4 Prospects the Avalanche Need to Come Through in 2022-23

The massive deal the Colorado Avalanche gave to Nathan MacKinnon wasn’t much of a surprise since both sides were very vocal about getting a deal done before the season. The 2022-23 campaign was the final year on MacKinnon’s current contract, and his looming extension likely played into the team’s not re-signing Nazem Kadri – which allowed the center to sign his own lucrative contract with the Calgary Flames.

The deal keeps MacKinnon in Colorado for eight more seasons. However, with other players also eating up big chunks of salary cap space, more pressure than ever will fall on the youth in the team’s pipeline to perform. Here are four prospects Colorado needs to come through to maintain the depth needed for another Stanley Cup run.

Oskar Olausson

Oskar Olausson is perhaps the Avalanche prospect with the most buzz around him. The 19-year-old winger from Sweden was Colorado’s first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, taken with the 28th overall selection. At 6-foot-1, 184 pounds, he’s a winger with a big body — and an even bigger shot. He played a bit with the Avs in the preseason before the 2021-22 season and then racked up 24 goals and 49 points in 55 games in the Ontario Hockey League.

Oskar Olausson Barrie Colts
Oskar Olausson, Barrie Colts (Josh Kim / The Hockey Writers)

Olausson will likely start the 2022-23 season with the Colorado Eagles in the American Hockey League (AHL) and has a knack for scoring goals in bunches. He turned a lot of heads with five points in seven games at the World Junior Championships as well. There is no questioning his offensive ability, but it’s a matter of getting some more consistency. If he can find that, the big prospect for Colorado could end up paying dividends on offense sooner rather than later.

Ben Meyers

Ben Meyers might have the best shot of cracking the Avalanche lineup the soonest, as he was brought up to the NHL team at the end of last season. The Big Ten Player of the Year was still a free agent following his phenomenal junior season at the University of Minnesota and signed with the Avalanche in April. Meyers played in just five games for Colorado in the last campaign but managed to score a goal during that stretch. Meyers didn’t play enough games with the Avalanche to qualify to play last season’s playoffs, but the early returns were pretty good.

Ben Meyers University of Minnesota
Ben Meyers, University of Minnesota (University of Minnesota Athletics)

He’s a solid 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, and can succeed in a checking role while still bringing a scoring threat. In his three seasons with the Golden Gophers, Meyers scored 39 goals and went to the NCAA Frozen Four in his final season. He was brought in after the Avs moved some of their prospects – like Drew Helleson and Justin Barron – in trade deadline deals in 2021-22. He showed he could play in the NHL with his stretch last season and should get a shot to get some minutes this year.

Sampo Ranta

Sampo Ranta was a third-round pick of the Avalanche in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, but the 22-year-old played his first regular-season NHL action last season. He appeared in 10 games for the Avs in 2021-22 after making his NHL debut while appearing in two games in the 2020-21 playoffs. He has yet to register a point in the NHL but should register his first NHL point sometime this season, though he will have to pick up his two-way game. The offensive skills are there, but he knows he needs to work on the defensive side of his game if he wants to get an extended stay in the NHL.

Sampo Ranta of the Sioux City Musketeers
Sampo Ranta of the Sioux City Musketeers (courtesy USHL)

He should get the chance to continue to prove himself, but time could be running out for him, too. Ranta was the lowest drafted prospect out of the four on this list, but he’s played in more NHL games than the other three combined. That means the Avs likely are high on Ranta’s potential, but he has to come through for them sooner or later. There are too many others vying for spots on a pretty deep group of forwards, so the time has to be now if Ranta wants to make a lasting impression in Colorado.

Shane Bowers

Shane Bowers might be the longest shot for Colorado, but they extended his contract after last season for one more year. That gives Bowers one more crack at hitting an NHL lineup, which might be his last chance to do so. A first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, he was a highly-touted prospect for the Ottawa Senators before coming to Colorado as part of the three-team trade that sent Matt Duchene to the Senators. However, he’s been marred with inconsistency since then. He’s struggled in the AHL for the last three seasons, scoring just 23 goals and 45 points over 113 games. That production isn’t turning any heads and has to change for him to make it to the NHL.

Shane Bowers
Shane Bowers (courtesy United States Hockey League)

This won’t be an easy group for Bowers to crack. The club brought Valeri Nichushkin back after his career year and extended Artturi Lehkonen. They also brought in Evan Rodrigues to fill one of the wing spots. Bowers is behind the likes of Alex Newhook and Logan O’Connor, and possibly even Meyers and Olausson. That leaves maybe a fourth-line role, which is anchored by veterans Andrew Cogliano and Darren Helm. From the first puck drop, Bowers is going to have to be more electric offensively than he has at any point in his professional career to crack the NHL lineup, and then, he’ll have to be even better to stay up there.

Avalanche Face Top-Heavy Cap Situation

The NHL’s salary cap is set at $82.5 million in 2022-23 and will bump up only by another $1 million next season. The contracts of MacKinnon ($12.6 million), Rantanen ($9.25 million), Makar ($9 million), and Landeskog ($7 million) eat up almost half of that. That’s a big chunk from four players, especially considering the Avs doled out another $15.125 million to also extend Nichushkin, Lehkonen and Josh Manson this offseason.

Related: Colorado’s Top 5 Prospects for the 2022-23 Season

Meyers, Ranta, and Bowers will all be restricted free agents following this season, meaning they need to make big impressions as badly as the Avalanche need them to come through. Colorado needs to replace the scoring lost by Kadri, but those cap constraints mean a chunk of those will have to come from some of the unproven guys. If one or more of these prospects can come through for Colorado, they’ll definitely be in the hunt for another Stanley Cup – and it could unearth even more potential weaponry for the Avalanche in seasons to come.

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