Avs’ 1st Round Draft Picks 2013-22: Where Are They Now?

Whether building for the future or looking to contend in the here and now, first-round draft picks are an opportunity for a team to transform its organization. Some players achieve or even surpass their potential while others never quite pan out.

In the decade between 2013 and 2022, the Colorado Avalanche took 10 players in the first round; of these, seven are current NHL players, and there’s a good chance that more will reach the NHL in the coming years. A deeper dive into these players’ profiles reveals how the Avalanche’s first-round picks helped the club win the 2022 Stanley Cup championship.

The picks are listed in chronological order starting in 2013. Unless otherwise noted, all statistics come from NHL.com

2013 – Nathan MacKinnon

This list starts with a bang, featuring one of the three most impactful players the Avalanche selected in the first round over the last decade. Nathan MacKinnon recently signed an eight-year contract extension that will, at an average annual value of $12.6 million, make him the highest-paid player in the NHL. It’s well deserved.

Nathan MacKinnon Colorado Avalanche
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Selected first overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, MacKinnon won the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year. A decade later, he helped lead his team to its first Stanley Cup in 21 years. He’s in the top 10 in the league in most offensive categories over the last three seasons.

Related: MacKinnon Shines Bright at Avalanche Training Camp

While the number one overall pick often works out well for teams, it doesn’t always produce a superstar. This one did.

2014 – Conner Bleackley

The greatest disappointment on this list is Conner Bleackley, who the Avalanche drafted 23rd overall in 2014. He never suited up for Colorado and was 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 take the ice in an NHL game. After a few years in the AHL, he now plays for the Rapid City Rush in the ECHL.

2015 – Mikko Rantanen

Mikko Rantanen, the 10th overall pick in the 2015 Draft, has turned out to be a steal. He has 617 points in 570 NHL games, averaging 1.08 P/GP.

Standing at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, the Nousiainen, Finland native displays elite skating skills, and his shot from the right face-off circle is lethal. Still only 25 years old, Rantanen projects to be a top player in the league for years to come. His contract, at an average value of $9.25 million, expires at the end of the 2024-25 season. No matter what happens after that, his success to date gives the front office an A+ with regard to their 2015 first-round pick.

2016 – Tyson Jost

While not a complete bust, Tyson Jost is another disappointing player on this list. The Avalanche drafted Tyson Jost 10th overall in 2016, and had high hopes for the St. Albert, Alberta native. 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. He debuted for the Avalanche on March 31, 2017, and aside from two brief stints (13 total games) in the American Hockey League (AHL) he has logged more than 450 NHL games over eight seasons.

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Unfortunately, his offensive success at the collegiate level has not quite translated to NHL production. Jost had only 103 points in 321 games with Colorado, leading the Avalanche to trade him to the Minnesota Wild in March 2021 for forward Nico Sturm. The Wild got the better end of that deal, as Sturm had minimal impact in Colorado’s push to the Stanley Cup, appearing 13 of the team’s 20 postseason games, and notching only two assists. Sturm signed this offseason with the San Jose Sharks.

For Jost, the move was devastating. He recently talked with Michael Russo at The Athletic about his emotional state after watching his former teammates win the championship. “You dream of winning the Cup and then you see your best friends doing that. It was just … a lot of tears. Just sucked. I’m sure in the long run it’s going to make me a better person and player, and you just got to deal with that stuff. It’s part of the business.” (From ‘Wild’s Tyson Jost opens up on ‘very dark days’ following Avalanche Stanley Cup win,’ The Athletic, September 30, 2022.)

2017 – Cale Makar

What’s left to say about Cale Makar that hasn’t already been said? He’s been hailed a generational talent and the best defenseman in the league. He’s won a Calder Trophy, a Norris Trophy, the Conn-Smythe Trophy, and the Stanley Cup. And he’s only 24 years old.

Selected fourth overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, Makar’s 28 goals in 2021-22 are tied for 24th most by a defenseman in a single season, and all but two of the 23 players ahead of him are already in the Hockey Hall of Fame. One of them, Reijo Ruotsalainen is in the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame, and the other, Brent Burns is still playing and will make a strong case for Hall of Fame induction when his career ends.

In other words, Makar is the elite of the elite, and in this writer’s opinion, the best first-round draft pick since the club moved from Quebec to Colorado, and possibly in franchise history. If his career continues on its current trajectory, it will one day be a trivia question to wonder which three players were selected ahead of Makar in the draft. The answer is Nico Hischier, selected first overall by the New Jersey Devils; Nolan Patrick, selected second by the Philadelphia Flyers; and Miro Heiskanen, selected third by the Dallas Stars. While all three have done well in the NHL — like Makar, Hischier and Heiskanen have been selected to represent their teams in the All-Star Game — Makar was far and away the crown jewel of the 2017 draft class.

