The Colorado Avalanche are a Stanley Cup contending franchise. The team’s foundation of Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Mikko Rantanen, and Captain Gabriel Landeskog were all drafted and developed by the Avalanche. The team has two more big guns on the horizon as well in Bowen Byram and Alex Newhook.
It is essential in today’s NHL for a team to be successful, to have a strong scouting staff, as well as player development. While the Avalanche have hit home runs with the aforementioned players, there have been some misses over the years as well. Conner Bleackley, and Joey Hishon were both first-round picks that failed to stick in the NHL and while Tyson Jost has made the NHL, he has not developed into the impact player a tenth overall selection should.
No team has a perfect record. The Avalanche have done a good job overall with top-end talent in early picks and have some promising prospects further down the depth chart as well.
Overall, the Avalanche are not only a Stanley Cup contender right now but are poised to maintain a highly competitive status for the foreseeable future as well.
1. Bowen Byram, D – Colorado Avalanche (NHL)
Drafted: 2019 round one, fourth overall by the Colorado Avalanche
The 2020-21 COVID season for Byram started with Team Canada at the WJC where he was named Captain and added a Silver Medal to his 2020 WJC Gold Medal. His play proved to be NHL ready and even when the WHL resumed he remained with the Avalanche.
Playing in 19 games he maintained his eligibility for these rankings and the Calder Trophy as the League’s top rookie. A distinction he should be in the running for. In his 19 games, he managed only two assists but hit the ground running in this new 2021-22 season with two points in the first game. His offensive upside is not as high as Makars, but he is skilled enough to play the number one defenseman on a team without Makar.
Byram plays a more robust style, which may have cost him some games played as his season ended with an injury last year. With Makar and Byram poised to anchor the Colorado blueline for the next decade, the only other team who can rival that talent level is Buffalo with Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power.
2. Alex Newhook, C/LW- Boston College (NAA)
Drafted: 2019 round one, 16th overall by Colorado Avalanche
After being selected 16th overall in the 2019 draft, Newhook has continued to develop towards a superstar NHL career. His freshman season of NCAA was outstanding with 42 points in 34 games. He followed that up last year by debuting in the WJC with Canada and scoring three goals and six points in six games. In a short freshman season back at Boston College as a sophomore he again produced above a point per game with 16 points through 12 games.
At the conclusion of the school season, he signed his pro contract and went to the AHL where he continued to dominate offensively with nine points in eight games. The Avalanche recalled him to the NHL for the final six regular-season games and he produced three points. Perhaps most impressive was his NHL playoffs where he played in eight games, scoring his first NHL goal.
The best is yet to come with this dynamic offensive forward. He may be forced to play more on the wing early in his career, but look for Newhook to not only make the roster but be a serious contender for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie along with teammate Bowen Byram.
3. Justus Annunen, G – Colorado Eagles (AHL)
Drafted: 2018 round four 64th overall
Last season was a bit of a setback in the big Finns’ development. In his first season in the Liiga his record of 15-5-3 with a 1.77 GAA was outstanding. His performance with Finland at the WJC was very good as well despite the teams’ disappointing performance. He followed up that stellar season on the same team with the same tandem but fell to a 7-9-7 record with a 2.43 GAA back with Karpat in Liiga. After that he made the move to North America and made his AHL debut and his numbers did not improve, 0-1-1 and a 2.93 GAA.
While his numbers are trending in the wrong direction, his pedigree speaks louder and keeps him as the team’s top goalie prospect and future starting goalie. That said, he needs to turn the direction of his trending performance back this season in order to maintain that stature.
4. Justin Barron, D – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Drafted 2020 round one, 25th overall by Colorado Avalanche
It’s an embarrassment of riches on the Avalanche blueline with Makar, Byram and Sam Girard all on the roster and under 23-years-old the future gets even brighter with Barron on the horizon. Barron brings an ideal blend of size, mobility and skill.
In his final year of junior as Captain of the Mooseheads, he produced nearly a point per game offense with 31 points in 33 games. He cracked the Canadian WJC roster and finished the year in the AHL, where he played top-pairing minutes and produced four points in seven games. He raised it up a notch in the playoffs with a goal and three points in two games.
His junior career is over and with the depth on the NHL roster, he will spend the entire year with the Eagles in the AHL.
5. Martin Kaut, RW – Colorado Eagles (AHL)
Drafted:2018 round one, 16th overall by Colorado Avalanche
Kaut has already had three seasons of development in the AHL with Colorado. His point production and play have continued to improve, and he has been rewarded with 14 NHL games played.
Last year Kaut was loaned overseas during the pandemic and ended up playing on four different teams. He enjoyed his best year in the AHL but is likely headed back again due to the loaded NHL roster and that he is waiver exempt for one more season. Look for Kaut to be an early candidate for recall when injuries occur.
