The Colorado Avalanche spent the first five rounds of last week’s NHL Entry Draft as spectators. Executive vice president and general manager Joe Sakic, recently named the winner of the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award in the NHL, had traded away much of his 2022 Draft capital to build the roster that won his team its first Stanley Cup in 21 years. He also spent some of that acquiring a goaltender just before the draft began.
This article will review and assess how the Avalanche, whether through trade or drafting players, utilized each of its picks in the 2022 Draft.
Colorado’s 1st Round Pick Buys a Goaltender
Colorado’s first-round pick in this year’s draft was traded to the Arizona Coyotes last July for goaltender Darcy Kuemper. The Avalanche also sent defenseman Conor Timmins and a conditional third-round pick in the 2024 Draft to Arizona in exchange for the Coyotes’ netminder. Though inconsistent in both the regular season and playoffs, he was good enough to lead his club to the promised land. His 37 regular-season wins were tied for fourth-best in the league, and his .921 save percentage (SV%) was fifth-best among goalies who started at least 50 games. Finally, his postseason record was 10-4 and included one shutout.
The Coyotes traded the first-round pick they acquired from Colorado (32nd pick overall) to the Edmonton Oilers, who selected 18-year-old forward Reid Schaefer from the Seattle Thunderbirds. The 6-foot-3 left wing has produced for the Thunderbirds, scoring 58 points in 66 games, and helping lead his team to the Western Hockey League (WHL) Championship Final (where they were defeated by the Edmonton Oil Kings). Timmins, the other major piece of the trade for Kuemper, is a promising young defenseman who played 31 games for Colorado in the 2020-21 season. He ended up playing only six games for the Coyotes before a knee injury ended his season.
While both players—Schaefer and Timmins—could have impactful careers in the NHL, there’s no question that Sakic spent surprisingly little to acquire a top-tier goaltender in Kuemper. The biggest question around him was his durability, and while the veteran netminder did miss significant time, he started 57 games in the regular season, which was a career-high. He is an unrestricted free agent (UFA), and it seems likely his price tag will be too high for Sakic to bring him back for the 2022-23 campaign. He was, in effect, a one-year rental, which diminished his value slightly.
Grade for How the Avalanche Used Their 1st Round Pick: A
Kuemper helped lead the Avalanche to a Stanley Cup Championship. Any other shortcomings are overshadowed by this fact.
Avalanche Spend 2nd Round Pick on a True Defensive Star
The club’s second-round pick in this year’s draft was traded to the New York Islanders in October 2020 for defenseman Devon Toews. The Avalanche also sent their second-round pick in the 2021 Draft to secure the services of Toews.
By all measures, Toews is one of the best defensemen in the league. His 57 points and 25:22 time on ice were ninth-best among defensemen, and his plus-minus rating of plus-52 led all blueliners in the 2022-23 regular season. His consistent play and high hockey IQ also allowed his partner, Cale Makar, to flourish, earning the latter a Norris Trophy.
The Islanders traded the 2021 Draft pick acquired from Colorado to the Coyotes, who selected defenseman J.J. Moser 28th in the second round (61st overall). The 21-year-old Swiss native played in 43 games for the Coyotes this past season, notching 15 points. The Islanders used Colorado’s second-round pick in this year’s draft (the final pick in the round and the 65th pick overall) to select Calle Odelius, an 18-year-old Swedish defenseman. According to the Denver Post, Sakic “gave up a bag of pucks for Cale Makar’s smooth back-end partner” (from ‘Chambers: Joe Sakic and his staff are as brilliant as defenseman Devon Toews’ Denver Post, February 12, 2022).
Grade for How the Avalanche Used Their 2nd Round Pick: A+
Acquiring Toews for two players selected 61st and 65th overall was nothing short of highway robbery. The move ranks among the best of Sakic’s career as a general manager.
Colorado’s 3rd and 5th Picks Go to Shore Up Goaltending
The 26-year-old native of Bulgaria started 28 games for the Rangers in the regular season, finishing with a record of 15-10-2, a 2.92 goals-against average (GAA), and a .898 SV%. He appeared in two postseason games, starting neither one, stopping an impressive 31 of 33 shots on goal.
