Since moving to Denver in 1995, the Colorado Avalanche have made gigantic waves in the NHL. They won a Stanley Cup the year after relocating from Quebec, they won two President’s Trophies, won their division nine straight years and appeared in the Western Conference Finals a total of six times.
Still, the Avalanche are best remembered for their unbelievable trades. The Avalanche have made big deals to acquire the likes of Patrick Roy, Ray Bourque, Theo Fleury and Rob Blake to help make deep runs into the playoffs. While these bold trades are definitely something that have defined the franchise and their dedication to doing whatever it takes to winning, it also overshadows one other rarely talked about part of the franchise, the draft.
The draft has been a much greater focus for the Avalanche in recent years as they have been going through a rebuilding process, but Colorado has had a strong history of drafting players.
Matt Duchene: The Colorado Avalanche took Matt Duchene third overall in the 2009 Entry Draft and immediately made the team. Duchene had a strong rookie year, scoring 24 goals and 31 assists which was good enough to lead all rookies in scoring. Unfortunately, though he was a finalist, it wasn’t enough to win Matt Duchene the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. In Duchene’s second year, he led the Avalanche in scoring with 67 points.
Duchene had a rough third year this past season which saw him deal with injuries for the first time in his career. The result was a step backwards in his scoring, but it also seems to have resulted in a drive to improve himself and his durability. Duchene spent this past summer working out in L.A. with Sidney Crosby, but more importantly Crosby’s strength and conditioning coach. If a season does start, Duchene is driven to take the next step in his career.
Ryan O’Reilly: O’Reilly was a pleasant surprise of a draft pick. The Avalanche were hoping that he would be a strong player for the future of the franchise when they took him in the second round of the 2009 Entry Draft, but nobody really expected him to come in and make the team. Well he did, but he wasn’t finished surprising the team and the Avalanche fans. After two years of playing a primarily defensive roll for the Avalanche, O’Reilly jumped out and led the team in scoring during the past season. This success, combined with O’Reilly’s strong leadership qualities, made him a fan favorite to be the next Avalanche captain. Even though O’Reilly didn’t end up with the captaincy, O’Reilly will continue to be a leader going forward.
Gabriel Landeskog was the best pick of the 2011 Entry Draft, and he proved that when he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie this past season. Simply put, Landeskog has done absolutely everything for the Avalanche since being drafted with the second-overall draft pick. He plays on the power play, kills penalties, lays the body, fore-checks like a crazy person, scores big goals, plays strong defense and just never looked like a rookie. Landeskog’s poise and presence off the ice was equally impressive, which led to the Avalanche naming Landeskog the youngest captain in NHL history. Gabriel Landeskog is easily the best of the recent draft picks by the Colorado Avalanche and might end up being the best pick since the team moved to Denver.
The Jury Is Still Out
Duncan Siemens: The drafting of Duncan Siemens seems like it will be a fantastic pick. Siemens was frequently described as a “junk yard dog” during the lead up to the 2011 Entry Draft and was also compared to the likes of Chris Pronger by the NHL Scouting people. We haven’t had the chance to see Duncan Siemens on the big squad yet, so we have yet to figure out if this particular pick is going to pan out, but I’m confident we will find out soon.
Stefan Elliott: Stefan Elliott was taken in the same draft as Matt Duchene and Avalanche fans got their first glimpse of him last season and he provided some early fireworks. Later in the season, however, Elliott exhibited some struggles that earned him a lot of time in the press box as a healthy scratch. Elliott still has a high ceiling, but his ability to play strong defense will be the thing that ultimately determines whether he will be successful or not.
Tyson Barrie: Barrie has almost the exact same story as Stefan Elliott. Taken in the same draft and is exactly the same type of player. Barrie, however, didn’t see as much success during his time with the Avalanche that Elliott did. Both are burdened with being undersized players that need to figure out how to not be liabilities in their own zone.
Calvin Pickard and Sami Aittokallio: Both goalies were taken in the 2010 Entry Draft and both players must overcome the biggest organizational weakness of the Colorado Avalanche, goaltender development. Without a full-time goaltending coach in the system, these strong young goalies have a big struggle to turn into a franchise NHL goalie.
The Best Picks:
Paul Stastny: Stastny has been a member of the Avalanche his whole career and has done absolutely nothing but produce and be one of the team’s leading scorers ever since his arrival. Yet, any time the Avalanche begin to struggle, the first thing you hear from Avalanche fans is that the team needs to trade Stastny. Few players have been as consistent for the Avalanche as Stastny has and more people need to appreciate that.
David Jones: David Jones was drafted in the ninth round by the Avalanche back in 2003 and has overcome a lot on his way towards being one of the top forwards on the Avalanche. Not a lot of Avalanche fans are aware of Jones’ origins in this league, but I think it’s fair to say that there aren’t very many players that are active in the NHL that were drafted that deep in the draft.
Dan Hinote: Dan Hinote was drafted by the Avalanche way back in 1996. Hinote was taken in the seventh round of the draft but ended up with a very successful NHL career, which included a Stanley Cup Championship in 2001. Hinote was a very important part of that championship team as a player that provided his team with a spark of energy whenever they needed it. He played six seasons with the Avalanche before moving on to the St. Louis Blues. If ever there was an underrated player, it was Dan Hinote.
John-Michael Liles: Liles is the type of player that both Stefan Elliott and Tyson Barrie should use as inspiration. Liles is a small player who is offensively gifted, but Liles never let his small stature stop him from playing solid defense. He could be over matched on occasion but, for the most part, Liles was always reliable in his own end.
Alex Tanguay: Alex Tanguay was a fantastic draft pick by the Avalanche who played a major part in bringing the Stanley Cup back to Colorado. Many people remember Ray Bourque lifting the cup after Game 7 of the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals, even Joe Sakic’s amazing power play goal that essentially iced the game. Not too many people will remember that Alex Tanguay scored the first two goals of that game. Tanguay now plays for division rival, Calgary, and still plays at a high level.
The Avalanche did a great job of remaining one of the top teams in the NHL for a long time and, while their many high-profile trades were a large part of that, it also meant the Avalanche had to be very smart with their draft picks. These are some of the best picks the Colorado Avalanche organization has ever made.
I’m a Denver native who has been a fan of the Avalanche since they came to town and a fan of the game before that. I started writing my own blog a couple years ago before moving to Bleacher Report and becoming a Featured Columnist there. You can also find me the Burgundy Brigade Podcast