The 2020 NHL Draft was one for the ages, and that’s putting it lightly.
The Colorado Avalanche walked out of the draft with a rather light crop of new prospects, but that just makes the day all the more special for the players they picked. Prospects are typically used to making a weekend out of the NHL Draft. Travel to the city with your family, enter a packed arena with every team setting up camp on the main floor, and wait to hear your name called. Then, if you’re one of the lucky ones that hears their name, make your way down to the stage, pose with your new team, meet with a herd of reporters, and maybe do a photoshoot.
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Of course, none of that happened this year. Prospects gathered with their families at home, tuned into the draft via webcam, and did virtual interviews. Now, having said that, the draft is the most important day of most of these young players’ lives so far, and if you hear your name called, you generally don’t care what the circumstances are.
With some teams drafting upwards of 10 players, the Avalanche kept it relatively quiet this year with only five of their own. Granted, that doesn’t mean the players they picked come without a sense of intrigue. Here are the five players who put on the burgundy and blue this year and what you can expect from them in the future.
First Round, 26th Overall – Justin Barron (D, Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL)
It’s too early to call anybody from this draft class a steal, but I will say the Avs’ may have potentially hit a home run with this pick. Justin Barron was sidelined for three months during the COVID-shortened 2019-20 season after he was diagnosed with a blood clot. This raised concerns about his health, and as a result, his draft stock plummeted.
But general manager Joe Sakic wasn’t fazed by his potential health concerns. And the truth is, the risk is well worth the possible reward if Barron can stay healthy. Standing at 6-foot-2 and 198 pounds, the Halifax native is a right-handed defenseman who posted 19 points through 34 games last year. He’s a well-rounded defenseman who has a good two-way game and always seems to find himself on the scoresheet. Before the injury derailed his draft year, Barron was a projected top-15 pick. And it could be said that he has the same upside as Jamie Drysdale, the top-drafted defenseman who went sixth overall to the Anaheim Ducks.
Third Round, 75th Overall (From TOR) – Jean-Luc Foudy (C, Windsor Spitfires, OHL)
Another very intriguing pick for the Avs here. When teams go into the draft, there are obviously multiple different approaches you can take depending on what your needs are and who’s available. But one of the most common approaches to take (and for good reason) is drafting the best player available. And the selection of Jean-Luc Foudy was a textbook example of that.
The younger brother of Blue Jackets prospect Liam Foudy, the fact that Jean-Luc was still available at 75th overall was strange to me, as he’s been touted as one of the best skaters in the draft. Skating ability is typically one of the more important qualities to have, as the game quickly adapts to a style that heavily relies on speed and skill over size and grit, and Foudy’s one of the best at it. He’s an average-sized centre at six feet tall and 176 pounds and put up 43 points in 59 games for the Windsor Spitfires this year. He won’t turn 19 until May, and if he can build a repertoire of skills around his speed, he has all the potential to be an effective NHLer one day.
Fourth Round, 118th Overall – Colby Ambrosio (C, Tri-City Storm, USHL)
A native of Welland, Ontario, Colby Ambrosio is a 5-foot-9 centre who was drafted by the OHL’s Ottawa 67s, but opted to go the USHL/NCAA route instead. Going to the NCAA isn’t the most common path to take for Canadian junior players, but it’s not completely unheard of. Granted, Ambrosio has been playing right across the border ever since Triple-A, where he spent his U16 season with the Buffalo Jr Sabres.
Like Foudy, Ambrosio is another textbook skill-over-size pick. The 18-year-old put up 50 points in 48 games in his sophomore season with the Tri-City Storm, and he’s committed to play at Boston College whenever NCAA hockey resumes. He’s an elite puck handler and he’s very good in the faceoff dot, which is a key skill to have if you’re a young centre. He’s one of the younger players in the draft, not turning 19 until August, so the Avs have loads of time with his development. He needs to build up some muscle and improve his game in his own end, but the Avs could have a really nice player here if he pans out.
Fifth Round, 139th Overall (From PIT) – Ryder Rolston (RW, Waterloo Black Hawks, USHL)
Trading up in the fifth round to acquire this pick, the Avalanche went back to the USHL with the selection of Ryder Rolston. The son of Brian Rolston, a 17-year NHL veteran who spent most of his career with the New Jersey Devils and the Boston Bruins (and even a short stint with Colorado), Ryder isn’t as hyped up as his father was going into his draft year, but they shouldn’t necessarily be compared.
The junior Rolston doesn’t have any aspects to his game that really stand out more than the others. Rather, he’s a solid all-around player who recognizes where his flaws are and where he needs to improve. He put up 33 points in 42 games for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL this year, and he’s committed to the University of Notre Dame. He’s a hard worker both on the forecheck and the backcheck, and his puck-protecting game is solid as well. He said he was left “speechless” when the Avs called his name, and hopefully one day the team will be able to say the feeling is mutual.
Sixth Round, 167th Overall (From FLA) – Nils Aman (C, Leksands IF, SHL)
With their final pick of the draft, the Avs went back to the middle and selected centre Nils Aman. Born in 2000, Aman is the oldest of the 2020 Avs draftees. He spent the majority of last season with Leksands IF J20 of the J20 SuperElit league and put up 47 points in 30 games. He also got a slight taste of SHL action where he put up three points in eight games.
From what we know about Aman, he’s a good two way centre who seems to be a long-term project if anything right now. He has good size at 6-foot-2 and 179 pounds, and he’s a strong skater who can play both centre and wing. His point production isn’t necessarily eye-popping, currently sitting pointless through eight games with Leksands, and it doesn’t help his case that he’s already 20 years old. But the fact that he’s able to play right now when some junior leagues are still in jeopardy could be key for his development. He’s a late-round pick, so if he pans out into something, great. If not, no harm done.
Though the Avalanche had one of the thinner draft classes of the 31 NHL teams, there was one trend I noticed through the picks they made, and that’s speed. Every single player I researched had speed listed as one of their strong suits. And overall, I think that makes this draft a successful one.
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The Avs are in a good position right now. They aren’t relying on prospects to jump in sooner rather than later and make an impact, and drafting the best available players at every pick is key for teams like these. You have extra time to develop them, and if you don’t have room for them when they’re NHL ready, they can be used as assets to address other needs. Overall, I think Sakic had the right idea here and I think it’s safe to say this was a draft done well.
Alex Hobson is a third year broadcasting student at Niagara College. He has been writing about sports since 2005 and has been with The Hockey Writers since October of 2020. He covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, World Juniors, and the NHL Entry Draft, and is also part of the Maple Leafs Lounge Podcast, presented by THW. For interview requests or any other inquiries, you can follow Alex’s social media pages listed at the bottom of his articles like this one.