he’s going to UMass as well and he has a lot of time to develop. So we’re excited to have him. He’s a competitive guy that is a bigger guy…we have high hopes for down the line as he develops.”

The fact is, the Avalanche were in a position to make a selection like this. Most teams can take a flyer on a seventh-round pick who is the brother of your superstar. There isn’t any downside here, and if Taylor can develop at UMass, Colorado will have a great story on their hands when and if the brothers take the ice together.

This draft went the way drafts go. Sakic started at the top, drafted players he expects the most from, and worked his way down to find players with potential and, if things fall into place, have the opportunity to make their mark. All of the Avalanche picks will play at the college level next season, except their first-round pick Olausson. These prospects will be watched with a keen eye on their development before they’re reassessed in a couple of years. As the Avalanche continue to be Cup contenders, the players drafted in this year’s draft will have to be on top of their game if they want to find a spot on the bench.


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