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.
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In the decade between 2013 and 2022, the Colorado Avalanche have taken 10 players in the first round; of these, seven are current NHL players, and there’s a good chance one more will open the season with an NHL club. A deeper dive into these players’ profiles reveals how the Avalanche’s first-round picks helped the club win last year’s 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 game when the new terms kick in next season. It’s well deserved.
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 ten in the league in most offensive categories over the last three seasons, including third overall with 1.35 points per game played (P/GP), trailing only Connor McDavid (1.63) and Leon Draisaitl (1.47), both of the Edmonton Oilers.
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 Maine Mariners 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 408 points in 399 NHL games (since his first full season in 2016-17), averaging 1.02 P/GP, which is 19th best in the league over that span. His 1.18 P/GP over the last three seasons is good enough for 12th best in the league.
Since he joined the team, 28 other Avalanche players have appeared in at least 100 games. Of that group, Rantanen’s even strength goal differential (+74) — how many more goals a team scores than it allows when a specific player is on the ice — ranks fourth on the Avalanche, trailing only MacKinnon, Cale Makar, and Devon Toews.
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 300 NHL games over six 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 of 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 23-years old.
Selected fourth overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, Makar’s 1.01 P/GP ranks third all-time among defenseman, behind only Hall-of-Famers Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey. His 28 goals last season is tied for 25th most by a defenseman in a single season, and all but two of the 24 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 has tallied 91 points (42 goals and 49 assists) in 163 games with the Eagles. He’s also appeared in 20 regular season games with the Avalanche, scoring only three points in 20 games. 2022-23 is likely 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 — it’s very possible Kaut will get an early chance to prove his worth to the franchise.
If he doesn’t produce at the NHL level this season, expect general manager Chris McFarland to move Kaut, making him one of the less successful first round picks for the club in recent years.
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 last season, skating in 12 of the team’s games and notching four assists. Head coach Jared Bednar is so pleased with Newhook’s development, he’s considering moving him to the second line, to fill the vacancy left by Nazem Kadri, who signed in the off-season with the Calgary Flames.
Both of the 2019 first round picks have proven their worth to the club, and both look poised to break out in 2022-23.
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.
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 this past off-season. Barron projects to be a top four defender for the Canadiens in the upcoming campaign.
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 six-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 will likely start the 2022-23 season with the Eagles, Olausson will be a closely watched commodity and could see time with the Avalanche before the season is over.
2022 – Traded to the Arizona Coyotes
The Avalanche trade 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 for each of the next three years. 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.
Overall, with five of their first round selections over the last decade still in the Avalanche’s starting lineup (six if Kaut starts the season in Denver), Colorado’s front office gets very high marks for its drafting acumen. The Avalanche open the regular season at Ball Arena in Denver against the Chicago Blackhawks on October 12.
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Hockey dad, beer league hockey captain, rabid Avalanche fan. Author of five novels for young adults, including The Scar Boys, Life in a Fishbowl, and Hard Wired. Lives in Littleton, Colorado with two middle school-age kids, one awesome wife, and three pets. Voted least likely to break 100 on a golf course.