6. Oskar Olausson, LW/RW – Barrie Colts (OHL)
Drafted: 2021 round one, 28th overall by Colorado Avalanche
The Swedish winger was also selected by the Barrie Colts in the 2021 CHL Import draft and has come to North America to begin his transition across the pond and to the smaller ice surface. In his draft season, he made his pro debut playing in 16 games with HV71 and another 11 in Allsvenskan. 18-year-old players see limited ice time in the SHL so his counting stats there are underwhelming. He did produce in the J20 Nationell with HV71 scoring 14 goals and 27 points in 16 games before the pandemic shut that league down.
Olausson is a strong skater that creates offense through transition. He is a burner and uses his speed to his advantage to create offense. His two-way play is also a strength in his game as he competes hard on both sides of the puck. His offensive upside at the NHL level may not be as high as some other first-round picks, but he looks like a serviceable NHL player with some development.
7. Sampo Ranta, LW/RW – Colorado Eagles (AHL)
Drafted: 2018 round three, 78th overall by Colorado Avalanche
Ranta has been showing signs of steady development and progression since being selected in the 2018 draft. In his three seasons at the University of Minnesota, the big Finnish winger produced point totals of 16 points as a freshman, 20 points as a sophomore, and 31 points in 31 games as a junior. Following his breakout season in 2020-21, he signed his ELC and played in 14 AHL games scoring seven points.
His size, speed, and skill earned him a rare recall to the NHL to make his debut in the playoffs where he played two games with the Avalanche. Ranta is trending up quickly and as a player with speed, size and skill can play his way into a top-six role if he can produce consistently in his first full season as a pro in the AHL. Ranta is a player to watch.
8. Jean-Luc Foudy, C/W – Colorado Eagles (AHL)
Drafted: 2020 round three, 75th overall by Colorado Avalanche
Foudy is a burner. He is an elite-level skater that has a top gear that would allow him to blow by NHL players. With no OHL season to play in, he made an early debut at the pro level playing in the AHL as an 18-year-old and seeing regular top-six minutes. He bounced from wing to center but managed to produce 14 points through 34 games. Playing over 20 games in the AHL will allow him to return for a second season and avoid returning to the Windsor Spitfires for his final season of junior hockey.
Foudy is undersized and very shy about playing a physical game. It is an obstacle he will need to overcome to be effective at the NHL level. He has good offensive instincts as well but lacks a dangerous shot. He projects as more of a bottom-six forward and potentially a penalty-killing specialist.
9. Shane Bowers, RW – Colorado Eagles (AHL)
Drafted: 2017 round one, 28th overall by Ottawa Senators
Acquired in 2017 in the Matt Duchene trade, Bowers has since spent two seasons developing with the Boston Terriers in the NCAA before signing his ELC and turning pro in 2019. It should be a little concerning that his production dipped from his freshman season of 32 points to only 21 as a sophomore. His rookie season in the AHL was good, 10 goals and 27 points in 48 games. But his sophomore season in the pandemic saw a dip in production with only nine points in 28 games. Bowers did miss time due to COVID protocols so no doubt that affected his performance.
That said, we are seeing a trend here of inconsistent production that is concerning. Bowers is now 22 years old and entering his third season as a pro. He will lose his waiver exemption after this season and will need to show a lot more production to be a candidate to make the roster next year.
10. Drew Helleson, D – Boston College (NCAA)
Drafted: 2019 round two, 47th overall by Colorado Avalanche
The scouting report on Helleson in his draft year read something like, “Big, mobile, defensive-defenseman”. Well, that is not wrong, but since then he has found another level in his offensive game. As a freshman with the Eagles he only scored one goal and six points through 28 games. As a sophomore, he made Team USA for the WJC squad. There he played his defensive game well, was on the ice in the last minute defending a lead to win Gold. On the offensive side, he produced four points in seven games to win the Gold.
Upon his return to the NCAA, he continued to play sound defense, but finished the year with four goals and 15 points in only 22 games. Helleson will return to B.C for his junior season and likely sign his ELC when the year is done, finishing with another Eagles team in the AHL.
With Cale Makar, Bowen Byram already on the Av’s roster and the likes of Justin Barron and Drew Helleson coming down the pipeline the Colorado defensive depth may be untouched.
Alex Beaucage: Hard to keep a player outside the top ten that has won two QMJHL Championships and a Memorial Cup and had a career 1.02 point per game offence in the QMJHL. He is a prolific offensive player. So how is he not in the top ten? His skating is below average, particularly his first step acceleration. The pace he plays the game at may not be fast enough for the NHL level, and his compete level away from the puck has been a concern as well. He will begin his pro career in the AHL and if he can correct his skating deficiencies, he has top-six winger upside with an offensive ceiling of 30-40 goals.
Sean Behrens: Drafted 61st overall in 2021 he is entering his freshman season at the University of Denver, and at the time of writing this article he has six points in four games. Not a bad start.