With Colorado’s third-round pick in this year’s draft (the 97th pick overall), the Rangers selected centerman Bryce McConnell-Barker. New York used the Avalanche’s fifth-round pick (the 161st overall pick) to select Maxim Barbashev.
The move was a pretty clear signal that Sakic believes Kuemper is likely to sign with another club in free agency. Whether this is a result of his price being too high, or Sakic being wary of the veteran’s injury history and inconsistent play, is an unknown. It’s also a signal that he believes the team’s core group—including captain Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Makar, and Mikko Rantanen—are built for a repeat performance in the upcoming season.
Whether Georgiev will be the club’s number one goaltender, or if he’ll share duties with Pavel Francouz, Colorado’s number two netminder of the past few seasons, remains to be seen. It’s also possible Sakic will use Georgiev as trade bait to acquire a different goaltender when the free agency period opens on July 13.
Grade for How the Avalanche Used Their 3rd and 5th Round Picks: B+
More information is needed to truly assess this move, but, acquiring a game-ready, and possibly number one goaltender for middle-round picks would appear to be a coup.
Fourth Round Pick: Bulked up Defense in 2021 Cup Run
In April of 2021, the Avalanche traded their fourth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft to the Detroit Red Wings for defenseman Patrik Nemeth. A 6-foot-4, 230-pound native of Stockholm, Sweden, he was acquired just before the trade deadline to add physicality to Colorado’s blue line. He had previously spent two seasons with the Avalanche and was familiar with head coach Jared Bednar and the team’s system.
Nemeth’s play in the 2021 Playoffs was subpar. He made several key mistakes, including a terrible giveaway that led directly to a goal in Colorado’s Round 2 series vs. the Vegas Golden Knights. While it’s true that a fourth-round pick is a low price to pay, this one may not have been worth the price of admission. They also did not re-sign him at the end of the season.
Grade for How the Avalanche Used Their 4th Round Pick: C-
Nemeth was a bust in the 2021 postseason, so Sakic gets his only poor grade of this draft.
Colorado Drafted Young Talent in the Final Two Rounds
The only two draft picks Colorado retained for the 2022 Draft were in rounds six and seven, the final two rounds of the draft. With the final pick in the sixth round (the 193rd pick overall), the Avalanche selected defenseman Christopher Romaine from the Milton Academy in Massachusetts. The 18-year-old native of Braintree, Massachusetts is scheduled to play Division One NCAA Hockey for Providence College this fall.
Colorado’s seventh-round pick, the 225th and final pick in the entire draft, was used to acquire Ivan Zhigalov, a goaltender originally from Minsk, Belarus, and now playing for the Sherbrooke Phoenix out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The 6-foot-3 inch 19-year-old posted a 26-9-3 record, a 2.84 GAA and a .892 SV% in his first season of North American hockey.
Of the 19 players drafted by the Avalanche in the sixth and seventh rounds from 2010 through 2019, only two have ever appeared in an NHL game, and only one, Joseph Blandisi, had any sort of measurable career (101 games played over six seasons). The point is that the final rounds of the draft are a highly speculative endeavor for general managers.
Grade for How the Avalanche Used Their 6th and 7th Round Picks: B
Given the unknowns and Sakic’s strong track record, he gets the benefit of the doubt for these picks.
Conclusion: Great Use of Draft Capital
Overall, Colorado used its 2022 Draft capital brilliantly. Acquiring two front-line goaltenders (including one who led the team to a Stanley Cup), along with one of the best defensemen in the league, is better than Sakic and his team could have hoped for instead of drafting unproven players.
The next big test for Colorado will be free agency and dealing with the club’s large number of UFAs. All eyes will be on Sakic and how he approaches Nazem Kadri, Artturi Lehkonen, Valeri Nichushkin, and other key players when the market formally opens on July 13.
Hockey dad, beer league hockey captain, rabid Avalanche fan. Author of five novels for young adults, including The Scar Boys, Life in a Fishbowl, and Hard Wired. Lives in Littleton, Colorado with two middle school-age kids, one awesome wife, and three pets. Voted least likely to break 100 on a golf course.