The Colorado Avalanche are just now restocking prospects into their organization. Recent drafts have been above average for the team. The fairly new Director of Amateur Scouting Alan Hepple has done an admirable job since taking the reigns. Hepple and his team of scouts are responsible for finding these players, and ultimately, that hidden gem.
By trading away Matt Duchene, the Avalanche have received a slew of prospects and future assets that could be the turning point the team needs after an atrocious 2016-17 season. A few of Colorado’s top prospects have already seen ice time with the big club this season, such as Tyson Jost, JT Compher, AJ Greer, and Chris Bigras. There is plenty to be hopeful about for the future of the organization.
Below is a list of the Avalanche’s top four prospects that have not played at the NHL level as of January 2018.
#1 – Cale Makar
Cale Makar is the Avs most recent first round pick, having grabbed him 4th overall at the 2017 NHL Draft.
Makar has drawn comparisons to Erik Karlsson by scouts in the past with his ability to skate and move the puck. If Makar does end up at that Karlsson level, it could turn everything around for the Avs’ future. But elite defenseman take time to develop, so patience is the key for the organization moving forward.
Born in Calgary, Makar was an absolute force last year with the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL). He topped all defenseman in scoring, finishing sixth overall with 75 points (24 goals, 51 assists) in 54 games.
The Bandits went on to win the AJHL championship, with Makar named playoff MVP.
It was a goal of mine to be in the first round and one of the high-caliber defensemen in this year’s draft, but I would have never thought of fourth overall,” Makar, the highest-ranked draft-eligible North American defenseman, said in a phone interview. “It’s pretty special. I’m very humbled. But the way I look at it, it’s just a number and it’s all about what you do after.
It’s no secret that the Avs need all the help they can get defensively, so adding the skill of Makar to the mix was an easy choice. Makar made history and is now the highest AJHL player to ever be selected in the NHL Draft.
Makar has started his college career quietly with UMass Amherst of the NCAA, and will need some time to adjust to his team. But Avalanche fans should be excited about Makar’s stellar play in the 2018 World Junior Championship.
#2 – Conor Timmins
Conor Timmins doesn’t receive quite the attention of his Team Canada partner Cale Makar, but his numbers, both in the WJC tournament and with the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds, have been outstanding. Another strong puck moving defenseman with a top pair ceiling, Timmins and Makar could be the face of the Avalanche blueline in the next few years.
Hailing from St. Catharines, Ontario, Timmins was drafted #32 overall by the Avalanche in 2017. He has a tremendous shot and great vision on the ice, which have produced a +16 plus/minus and 1.21 points per game through 28 games with the Greyhounds in the OHL, where he averaged nearly a point per game last season. At 6’1”, 185 lbs, and a right-handed shot (something the Avalanche sorely lack), the intangibles are in place for Timmins to make a strong impact for the big club once he is called up.
#3 – Vladislav Kamenev
Vladislav Kamenev was one of four prospects sent to the Avalanche as part of the Matt Duchene trade earlier this season. While not the flashy prospect some Avalanche fans were hoping for, Kamenev brings a consistent level of production to the organization. The second round pick from Russia already has two seasons of KHL experience and three NHL appearances. Last season with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL, he put up 21 goals and 30 assists, one point shy of leading the team.
Kamenev is a power forward that drives the net well, has solid hands and a very quick release on his shot, which compliments his 6’2”, 194 lb frame well. He was a strong contributor for the Admirals on the power play last season, and brings a great combination of size and finesse to the left wing position.
#4 – Denis Smirnov
A little more of an unknown quantity, Denis Smirnov is currently enjoying a strong start to his NCAA hockey career as a winger with Penn State. The sixth round pick by the Avalanche in last year’s draft has 9 goals and 17 points in 12 games before being sidelined with an injury. Last year, Smirnov led the Nittany Lions as a freshman with 19 goals and 47 points.
Smirnov is a strong, agile skater with an accurate shot. At 5’10”, 180 lbs, he’s a little on the smaller side, but he has proven his ability to play at a high level against the size and strength of Big 10 hockey. A strong showing in the NCAA tournament could mean an early call to the professional level.
JC Beaudin, Nicolas Meloche, Ty Lewis
I am a 2013 graduate of the University of Northern Iowa covering the Colorado Avalanche for The Hockey Writers and Mile High Hockey.