Another day, another Colorado Avalanche defensive prospect to look out for. This time, it’s Drew Helleson as he’s playing for Team USA at the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Drafted by the Avalanche at 47th overall in 2019, Helleson is expected to compete for a roster spot next season, and currently plays for Boston College in the NCAA. However, rather than waiting until training camp next September to see him shine, Avalanche fans are going to get a chance to see that over the next two weeks when he plays in Beijing for Team USA.
Despite lacking NHL talent, the Olympic ice hockey tournament is still a strong event, and the absence of those from the top league has levelled the playing field somewhat. Teams have taken very different approaches to their squad building, with Team USA going down the route of using NCAA players as much as they can.
Helleson is one of those picked and will be expected to shine on the blue line after an incredibly impressive showing in the 2021 World Junior Championship. He is currently ranked as one of the best NHL prospects playing in the NCAA and it is easy to see why.
What Should Team USA Expect From Drew Helleson?
It is unlikely we will see Helleson hit the scoreboard on a regular basis, despite coming here on the back of his best scoring year in the NCAA. He doesn’t shoot the puck too often, but does pick up assists by starting the play, and is a strong defenseman when it comes to early transitional play and getting up the ice.
Where he really excels is in his own zone. Helleson’s best two attributes are the fact that he has a very good hockey brain and that he can skate himself out of trouble, if he ever finds himself struggling. Those two together allow him to clear his own zone with ease, make the right plays and play a game that is low risk. With players such as Cale Makar, Samuel Girard and Bowen Byram already on the Avalanche blue line, Helleson looks to have the skills that can complement what they already have on their roster.
Drew Helleson of @BCHockey skates the puck all the way down the ice and secures the OT rivalry win with a buzzer beater goal. #HEPlaysOfTheYear pic.twitter.com/p16l4z8GgG— Hockey East (@hockey_east) July 17, 2021
Despite the relative lack of experience we see on the US National Team roster for Beijing, Helleson is unlikely to be thrown into a role that is too big for him and should be able to find his feet and shine. Jake Sanderson is the biggest named prospect on the blue line and will carry a lot of the hope when it comes to younger players, while Steven Kampfer brings experience and will also play big minutes.
Related: 2022 Olympics Men’s Hockey Team USA Preview
Helleson is likely to be much lower down in the lineup, probably starting on the third pairing, which should keep him away from the top lines of other teams. At just 20 years old, Helleson is far from the finished article right now, but a strong Olympic tournament will certainly help him grow as a player and state his case to make the Avalanche roster next season.
When Will the Avalanche See Drew Helleson?
The big question for Avalanche fans is when will they see Helleson. With former first-round pick Justin Barron playing very well for the Colorado Eagles and having a brief stint with the Avalanche, a place on the roster is not easy to come by.
Having said that, he is certainly stating a case right now to be in the lineup next season, and a strong Olympics will only add further to that. With Barron already in the American Hockey League (AHL) and still needing time to develop physically, it wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world to see Helleson come in and get the first shot, ahead of Barron.
That may not last forever, but in terms of being NHL ready and roster management, things could work in favor of Helleson. First up, though, he has to prove himself, and he gets a chance to do that on one of the biggest stages in the game, the Olympics.