Avalanche Stock Their Cupboards at the Draft

The Colorado Avalanche entered the 2019 draft with two first-round picks and a total of eight selections overall. But the trick for the Avalanche – would they make good choices, particularly in the first round?

Before diving into the selections, it’s important to remember the draft isn’t strictly science. While nearly 80 percent of the first rounders become NHL players, the odds drop quickly thereafter. 44 percent of second-round picks and 30 percent of third-rounders will become at least low-end players. After that, rounds four through seven fall fairly close to the 20 percent mark, with minimal differences between the rounds.

Teams invest in amateur scouts to provide quality information for the draft. But there are always surprises. Consider it as much of an art as science, with a great deal of luck thrown in.  

The Avalanche made a big splash in the first round and then went about stocking their pipeline with options down the road.

Fourth Pick – Bowen Byram

When the fourth pick came, the Avalanche had two enticing and unexpected options – forward Alex Turcotte and defenseman Bowen Byram. Colorado selected Byram, the 6-foot-1, left-shooting defenseman from the Vancouver Giants. Since this pick came from the Ottawa Senators via the Matt Duchene trade, Colorado actually acquired two defensemen from that trade.

Byram was the favored blue-line prospect in the draft by a fair margin. He’s considered to be an eventual top-pairing NHL defenseman with scoring ability. He’s a great skater, a good puck mover and a solid possession guy who many believe could play in the NHL’s upcoming season.

Bowen Byram Avalanche Draft
Bowen Byram joins the Colorado Avalanche as the fourth overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers

Byram racked up 26 goals and 71 points over 67 WHL games while also setting a WHL record with six game-winning goals. He’s a good skater who isn’t afraid to get physical, has surprising speed and a hard shot.

Just a few years ago, the Avalanche had one of the weakest blue lines in the league. Not anymore.  Now, they are deep enough on defense they can afford to let a young player develop.

Byram, while very talented, still has things to learn. The Avalanche will likely follow the same plan with him as Cale Makar – let him develop a year or so before jumping up to the big leagues. But anything is possible.

Consider the idea of a Makar pairing with Byram in a year or two and it’s hard not to get excited. Add to that Samuel Girard, Conor Timmins, and Nikita Zadorov and the future is starting to look pretty good. Plus Nicholas Meloche is the pipeline with the Colorado Eagles. And that’s not including current defenseman Erik Johnson, Ian Cole and Tyson Barrie. The Avalanche suddenly have an embarrassment of riches. And it’s a good, good feeling.

But the Avalanche weren’t done with their big splash yet.

16th Pick – Alex Newhook

Due to an early and unexpected run on defensemen, some quality forwards fell down the list, opening up a window of opportunity for Colorado to make good on their search for quality forwards as well.

The Avalanche swiped up Alex Newhook, a 5-foot-11 center from the BCHL, a player most did not expect to be available that far down in the draft. He’s considered a highly-skilled center with good hockey IQ who doesn’t get rattled under pressure.

Alex Newhook Avalanche Draft
Alex Newhook is selected by the Colorado Avalanche with their 16th pick in the 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Newhook racked up 38 goals and 64 assists over the course of 53 regular-season games. He was named the BCHL’s most valuable player of the year and was named the Brett Hull Award winner for most points in the regular season. He’s committed to Boston College for next year where he will get the chance to continue to hone his skills.

Gambling in Rounds 2-3

While the Avalanche knocked it out of the park in the first round, the second and third raised some questions as they moved away from the general consensus and started gambling.

With their 47th pick, Colorado acquired Drew Helleson. The right-handed defenseman from the United States National Development Team is big, standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 193 pounds. Though large, he has a reputation for solid decision-making and being a reliable puck manager. He will also be going to Boston College where he will have the opportunity to further develop his skills with fellow Avs’ draftee Newhook.

Helleson wasn’t a bad selection – just not flashy.

But then the Avalanche went off the rails with their third-round pick. They selected Matthew Stienburg at 63, a forward from expensive prep school St. Andrew’s College. Stienburg battled serious health issues when he was 15 and in his first year of midget which derailed his Canadian Hockey League aspirations.

Stienburg went on to captain the team at St. Andrew’s, scored 33 goals and earned 42 assists in 56 games while racking up 98 penalty minutes. The team captured some championships. Most scouts had him ranked much lower in the draft, placing him in the mid-100’s for North American skaters. He will be going to Cornell University next year.

He may have benefitted from other factors. First, Stienburg’s father is a former NHL player from the Quebec Nordiques. Second, he hails from Halifax, offering the possibility of training with other Avalanche players Nathan MacKinnon, Shane Bowers, and Ryan Graves. And third, he’s friends with Newhook. Yes, it’s a small world.

Colorado returned to the fold with the selection of Alex Beaucage with their 78th pick. Beaucage played wing for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL. He racked up 39 goals and 79 points over the course of 68 games. A good skater and puck-handler, he elevated his play in the postseason as the Huskies won the Memorial Cup.

Solid Picks in Rounds 4-7

The Avalanche finished off the draft with a set of solid picks, although they didn’t have a fourth rounder.

In the fifth round, with the 140th pick, Colorado added Sasha Mutala to the fold. A right wing from the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, Mutala stands 6-foot-1. He plays a heavy game and uses his forecheck to disrupt opponents. He racked up 41 points in the regular season and added four more in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.

Round 6 saw the Avalanche take Luka Burzan, a center for the Brandon Wheat Kings. Burzan notched 40 goals and 38 assists in 68 games, finishing second on the team for scoring. He’s a quick skater with equally quick hands who still has some learning to do, totally appropriate for a late-round pick.

With the Avalanche’s final selection at 202 in the seventh round, they picked up goaltender Trent Miner. The 6-foot-1 goalie from the Giants was projected to go in the middle rounds. He played for the same team as Byram, posting a 1.98 goals against average and a .924 save percentage, good enough for third in the league.

Avalanche Fill Their Pipeline

The Avalanche acquired players at each position, selecting five forwards, two defensemen and a goaltender. With the exception of an off the board pick in the third round, arguments can be made for fair value at each selection. The first-round picks of Byram and Newhook should set a good course for the next couple of years. Hopefully, the other selections will keep the cupboard of quality development players stocked for a long time.

Without some kind of fantastic trade, it could be a while before the Avalanche draft a fourth and 16th overall pick. With the Avalanche’s selections in the 2019 draft, Colorado needed to cement the future success of the team. They did their job and they did it well, stocking the cupboards all the way up to the peanut butter shelf. Time will reveal the rest.