The Colorado Avalanche share a 40-year history with the Quebec Nordiques, including a checkered record concerning draft selections. The Nordiques joined the NHL for the 1979 season and played 16 seasons before relocating to Denver, becoming the Colorado Avalanche. While the location changed, the draft classes share a hit-or-miss track record.
In breaking down the best draft classes in franchise history, a number of factors came into play. The rankings are based on the number of players in a draft class who played 100 or more NHL games, the number who were All-Stars, how many ranked top-10 in franchise record books, if they’re included in NHL records, and if any became Hall of Famers.
Three drafts deserve honorable mentions, whether for the success of a selection or for the historical impact on the team.
Two of the classes had just a lone star player but the team hit it out of the park with that single successful selection.
In 2011, the Avalanche picked up Gabriel Landeskog in the first round, as the second selection overall. Landeskog notably became hockey’s youngest captain before the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid eclipsed him by 20 days.
Landeskog already ranks near the top of Avalanche/Nordiques records for games played, goals, points, game-winning goals, power-play goals, shots and penalty minutes. He’s played 633 games for the Avalanche already. At 27 years old, he’s young enough to have plenty of hockey left to climb higher on the record books
The franchise’s 2013 draft class has only two players who have played over 100 NHL games – Will Butcher (215) and Nathan MacKinnon (525). MacKinnon’s already logged over 500 games for the club and sits in the franchise’s top-10 in almost all major offensive categories. He’s in the top-25 of a few NHL lists already and has earned four All-Star appearances. He’s only 24.
MacKinnon’s performance this season, where he scored with a variety of linemates and helped the team climb the Western Conference standings, proves he’s an elite player. Nate the Great looks to have a bright hockey future, the kind that’s unique and likely to garner many accolades.
Finally, the 1991 draft earns some dubious recognition. The Nordiques selected Eric Lindros first overall, and he went on to have a Hall of Fame career – but with other teams. The Nordiques also picked up Bill Lindsay, Dave Karpa, Janne Lauekkanen, and Rene Corbet in that draft, all players who all had respectable NHL careers.
However, the Lindros trade set the franchise up for greater success. Lindros never played for Quebec as he insisted on being traded. Eventually, he was moved to the Philadelphia Flyers for a number of players and the draft tree changed the face of the franchise for the next 20 years. Through the trade and subsequent moves, the club ended up with six important pieces who helped the team win their first Stanley Cup – Peter Forsberg, Mike Ricci, Chris Simon, Patrick Roy, Adam Deadmarsh, and Claude Lemieux.
While Lindros never played for the franchise, his trade brought in key pieces for the team’s success, which makes this draft an honorable mention.
Onto the five finalists.
5. 1987 Draft Class
Four players in the 1987 Draft Class played over 100 NHL games. Of those, only one played more than 500 contests. However, he played over 1,000 NHL games, setting franchise records and climbing to the top of the NHL ranks.
You probably already guessed it. Joe Sakic heads the list of the 1987 draft class, although, he wasn’t even the first selection by the Nordiques. He was the team’s second selection in the first round, picked 15th overall.
Besides being first in almost every scoring category for the franchise, Sakic’s list of accomplishments include:
- 1,378 NHL games
- 1,641 points
- 1,014 assists
- 86 game-winning goals
- 205 power-play goals
- 19 game-winning playoff goals
- 2 Stanley Cups
- 12 All-Star games
- 2001 Hart Memorial Trophy
- 1996 Conn Smythe Trophy
- 2001 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy
- 2001 Lester B. Pearson Award
- 2004 All-Star MVP
- Triple Gold Club
Even if it’s only one player, Sakic’s success makes the case for the 1987 draft class being one of the best ever for the franchise.
4. 1994 Draft Class
The 1994 class featured five skaters who played over 100 NHL games, three who played over 500 NHL games, and one who played over 1,000 games. The group includes – in order of their selection – Wade Belak (549), Josef Marha (159), Chris Drury (892), Milan Hejduk (1,020), and Tim Thomas (426). None of the other seven selections registered a single NHL game.
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For the Nordiques/Avalanche, forwards Hejduk and Drury represent the most important pieces. Drury helped the Avalanche win their second Stanley Cup and subsequently played significant roles on other clubs after a heartbreaking trade.
Hejduk’s jersey hangs in the rafters of Pepsi Center, and for good reason.
He’s near the top in a number of franchise categories – second in games played, fourth in goals, fifth in assists, fourth in total points, fifth in plus/minus, fourth in even-strength goals, third in power-play goals, and second in game-winning goals and shots. That’s not bad for a fourth-round pick.
