A week ago, I wrote a piece highlighting Colorado Avalanche prospects who are currently playing (and thriving) in the NCAA. As everybody already knows, with the CHL yet to get underway (apart from a failed attempt to start the QMJHL season), doing prospect updates is a little bit more of a challenge.
But with the AHL season recently kicking things off, the NCAA season in full swing, and the CHL season still up in the air, there’s only one place left to check in with prospects. Europe.
In recent years, the Avalanche have drafted most of their prospects from North America. But there are still a couple of names over in Europe that are worth keeping an eye on. Let’s take a look at how Avalanche youth overseas are faring so far this season.
Nils Aman (F, Leksands IF, SHL, 2020 6th Round, 167th Overall)
Drafted in the sixth round last year, Nils Aman spent last season with Leksands IF’s junior team, tallying 47 points in 30 games. This year, he earned a promotion to their pro team, but has only four points in 37 games so far.
While his stats on paper don’t look like anything special, it’s important to note that European teams have a different way of handling young talent than NHL and AHL teams do. They’re in it to win it, not to groom their youth for future NHL jobs. It’s likely that the 6-foot-2 centre isn’t getting too much ice time to work with.
With Nathan MacKinnon and Alex Newhook looking like a surefire one-two punch up the middle down the line, Aman has lots of time to develop his game in Sweden before the Avs decide to give him a look.
Justus Annunen (G, Karpat, SM-Liiga, 2018 3rd Round, 64th Overall)
Back in November, I wrote an article on how the Avalanche may have found their goalie of the future in Justus Annunen. After his rookie season, I don’t think that was a far-fetched claim to make. At 19 years old, he finished the season atop the league in save percentage (SV%) and goals against-average (GAA), and also set a new record for longest shutout streak at 302:05, finishing second in the league in shutouts.
That was no doubt a season to remember. Now, Karpat’s taken a little bit of a step back this season. They finished first in the league in 2019-20, but they’ve slipped back to ninth place as of now. Naturally, Annunen’s stats have taken a little bit of a step back as well. He currently carries a record of 6-5-3, and while his GAA of 2.49 is impressive, his SV% leaves a lot to be desired at .878.
Granted, it’s important to remember Annunen is only 20 years old. While his numbers may not be MVP-esque like last season, he still has lots of time to develop his game. Current goaltender Philipp Grubauer has been one of the best goalies in the NHL to date, so there’s zero rush for Annunen to take over that role. But if I’m Joe Sakic, I’m doing whatever I can to bring Annunen to North America and get him to the AHL. Certainly a prospect worth keeping an eye on.
Sergei Boikov (D, Dynamo Moskva, KHL, 2016 6th Round, 161st Overall)
Drafted in 2015, Sergei Boikov has been all over the place since the Avalanche selected him. Originally drafted out of the QMJHL, he’s spent time in the AHL to go along with a little stint in the ECHL as well.
Following the 2018-19 season, the 6-foot-1 defenseman returned to Russia and is currently in his second season with Dynamo Moskva, where he has four points through 34 games. While the Avalanche still technically own his rights, he’s 25 years old and seems to have been left in the dust on the depth chart. Unless he experiences a drastic turnaround or the Avs REALLY see something in him, it’s hard to imagine he’ll ever put on the Avalanche jersey.
Jean-Luc Foudy (F, Morrums GolS, HockeyEttan, 2020 3rd round, 75th overall)
The younger brother of Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Liam Foudy, Jean-Luc Foudy, spent last season in the OHL with the Windsor Spitfires, tallying 43 points in 59 games. He was deemed one of, if not the best skater in the 2020 draft class, so for the Avalanche to draft him in the third round seems like an early home run.
But with no OHL hockey yet this year, Foudy is among a handful of prospects that decided to take their talents to Europe to keep their legs fresh amidst the postponing of junior hockey. He spent 10 games with Morrums GolS of HockeyEttan, which, to my knowledge, is Sweden’s equivalent of the ECHL. He put up three points in those ten games.
Now, it’s not often a North American player at Foudy’s age goes to Sweden to play pro hockey out of his draft year, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into these totals. With the Colorado Eagles set to kick off their season this Saturday, Foudy has returned to North America, where he’ll likely make his debut there with no OHL hockey on the horizon just yet.
Nikolai Kovalenko (F, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, KHL, 2018 6th Round, 171st Overall)
Nikolai Kovalenko was drafted out of the MHL in 2018 after he put up 31 points in 33 games for Loko Yaroslavl. He’s currently in his third full season with Yaroslavl’s pro team but seems to have taken a step back this year. He has nine points in 37 games so far, compared to 21 points in 54 games last season.
Like I said regarding Aman, Yaroslavl likely isn’t too concerned with Kovalenko’s development and the Avs’ needs, so he likely isn’t being used as much as Avs’ brass might hope for him. Lucky for the Raleigh-born Kovalenko, he’s still only 21 years old and already has nearly three years of pro experience under his belt. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to suggest he gets offered a contract and a look in the AHL in the near future.
Shamil Shmakov (G, Toros Neftekamsk, VHL, 2018 7th Round, 202nd Overall)
While Shamil Shmakov might be riding second fiddle to Justus Annunen on the Avs’ list of goalie prospects, he’s still a name worth keeping an eye on. He came to North America last season to join the USHL’s Cedar Rapids Roughriders but had a rather forgettable season. He only appeared in seven games for the team, posting a record of 4-3-0 with a GAA of 3.03 and a SV% of .901.
This season, Shmakov returned to his native Russia to play for Toros Neftkamsk of the VHL, which is essentially Russia’s version of the AHL. He’s been splitting starts in a three-way tandem and looks far more comfortable. He currently carries a record of 5-4-3 with a GAA of 2.48 and a SV% of .916.
Shmakov is only 21 years old, and as I said in my snippet about Annunen, the Avs’ don’t have a dire need for goalies right now. This will give Shmakov all the time in the world to develop and eventually catch Sakic’s eye. Definitely another name to keep tabs on.
Daniil Zhuravlyov (D, Ak Bars Kazan, KHL, 2018 5th Round, 146th Overall)
You know what they say about saving the best for last. Well, that doesn’t directly apply here, considering Annunen is the most intriguing prospect on the list, and I wrote this in alphabetical order. But Daniil Zhuravlyov is arguably the second-most intriguing European prospect the Avalanche have.
Zhuravlyov is in his sophomore season with Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL and has 13 points in 36 games so far. He has two World Junior appearances for Team Russia under his belt, and he’s only 20 years old.
With Cale Makar, Bowen Byram, and Samuel Girard looking like the future of the Avs’ defensive core and guys like Justin Barron and Drew Helleson waiting in the wings, Colorado has a little bit of a logjam of defensive prospects. But Zhuravlyov has youth on his side and could very well become one of those guys to keep an eye out for on the back end of his development continues smoothly.
With Annunen, Zhuravlyov, and Shmakov leading the charge, the Avalanche definitely have some young talent to watch overseas. In a world where the NHL is operating under unusual circumstances, much like the rest of the world is, it’s nice that hockey is still on in Europe to keep tabs on prospects like the ones I listed. And the Avalanche certainly have some names worth looking out for over the next few years.
Alex Hobson is a third year broadcasting student at Niagara College. He has been writing about sports since 2015 and has been with The Hockey Writers since October of 2020. He covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, World Juniors, and the NHL Entry Draft, and is also part of the Sticks in the 6ix Podcast, presented by THW. He also makes weekly appearances on THW’s Maple Leafs Lounge Roundtable. For interview requests or any other inquiries, you can follow Alex’s social media pages listed at the bottom of his articles like this one.