5 Avalanche First-Round Draft Targets

While the draft order and date of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft are still unknowns, we know that the Colorado Avalanche only have four picks in the top 151 because of player moves made during the previous two seasons.

The Avs traded their 2020 second-round pick to the Washington Capitals last summer in the Andre Burakovsky trade, lost its third-rounder to Florida when it acquired Derrick Brassard in February 2019 (ouch), but did obtain the Toronto Maple Leafs’ third-rounder in the Nazem Kadri trade. 

If the NHL cancels the 2019-20 season, then the Avalanche will hold No. 27 in each round, so we’ll use that positioning in this article. To properly suggest interesting 2020 draft targets, it’s essential to understand the current state of the Avalanche’s NHL roster, its minor leaguers, and college players. If there’s one advantage for only having four picks in the first five rounds, it’s that general manager Joe Sakic has a nearly complete NHL roster and balanced farm system. 

Related: THW’s 2020 NHL Draft Guide

The Avalanche should enter camp with all NHL players having healed from their 2019-20 injuries. The front office has four important decisions to make with regards to their free agents: unrestricted free agent Vlad Namestnikov will likely sign elsewhere this summer and fellow UFA Nikita Zadorov may leave as well. RFAs Ryan Graves and Andre Burakovsky should return with contract extensions.  

Bowen Byram Vancouver Giants
Bowen Byram continues to make a case for himself as the top defenceman in the 2019 draft class and a potential top-five pick. (Chris Relke/Vancouver Giants)

It’s expected that top prospect and the No. 4 overall selection in the 2019 Entry Draft, Bowen Byram, will ascend to the senior club next season, and there were eight AHL players that had cups of coffee with the big-league club. Some of these AHL players are within two years of seriously challenging for NHL roster spots, most notably D Connor Timmins, RW Martin Kaut, and RW T.J. Tynan. While he’s played the entire 2019-20 season in the minors, C Shane Bowers is also expected to push for an Avalanche job in training camp.  

There are two ECHL scorers with the Utah Grizzlies who will most likely play a full season in the AHL in 2020-21: C/LW Griffen Molino (though not considered a prospect due to being 26 years old already) and 22-year-old C Josh Dickinson. Both players averaged over a point-per-game this season for the Grizzlies in the ECHL. 22-year-old LW Ty Lewis may make the jump as well as he led the Grizzlies in scoring (51 points in 44 games) after Molino and Dickinson ended their seasons in the AHL. 

In the college ranks, Boston College teammates and 2019 draft picks Alex Newhook and D Drew Helleson are returning for their sophomore seasons in 2020-21. Newhook won a slew of national Freshman of the Year awards this season. Finnish power forward prospect Sampo Ranta made strides this season learning the North American game, and 21-year old power forward collegian Cam Morrison will graduate this spring from the University of Notre Dame with hopes to begin his career in the Avalanche system next season. (from ‘Gophers forward Sampo Ranta developing into a force as sophomore,’ Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 01/24/2020)

Related: 11 Exciting Avalanche Prospects 

With a good balance of promising skaters in the farm system, there isn’t pressure on Sakic to have to fill any level with prospects from this season’s draft. However, there is an onus on him to nail the No. 27 pick because he won’t draft again until approximately No. 80 (the third-rounder from the Leafs). To narrow down the field of likely first-round picks, we’ll use the NHL Central Scouting Rank lists and look at Sakic’s draft history. 

Alex Newhook Avalanche Draft
Alex Newhook, Colorado Avalanche, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Typically, more North American (NA) skaters are drafted in the first-round than their European compatriots, so I’m skimming NA skaters ranked 1-15 and European skaters 1-10 off the pool of available players that Sakic will likely see at No. 27. I’ll assume a team drafts a goalie as I’ve seen mocked.  

Sakic’s never drafted a first-round player shorter than 5-feet-11 or one from the NCAA. After excluding those players, I looked at the type of players that Sakic has typically drafted, and I created the following table of likely first-round picks for the Avalanche.  

Table 1. Likely Avalanche 1st-round picks in 2020 NHL Entry draft 

14 Euro WILLIAM WALLINDER (D) 6′ 4″ 191 MODO JR. (SWEDEN-JR) 17 
17 JACOB PERREAULT (RW) 5′ 11″ 192 SARNIA (OHL) 18 
20 BRENDAN BRISSON (C) 5′ 11″ 179 CHICAGO (USHL) 18 
21 TYSON FOERSTER (RW) 6′ 2″ 194 BARRIE (OHL) 18 

Sakic’s first-round picks from 2013 to 2019 have fit into three main buckets: offensive-minded defensemen (Cale Makar 2017, Bowen Byram 2019), stocky high-scoring centers (Nate MacKinnon 2013, Connor Bleackley 2014, Tyson Jost 2016, Alex Newhook 2019), and power forward right-wingers (Rantanen 2015, Martin Kaut 2018).  

Offensive-Minded Defenders

William Wallinder is playing his first full season in the top adult Swedish league in 2020-21. He’s a puck-moving defenseman with plus size who was the third-highest under-18 scoring defenseman in the Swedish Elite Under 20 League (U-20 SuperElit) in 2019-20 (21 points in 25 games). He’s a strong first-round talent in a weak defenseman class with a good shot at making the NHL and could replace Erik Johnson with the Avalanche as a middle-tier defender. Ranked as the 14th top European skater, Wallinder could be gone by the time the Avalanche draft at No. 27, but I suspect that he’s on Sakic’s short-list. 

Jeremie Poirier reminds me a lot of Cale Makar. He’s got a laser-focused one-timer that scores near-side and he skates like a forward on the puck. He’s got great vision and trails plays well, and led all 2019-20 QMJHL defensemen with 20 goals. 

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He’s a work in progress on the defensive side of the game, and will need to play more physically as he rises in his professional career, but his offensive capabilities provide an attractive foundation from which to build.   

High-Scoring Center

Brendan Brisson’s arrow is pointing straight up. His final NHL Central Scouting rank was the 20th-ranked North American skater, up from 31 in the midseason rankings. He’s already developed his two-way game and led Team USA in scoring at the 2019 World Junior A Challenge with 12 points in six games. 

Related: All-Decade NHL Draft – 2010 to 2019

In the 2019-20 USHL season, Brisson was second in scoring (59 points in 45 games). The University of Michigan gets his services next season, where he should compete for the same National Freshman of the Year awards that Alex Newhook won this season.  

Power Forwards

Son of former NHLer, Yanic Perreault, Jacob Perreault is a high-caliber offensive prospect who led Sarnia in 2019-20 with 39 goals, including 15 on the power-play. Being the son of a good NHL veteran is not nearly enough to get a player drafted in the first round, but Perrault has legitimate skills

He plays bigger than his size, has plus skating ability and elite shooting accuracy and needs major improvement in his off-the-puck play, especially in the defensive zone. He’s such an offensive wizard with a nose for the goal that he could be a steal at No. 27 for the Avalanche if he develops into a two-way player.  

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While the 2020 CHL/NHL Top Prospects game was headlined by top-ranked skaters Alex Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield, it was Tyson Foerster who was named Player of the Game for Team White (captained by Lafreniere). Following the OHL this season it was easy to see why he performed so well in the game.

Foerster led Barrie in scoring with 80 points in 62 games, improving dramatically over his 2018-19 totals of 23 points in 64 games. He’s developing as a cerebral player with excellent stickwork and fundamentals. Though not flashy or elite in any way, once he fills out his 6-foot-4 power forward frame, he’s going to be a high-level dangerous playmaker.