First-round draft picks are an opportunity for teams to transform their organization, especially when generational talents are on the line. Some players achieve or even surpass their potential while others never pan out. Between 2014 and 2018, the Colorado Avalanche have taken five players in the first round, and, of these, four are current NHL players. A deeper dive into these players’ profiles reveals how the Avalanche’s first-round draft picks have contributed to their recent success.
The Avalanche drafted Martin Kaut with the 16th-overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. A native of Brno, Czech Republic, he has only played two years in North America so far. He made his AHL debut for the Colorado Eagles during the 2018-19 season, netting 12 goals and 14 assists in 63 games — a solid season for the 19-year-old forward.
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For the 2019-20 season, Kaut began and played the majority of the year there. In 34 games he notched 18 points (5 goals, 13 assists). The Avalanche called him up this year on Feb. 19, and he made his NHL debut against the New York Islanders.
After his debut, he was a staple in the Avalanche’s lineup for the next nine games until the NHL paused the season. He scored two goals and one assist in that span, averaging a little over 10 minutes of ice time per game. Obviously, his NHL sample size is small, but it is safe to assume the Kaut will develop into at least a contributing forward for the Avalanche — most likely more — making the first-round pick worth it.
Much has been written about rookie defenseman Cale Makar since he made his NHL debut against the Calgary Flames in the first round of the 2019 postseason. Drafted fourth overall in 2017, he scored a goal in his first game and has not looked back. Now, he has established himself as a top contender for the Calder Trophy alongside Quinn Hughes.
It is evidently clear that Makar is the defenseman of the future for the Avalanche. He scored an impressive 50 points (12 goals, 38 assists) in 57 games this season, and he showed no signs of slowing down after returning from injuries. The highly-touted prospect has exceeded expectations. With his leadership, and alongside players like Samuel Girard and Ian Cole, the Avalanche appear to have the defensive core needed to win.
One of the more intriguing players on this list, the Avalanche drafted Tyson Jost 10th overall in 2016. He is a skilled, smooth-skating forward who dominated during his one year at the University of North Dakota, potting 16 goals and 19 assists in 33 games during 2016-17. Interestingly, almost immediately following the conclusion of his college season, he signed a three-year, entry-level contract and debuted for the Avalanche on March 31, 2017. Aside from a few stints in the AHL (13 total games) he has logged over 200 games for the Avalanche in three seasons.
Unfortunately, his previous offensive success has not quite translated to NHL production. He has 72 points in 208 games. Despite his lack of output, he has established himself as an important, versatile player for the Avalanche. He can center the third or fourth line but also has the skill to play alongside top-six forwards like Gabriel Landeskog or Nathan MacKinnon.
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Jost’s three-year, entry-level contract expires after this season, and I would expect the Avalanche to re-sign the young restricted free agent, most likely at a lower rate. While he has not put up numbers in line with such a high pick, he fits in well and has certainly given the Avalanche the depth they need to be a contender.
Like Makar, Mikko Rantanen has proven himself well worthy of the 10th-overall pick in 2015. He has exactly 250 points in parts of five NHL seasons and has emerged as one of the most skilled forwards in the league. He stands at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, but that height and weight seem to disappear on the ice, where he skates like a Johnny Gaudreau.
Rantanen constitutes one of the deadliest lines in the NHL alongside MacKinnon and Landeskog. Even in their absence he thrives, and, at only 23 years old, he will continue to develop into an elite NHL player. Naturally, he will play a crucial role in the success of the Avalanche after signing a six-year, $9.25 million contract in 2019.
The last player on this list, and easily the greatest disappointment, is Conner Bleackley, who the Avalanche drafted 23rd overall in 2014. He never suited up for the Avalanche and was later traded to the Arizona Coyotes in 2016 before reentering the NHL Draft that year.
There were relatively high expectations for the centerman, but sadly, Bleackley has yet to suit up for an NHL game. After a few years in the AHL, he now plays for the Maine Mariners in the ECHL. Of course, not all first-round draft picks become superstars, but the Avalanche front office almost certainly wish they could redo this selection.
Comparing the Avalanche to Division Rivals
First-round picks cannot be wasted if a team is to succeed. Four of five Avalanche first-round picks from 2014-2018 are NHL players, an indication that these picks were used well. How does the Avalanche’s draft record during this period compare to Central Division opponents?
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The St. Louis Blues had four first-round picks between 2014 and 2018. These include Robby Fabbri, Tage Thompson, Robert Thomas, and Dominik Bokk. Fabbri and Thomas are NHL players, while Bokk remains a promising prospect. Thompson has alternated between the NHL and AHL. Interestingly, only Thomas remains on the Blues while the rest have been traded away for pieces like Ryan O’Reilly and Justin Faulk. Nevertheless, the Blues’ first-round picks have either found success or been valuable assets to acquire key players for the team’s Stanley Cup win last season.
During this period, the Dallas Stars had five first-round picks, including Julius Honka, Denis Gurianov, Riley Tufte, Miro Heiskanen, and Ty Dellandrea. Gurianov and Heiskanen currently play for the Stars, while Honka suits up in the Finnish Liiga league after requesting a trade. Tufte plays for the Stars’ AHL affiliate the Texas Stars, and Dellandrea played for the Flint Firebirds in the OHL this past season. Only two of the Stars’ picks are contributing NHL players currently.
The Avalanche’s Success
Given the Avalanche’s impressive draft record over the past five or six seasons, it is no surprise that they surged to the top of the Central Division and Western Conference. Compared to the Blues and the Stars, the Avalanche’s picks have panned out just as well if not better. Rantanen, Jost, and Makar have established themselves as core components of the Avalanche, while Kaut stands poised to succeed when and if the NHL resumes. The Avalanche are knocking on the door of a deep playoff run, and their first-round picks have served a crucial role in the team’s success.