2018 – Martin Kaut

The Avalanche drafted Martin Kaut with the 16th-overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. A native of Brno, Czechia, he has spent the majority of his North American career with the Avalanche’s AHL affiliate, the Colorado Eagles.

Kaut tallied 113 points (50 goals and 63 assists) in 192 games in the AHL. He also appeared in 47 regular season games with the Avalanche, scoring only six points. 2022-23 was viewed as a make-or-break season for Kaut, and with injuries to key Avalanche players heading into the start of the campaign — captain Gabriel Landeskog continues to rehab a lower-body injury.

Unfortunately, he didn’t meet expectations and was dealt to the San Jose Sharks ahead of the 2023 Trade Deadline. He returned to Europe for the 2023-24 season.

2019 – Bowen Byram and Alex Newhook

The Avalanche had two first-round picks in the 2019 Draft, and they used them wisely.

Bowen Byram, a tenacious defenseman with plus skating skills and the ability to score, was selected fourth overall. While he has battled issues with concussions in his brief time with the Avalanche, he has proven himself a valuable addition to the defensive corps when healthy. Just 21 years old, he had nine assists in 20 postseason games for Colorado, and was tied with Landeskog for the club lead with a plus/minus rating of plus-15.

Alex Newhook, selected 16th overall in the draft, also saw significant playoff time in 2021-22, skating in 12 of the team’s games and notching four assists. Head coach Jared Bednar was so pleased with Newhook’s development that he was considering moving him to the second line to fill the vacancy left by Nazem Kadri, who signed in the 2022 offseason with the Calgary Flames.

Both of the 2019 first-round picks proved their worth to the club and played well in 2022-23. Newhook left the Avalanche as a free agent in 2023 and Byram was traded to the Buffalo Sabres at the 2024 Trade Deadline.

2020 – Justin Barron

Selected 25th overall in the 2020 draft, defenseman Justin Barron was one of the most highly touted prospects in the Avalanche organization. The 20-year-old had an impressive 20 points in 43 games before being traded to the Montreal Canadiens, along with a second-round pick in 2024, for forward Artturi Lehkonen.

Justin Barron Montreal Canadiens
Justin Barron, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The trade was a positive for both teams. Lehkonen, who played a key role in helping the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup, signed a five-year, $22.5 million contract extension with Colorado in 2022. Barron has developed into a top-four defenseman for the Canadiens.

Because he led to the acquisition of Lehkonen, Barron must be viewed as another successful first-round pick for the club.

2021 – Oskar Olausson

Selected 28th overall in the 2021 Draft, Oskar Olausson played for both the Barrie Colts and the Oshawa Generals in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) last season, before joining the Eagles for four playoff games. The 6-foot, 184-pound native of Stockholm, Sweden notched 49 points in 55 games in the OHL and added two points in the AHL playoffs. 

Olausson has plus speed and a high hockey IQ. The EliteProspects 2021 NHL Draft Guide had this to say about him: “Olausson’s skating posture allows him to effortlessly maneuver through opponents with his top hand in full control, pushed out from his body. You’ll rarely see Olausson attempt the same neutral zone rush twice in the same game.”

The 19-year-old played for Team Sweden in the World Junior Championship this summer, scoring five points in seven games. While he played the majority of the 2022-23 seasons in the AHL, he saw one game of NHL action in both.

2022 – Traded to the Arizona Coyotes

The Avalanche traded their first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft to the Arizona Coyotes in the summer of 2021. The pick, along with defenseman Conor Timmins, brought goaltender Darcy Kuemper to Denver, who was the club’s number one netminder in its Stanley Cup championship season.

While Colorado has had strong success with its first round picks over the last decade, a drafted player is a kind of speculative bet. Some work out, some do not. To use that capital to acquire proven talent, is often the smarter play, as it was in this case.

Up Next for Colorado

While the Avalanche traded away their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th round picks in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft and their 2nd, 3rd, and 5th round picks in the 2024 Draft, they did retain their first round pick in 2024 and 2026. On a team with a farm system that was depleted to acquire the talent needed to win the Stanley Cup, the upcoming first round picks, whether used to select young players or as trade bait to acquire veterans, will help define the future profile of the club.

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