It’s been about six months since the Colorado Avalanche chose eight players in the 2019 NHL Draft. To establish an increase in depth the last few years, the Avalanche picked players that should excel in their system. Are these youngsters earning their place on the team?
The Top Three
Defenseman Bowen Byram was chosen fourth in the first round. At 6-foot, 194 pounds, Byram is not a giant defensive presence like current Avalanche defensemen Erik Johnson, Ian Cole and Nikita Zadorov. His play is more alike to Cale Makar and Sam Girard with the essence of a two-way player using more skill than body.
So far this season, he has proven himself to be a point man notching 16 assists in 27 games with the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League (WHL). He’s also scored three goals and is a plus-six on the ice.
“Byram does a good job of holding the blue line, and he uses an active stick to interrupt passing lanes and disrupt oncoming puck-carriers,” Columnist J.D. Burke published on EPrinkside.com. (From: “EXCLUSIVE: EliteProspects Top 93 Skaters for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft” – ÊP Rinkside – June 14, 2019).
The Avalanche allowed him the opportunity to play in preseason games but was sent back to the Giants for further development and conditioning to prepare him to play at the elite level of the NHL.
Although not quite ready for the pros, Byram is elite enough to play internationally. He was chosen by Team Canada to play in the World Junior Championships (WJC) in 2020.
The 16th pick in the first round was center Alex Newhook, who currently plays for the Boston College Eagles. He has earned 12 points in 15 games equally split between goals and assists. His team is currently ranked fifth (as of the latest polls Dec. 16, 2019) with an 11-4-0 record.
However, Newhook was cut from Team Canada for the 2020 WJC. He was reportedly one of the better players but ultimately was not included on the elite international squad. “First, let me say that it is an utter travesty (and absolutely insane) that Newhook was cut from this team,” milehighhockey.com’s Lauren Kelly commented. “From what I was able to see, Newhook was consistently one of Canada’s strongest players.”
One of Newhook’s teammates at Boston College is Drew Helleson, who was chosen by the Avalanche in the second round (47th overall). Helleson has 5 points and is plus-7 in the 15 games played this NCAA season.
Helleson went to Boston College from the U.S. National Team Development Program (which is an elite under-18 team that helps prepare student-athletes for their careers). “I think it’s very humbling playing against some older guys — it’s more physical, they’re stronger. I think that’s big for me in getting ready for the next step,” Helleson told Scott MacDonald of milehighhockey.com. “You know, in the NHL, you’re playing against much older guys — bigger, stronger, faster and everything there. So I think [the NCAA] is good for me.”
Byram, Newhook, and Helleson are proving themselves as the top prospects the Avalanche believe them to be. Since the team is so solidly stocked now, they can continue to improve and not rush through development to get thrown into the majors. They’ll be there soon enough but not until they’re ready.
The Avalanche took 6-foot-2, 182-pound center Matthew Stienburg in the third round (63rd overall) who currently plays for Cornell University. His 160 points in 113 games over two seasons with St. Andrew’s College in Ontario clearly impressed the Avs scouts and management to have chosen him as their fourth pick of the draft. However, he’s off to a bit of a slow start at Cornell with only one assist in eight games played.
The other third round pick (78th overall) is right-wing Alex Beaucage. He is currently playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMHJL) and having a successful season, thus far. With 26 goals and 17 assists in 33 games, he’s on pace to possibly turn pro next season.
What excited Beaucage about being chosen by the Avalanche? “Just getting to be a better player. It’s a great organization, they have a lot of history,” he told Samantha Wexler of coloradoavalanche.com following the draft this summer. “It’s really exciting, they have big names on the team like (Nathan) MacKinnon and in the past like Joe Sakic. It is really exciting to be drafted by the team.”
The Last Two Picks
Luka Burzan was taken in the sixth round (171st overall) and has been lighting the lamp for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL this season. He’s notched 36 points in 33 games and continues to develop his scoring ability every game. As the only overage draftee at 19-years-old, Burzan has exploded over the past two seasons since being traded to the Wheat Kings.
The final pick for the Avalanche was goaltender Trent Miner in the eighth round (202nd overall). Last season, he earned a .924 save percentage (SV%) with 1.98 goals against average (GAA) in 32 games with the Vancouver Giants. Unfortunately, his start to the 2019-20 season is not as favorable with a .899 SV% and 2.97 GAA in 15 games. At a smaller stature for a goalie (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) he has shown agility in net and should continue to develop his footing and rhythm.
Considering the current Avalanche roster and depth shown in the system, there’s no doubt general manager Joe Sakic will continue to ensure the future of his organization by choosing talent to fit what he has built. The picks in the 2019 Draft are just another example.
With a Mass Communications and Journalism degree from Florida International University, I completed internships with the Florida Panthers Hockey Club and Sports Illustrated. I’ve published several articles for various outlets, including one in ESPN Magazine and one on espn.com.