A quick reminder that all top 10 candidates must be no more than 25 years old as of October 7, 2015. The lists consider all skaters in that age group who have played in fewer than 40 NHL regular season games, with 25 games being the cut-off among netminders.
Discounting no-brainers such as Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKninnon, the Colorado Avalanche have not enjoyed a great deal of success in the draft recently. Some first round misses along with a lack of success in the later rounds led to the dismissal of head amateur scout Rick Pracey last October. Depsite all that, the Avalanche find themselves high up in this ranking. That is in large part due to a solid looking crop of picks from the 2015 draft, combined with a late trade of a non-prospect for a still-promising blueliner and some of the promising remnants from the previous scouting regime.
- Mikko Rantanen, RW, TPS (Finland) 6-4”, 211. 10th overall, 2015
- Brandon Gormley, D, Portland (AHL) 6-2”, 196. Trade Sep. 9, 2015. Originally: 13th overall, 2010 (Arizona)
- Chris Bigras, D, Owen Sound (OHL) 6-1”, 190. 32nd overall, 2013
- Calvin Pickard, G, Lake Erie (AHL) 6-1”, 200. 49th overall, 2010
- Conner Bleackley, C, Red Deer (WHL) 6-0”, 192. 23rd overall, 2014
- Nicolas Meloche, D, Baie-Comeau (QMJHL) 6-3”, 204. 40th overall, 2015
- Jean-Christophe Beaudin, C, Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL) 6-1”, 181. 71st overall, 2015
- J. Greer, LW, Boston U. (NCAA) 6-3”, 204. 39th overall, 2015
- Borna Rendulic, RW, Lake Erie (AHL) 6-2”, 200. UFA: signed May 14, 2014
- Joey Hishon, C, Lake Erie (AHL) 5-10”, 170. 17th overall, 2010
Players likely to lose eligibility
- Will Butcher, D, Denver (NCAA) 5-10”, 190. 123rd overall, 2013
- T. Compher, LW, Michigan (NCAA) 6-0”, 182. Trade Jun. 26, 2015. Originally 35th overall, 2013 (Buffalo)
- Spencer Martin, G, Mississauga (OHL) 6-3”, 200. 63rd overall, 2013
The Avalance have every reason to believe they hit a home run by selecting Mikko Rantanen 10th overall at this past summer’s draft. He brings an NHL level combination of size and high end skill. The big Finn represented his country well at the most recent world juniors, with four goals in five games and was the best player on what was a rather disappointing tournament for the Scandinavians. Rantanen is very good in the offensive zone and extremely dangerous with his potent wrist shot. He also possesses good playmaking skills, which his 19 assists in the Finnish pro league last season will attest to. Like most of his fellow countrymen, there are no questions regarding his grit and compete level. Right now it is very much up in the air as to where he will play this coming season. He could potentially return home and suit up for TPS once again, join San Antonio in the AHL or the very real possibility of cracking the Avalanche roster.
This season will be a big one for the captain of the Red Deer Rebels, Connor Bleackley, as his team will host the 2016 Memorial Cup. Leadership and grit are at the top of his resume and he will try to lead his team to a championship for the first time since 2001. While the projection here is for Bleackley to be a two-way forward, it would be foolish to underestimate his offensive game. With 29 goals as a 17-year-old and 27 goals in 51 games the following season, he showed he has some scoring prowess. Even if that offence does not translate to the NHL, he is a good bet make it there due to all the intangibles he brings to the table.
Jean-Christophe Beaudin made a name for himself in NHL circles with a great first full season of junior hockey. With 53 points in 68 games on a young Rouyn-Noranda squad, he got himself selected in the third round of the 2015 NHL draft. He is blessed with very good offensive instincts, vision and is a great distributor of the puck. Physical play and strength are areas of his game that he will need to work on in order to be effective at the pro level.
The opposite could be said of fellow 2015 draft pick A.J. Greer. He has no problem using his size to be a physical presence and finishes checks all over the ice. Greer also likes to get to the front of the net and causes all kinds of problems for the opposing netminder. He did not have a big year offensively at Boston University last season, but that can be at least partly attributed to being the youngest forward in NCAA hockey. The puck possession skills and a solid wrist shot are there, so this season may be a better indication of how much he can produce. Nonetheless, the jury is still very much out on what his offensive ceiling is and Colorado may have been reaching quite a bit by taking him early in the second round.