3. 2009 Draft Class
While the 2009 class only had three players who played over 100 NHL games, all three have skated in over 500 contests. Meet Matt Duchene (793), Ryan O’Reilly (804), and Tyson Barrie (554). Duchene and O’Reilly played pivotal roles at the forward position for the Avalanche while Barrie made a name for himself as a scoring threat from the blueline.
Duchene skated in two All-Star games while O’Reilly played in three. O’Reilly’s contract disputes left a legacy the Avalanche aren’t likely to forget anytime soon, so his tenure with the team is the shortest, although he recently won the Stanley Cup playing for the St. Louis Blues.
Duchene hits the franchise top-10 in a number of categories including goals, game-winning goals, and shots.
Barrie made the club’s top-10 for defensive points, goals, and assists. While none of these players are the top in the league in any category, all three are solid additions to any club, capable of filling both first and/or second-line roles. They combine for 2,151 games between them and they are all still active in the NHL, so they have plenty of time to climb up the record books. It was a solid draft year, chock full of talented pieces, even if none of them are with the club anymore.
2. 1988 Draft Class
Similar to the 2009 draft class, the 1988 draft featured a number of solid pieces. In fact, seven players skated in over 100 NHL games with Ed Ward seeing the fewest (278) matchups under his belt. Two others had good careers but fell short of the 500-game mark – goaltender Stephane Fiset (390) and forward Darin Kimble (311).
However, the impressive part of the draft comes next. Four members played over 500 games – Alexei Gusarov (607), Valeri Kamensky (637), Claude LaPointe ((879), and a 1,000 game player – defenseman Curtis Lechyshyn, who played in 1,033 contests.
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Lechyshyn, Kamensky, Gusarov, and Fiset all contributed to the Avalanche’s first Stanley Cup win. The four all earned spots in the franchise’s top-10. Lechyshyn parlayed his ability to play a responsible shutdown role on the blueline into a long career.
Fiset made the top-10 in a number of franchise goaltending categories while Gusarov hit franchise records for defensive-point shares and power-play goals on-ice against.
Of the seven, only Kamensky played on an All-Star team, and that was just once. He had two seasons where he hit the NHL top-10 for hat tricks and one season in the top-10 for power-play goals and another for game-winning goals.
The draft class of 1988 is the only one with so many players with over 100 NHL games. The scouts outdid themselves with the quality of core pieces selected
1. 1979 Draft Class
The 1979 draft sets itself apart for a couple of key reasons. The Avalanche had five players with over 100 games, out of six total players drafted. They surpassed those numbers with four players skating in over 500 NHL games. Only the 1988 draft had as many 500-plus members.
Defenseman Lee Norwood appeared in 503 matchups. He played for seven different teams over the course of his NHL career and racked up over 1,000 penalty minutes.
Forward Anton Stastny skated in 650 matchups, hitting the franchise top-10 in games played, shots, goals, assists, points and both even strength and power-play goals. He made the NHL record books when he netted eight goals in one game. Stastny spent his entire career with the Nordiques. And, yes, he is the brother of Peter Stastny.
While those numbers are interesting, the best is yet to come. Two players stand above them all. Both played over 1,000 games and both made their mark.
Forward Dale Hunter played in 1,407 NHL contests, racked up 1,020 points, and logged 3,565 penalty minutes. Hunter only played a portion of his career in Quebec yet still managed to hit the team record books. He remains atop the franchise for penalty minutes and ranks in the top-10 for assists, plus/minus, and short-handed goals. He’s second all-time in the NHL for penalty minutes. He also earned an All-Star spot and the Washington Capitals retired his jersey.
But wait. There’s more.
Meet Michel Goulet. He played in 1,089 games and logged 1,153 points. He trails only Sakic in scoring for the franchise, ranking between second and fifth place across the board in nearly every scoring category. Goulet sits in the top-10 for nearly every NHL scoring category by a left-wing, as well.
He played in five All-Star games and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The Nordiques retired his jersey after a concussion ended his hockey career. While Goulet never won the Stanley Cup as a player, he did win it twice as the director of player personnel for the Avalanche.
With two players scoring over 1,000 points and owning NHL as well as franchise records, plus two other players who had significant hockey careers, the 1979 class leads the way for the Nordiques/Avalanche franchise. While other draft classes may have had a player reach great career heights, having two in one year sets 1979 alone at the top.
The Nordiques/Avalanche franchise drafted some talented players over their 40-year tenure. While the more recent draft picks continue to develop, they face some challenges if they want to surpass those who have gone before. Yet, there’s always hope for greater success ahead. There are still more Stanley Cups to win.
J.D. has followed the Colorado Avalanche since the days of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. Blessed to cover the team for nearly 5 seasons, 3 of those at other venues, J.D. enjoys working with the Hockey Writers. Proud parent of three humans and two dogs, you can follow all the escapades @JDKpirate.