Avalanche Have 3 Potential Targets in the First Round

The Colorado Avalanche will have difficult decisions to make across the board this offseason. Like any offseason, all NHL teams will have to make tough cuts for cap space, trade players, decide if it’s time to bring up a prospect and give him the keys to the car, and, of course, choose wisely at the NHL draft.

In recent years, the Avalanche have benefitted from the fruits of general manager Joe Sakic working his magic. He acquired several first-round picks via trades that brought a collection of talented prospects to the team, including superstar Cale Makar, Alex Newhook, and Bowen Byram.

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

However, the Avalanche have a different role at this year’s draft. Thanks to the deal that brought Devon Toews over from the New York Islanders for a second-round pick in 2021 and 2022, the Vladislav Namestnikov deal last season for a fourth-rounder in 2021, the Devan Dubnyk trade for a fifth-rounder in 2021, and the Jonas Johansson trade that sent a sixth-rounder to the Buffalo Sabres in 2021, Colorado has just three draft picks, one in the first round, the third and the seventh.

Different Draft Paths

The Avalanche went all-in for the Stanley Cup, and we know the outcome, which makes having so few picks in this year’s draft hurt more, knowing they gave up so much for nothing. So, what path do they take at the 2021 Draft?

One option is to do nothing. It’s not exciting, and fans like to see their team active on draft day with trades for players or to move up the board, but the Avalanche have had their fun at the last few drafts. This year, they could sit back with their three selections, add three prospects to their pipeline, and get back to work with their already stacked roster.

Second, the Avalanche could make those trades, but with a different intention. If Sakic understands the value of picks and prospects, which we all know he does, he could trade down the board to recoup some of the picks he traded away. Do not expect the team to move up. They don’t have the capital to make that happen.

Jared Bednar Colorado Avalanche
Head coach Jared Bednar, Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

However, Sakic might decide that adding a full draft class worth of prospects to their already stocked cupboard isn’t necessary. If so, and they are satisfied with having only three selections in the draft, who should they target with their No. 27 selection? Here are three possible options.

Before diving into the possible draft options the organization could have, it is important to note that this draft is unlike any other I have followed in previous years. Not due to the talent level of the draft — I would say this draft class is less exciting than in previous years, but still has it’s lot of potential stars. It is more due to the fact that, thanks to the pandemic, several leagues around the globe were either cancelled or shortened. So, players had limited opportunities to showcase their talents and therefore prospects are projected in many different areas of the draft. One player who is projected a mid-round pick in one writer’s mock draft will be out of the first round altogether in another’s.

Keep that in mind as we discuss the following prospects. They could all be available for the Avalanche at No. 27, or they could all be gone.

Zachary L’Heureux – C, Halifax Moosheads

Now, I know what you are thinking the moment you saw that L’Heureux plays for the Mooseheads. Probably something to the effect of the Avalanche seem to like players coming out of Halifax. So far things appear to be going well for Colorado when taking players from that particular team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Justin Barron from last year’s draft is one of the Avalanche’s most promising prospects, and then there’s that guy named Nathan MacKinnon. Could the Avs do it again in selecting L’Heureux? It’s very possible, and not just because of the team he plays for.

One of the burning questions for the organization is what to do with Nazem Kadri. We all know what went down in the playoffs with his suspension due to a hit on St. Louis Blues defenseman Justin Faulk. The Avalanche love Kadri, and I think they want him back for the final year of his contract, but the team can’t ignore the elephant in the room — if he does that type of hit again, intentional or unintentional, they will be without him for a long period of time. If it happens in the playoffs, you can pretty much forget having him back at any point, no matter how far the Avalanche go in the postseason.

Nazem Kadri Colorado Avalanche
Zachary L’Heureux draws the most comparisons to Nazem Kadri, Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Why do I mention Kadri when talking about a draft prospect? Because L’Heureux plays a Kadri style of game, and being physical on the wings and with the forecheck is something the Avalanche need to address this offseason. Selecting L’Heureux does not solve the Kadri situation immediately, as he is not primed to jump into that role for a couple seasons, but the organization knows it is a facet of the game they need to incorporate now and in the future. So, selecting L’Heureux sets them up for when Kadri is eventually gone, this offseason or after his contract runs its course.

L’Heureux, however, will need to learn some manners. He was suspended four times during a shortened QMJHL season, once for spitting in the face of an opponent. You would hope, given the opportunity to play at the NHL level, he would shape up. Getting to a player like him at the age he is, having veterans mentoring him showing him the correct way to use his physical style of play, might correct some of these overaggressive tendencies. Yet, there are some who will consider him a ticking time bomb, just waiting for that unnecessary hit to come out of him.