The first Croatian-born player to score a goal in the NHL, Borna Rendulic has a good shot to crack the Avalanche roster this season. He played in 11 games with Colorado last season before a broken leg derailed his campaign. He has offensive skills and goal scoring ability to go along with good skating capability and strong acceleration. If he can round out the other aspects of his game, he can become a solid NHL player.
Former first round pick Joey Hishon finally seems to be over the concussion issue that plagued him for nearly two years. He has top notch offensive skill and finishing ability, but has certainly been hurt by all the time previously missed. While the skills are there, he simply has not shown enough offence yet to lock down a roster spot in the NHL. His game is about scoring goals and he will be a career minor league player until he proves that he can produce at the highest level.
Acquired from Buffalo in the Ryan O’Reilly deal, J.T. Compher could eventually prove to be a nice addition to the Avalanche organization. Like Bleackley, he is known for his strength in leadership, work ethic and two-way play. While the offence may not be there in the end, he is another guy that should be able to contribute in the NHL in some capacity.
The Avalanche are hoping that a change of scenery will provide a boost for recently acquired Brandon Gormley. The former first overall pick in the QMJHL has yet to deliver on the promise he showed in junior. Despite that, there is still lots to like about the extremely poised rearguard. His hockey IQ has always stood out and allows him to play a sound defensive game in his own end. Gormley is also a decent puck mover, but he has yet to show a great deal of offence in his NHL appearances. His forte is being a two-way defenceman, so he will need to show more of an offensive game moving forward. With Colorado’s current depth chart on defence, he will really need to impress early on in order to earn a full time roster spot.
Before the selection of Rantanen and acquisition of Gormley, Chris Bigras was the top prospect in the organization. While he did put up 71 points in 62 games with Owen Sound last season, offence will not be his specialty in the NHL. The ability to play a smart and steady game will be his calling card when he makes it up to the big club. That said, he does handle the puck well and has a good shot from the point. Bigras also has the speed to recover if he gets himself into trouble and always keeps his feet moving. He will get his first extended taste of professional hockey this season with San Antonio and it would not come as a big surprise to see him get a look in the NHL.
Colorado added some more talent to their pool of defenders when they nabbed Nicolas Meloche in the second round of the 2015 draft. He did everything for Baie-Comeau last year and it is no coincidence that the Drakkar went into a tailspin in the second half when Meloche missed time with an injury. He returned for the playoffs and put up 12 points in 10 games, leading his squad to the second round. He already owns NHL size and should only continue to add strength as he progresses. He can play a physical brand of hockey and has the acumen to contribute offensively as well. Some of the defensive aspects of his game could still use some work, but he has the look of a very good all-around defenceman in the NHL.
The Avalanche have no problem keeping an eye on Will Butcher, who plies his trade with Denver University. The skilled rearguard with a very strong wrist shot had a very good showing for the United States at the world juniors and will continue to develop in NCAA hockey for the time being.
Calvin Pickard is almost certainly the second best goaltender in the organization, but with Reto Berra still under contract, it looks as though Pickard is destined for another season in the AHL. He performed very well last season when he got the call to join the Avalanche and gave a nice glimpse into the future. He moves very well in the crease and never gives up on a play. Pickard can handle a heavy workload as he appeared in over 60 games three times in his WHL career. If the Avalanche can find a way to move Berra, you can expect to see Pickard in the NHL this season.
Another goaltender not afraid of substantial time in the crease, Spencer Martin appeared in 64 games for Mississauga in the OHL in 2013-14. His 2014-15 season was cut short due to injury and unsurprisingly the Steelheads faltered badly down the stretch and missed the playoffs. He has good lateral movement in the crease and plays his position well. It is unclear where he will find himself to start the upcoming season.
The Avalanche have to be pleased with the injection of skill they received from the 2015 draft class. The likes of Rantanen, Meloche and Beaudin provide a huge boost to the organization’s prospect ranks. Colorado is also very hopeful that Greer will eventually justify the high pick the team spent on him. If they pan out and join emerging talents such as Gormley, Bigras and Pickard, the picture in the Mile-High City will start to look a lot rosier.