L’Heureux combines very good offensive skill and a no-nonsense attitude. Understanding how to combine the two will make him a very difficult player to face. Opponents will always need to be cognizant of where he is on the ice if they have the puck for fear of being removed from it, as well as when they do not have the puck as he can find a pocket to settle into and rip a one-timer, or cause havoc in front of the net looking for a rebound. He has the physical hockey tools as well as the physical strength to do whatever he wants to do on the ice and cause problems for opponents in so many aspects of the game.

Isak Rosén – LW/RW, Leksands, Sweden

In a complete 180 from what L’Heureux brings to the table in his physical style of play, the opposite is true to Sweden’s Isak Rosén. While Rosén is on the small side in terms of physical build, don’t mistake that for what he can do with the puck in the offensive zone.

Rosén is an offensive virtuoso, and that is something he needs to be considering he is not going to win battles along the boards. In open space and given a full head of steam through the neutral zone, look out. He will twist defenders into knots trying to figure out which way he is going to go. It’s almost like a batter in baseball guessing which pitch is going to be thrown and when they guess wrong it freezes them. 

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

Rosén needs to bulk up. His 161-pound frame is not going to knock over any defender, or forward for that matter. Disruption and physicality isn’t his game, though. Putting some pounds on will help in the times he does have to fight for possession but it won’t mean he will suddenly win all of those battles. It will help in not losing them, which he does almost always.

This isn’t to say Rosén can’t hold his own on defensive transitions. He knows his limits being undersized, so he is quick with a poke check or getting in a lane to disrupt an offensive charge by an opponent. He puts himself in the right position defensively to force an opponent to make a pass rather than be a liability and have shot attempts flying around him.

What you are getting with Rosén is an offensive talent where you will see production offensively almost immediately. He has a nose for the net and has some of the best puckhandling and skating ability in the draft. When he doesn’t have the puck, he is just as dangerous. He will find ways to get himself in a position to receive a pass ready to shoot, which he can do with in so many angles. It really is entertaining watching him skate and work his offensive magic.

Until he adds some muscle and weight, he might have a difficult time getting knocked off the puck at the pro level. His skill will get around one defender, but in the NHL there is always another one waiting. The question for the Avalanche is if this is the route they want to go. They have a plethora of offensive weapons, so do they need another one that will no doubt make them more dangerous on the offensive side of the ice?

Xavier Bourgault – C, Shawinigan Cataractes

Bourgault played on a line that can best be described as a Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog line for the QMJHL’s Shawinigan Cataractes. I would anoint Bourgault as the Mikko Rantanen of that line. He has good size and works tirelessly for the duration of his shifts. He has a way about him while skating that makes it seem rather effortless. He isn’t afraid to battle along the boards or get in front of the net for some clean-up work. His shot is what shines, though. He has a wide arsenal of shots at his disposal and isn’t afraid to use any or all of them.

Bourgault has one of the best wrist shots in the draft, and don’t you think that will attract the man making the final decision on drafting (Sakic)? 

Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon
Colorado Avalanche Mikko Rantanen waits for a face off with Nathan MacKinnon. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-David Zalubowski)

Scouts love the skill level of Bourgault and many have gone as far as to say he was the best player last year in the QMJHL. It’s difficult to find a glaring weakness in his game, but you can find things that need improvement such as his skating and maybe being a little more aggressive on the defensive end.

Why would the Avalanche have interest in Bourgault? First of all, he’s a playmaker, and who doesn’t need more of that on any line? More than that, the term head coach Jared Bednar makes more than any other is “compete level” and Bourgault has that in droves. You put him out on the ice and you know you are going to get 30 seconds of hard work. It might not be perfect, but you will be pleased with the effort on both ends of the ice.

For the Avalanche, the 2021 NHL Draft is not a make-or-break draft. They can sit still and take a player that falls in their lap, or a player with the high-risk/high-reward label. Thanks to drafts over the past few years, the Avalanche are sitting pretty when it comes to expectations for this upcoming season and the seasons ahead. That doesn’t mean they won’t do their due diligence and attempt to get another player that will benefit them in the near future.

Sakic has proven he and his scouting team are great at evaluating talent, so no matter who the Avalanche select with their first-round pick, expect them to contribute to this team and the expected success they weigh on their shoulders.

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