NHL Draft: Avalanche's biggest needs, top prospects

The Colorado Avalanche may be the team of the moment in the NHL, but they'll have to stock up their prospect pool if they want to sustain the success in the long run. (Getty Images)
The Colorado Avalanche may be the team of the moment in the NHL, but they'll have to stock up their prospect pool if they want to sustain the success in the long run. (Getty Images)

Perhaps no team was as impressive from start to finish during 2021-2022 as the Colorado Avalanche. Yes, there were the stars. Nathan MacKinnon and Cole Makar are two of the best players in the NHL today. Both are well within, or still entering (in the case of Makar) their prime. Colorado also has several young players trending upward including Alex Newhook, Bowen Byram and Samuel Girard. The Avalanche are in a strong position now, and for the foreseeable future, but their prospect pool is beginning to dry up, specifically after trading away the organization’s top prospect, Justin Barron. For now, it’s all about winning Stanley Cups for the Colorado Avalanche, as it should be. Colorado, however, will need to turn their eyes back to the future sooner, rather than later, especially without a first or second round pick at this year’s draft.

Top Prospects

Oskar Olausson, F - A good skater, Olausson could join the wing in Colorado next season, although the well-rounded forward would benefit from over-ripening in the AHL. He uses his size well and is able to maneuver himself during zone entries and through the neutral zone to create his own space. Had a good season in the OHL before getting a taste of North American professional hockey in the AHL playoffs. He’ll be an exciting player to watch this summer at the World Junior Championship playing for Sweden.

Justus Annunen, G - Could be handed the reigns of Colorado’s backup role as soon as next season depending on how the Avs' goaltending situation evolves. He’s big and never gives up on a play, but his quickness, both in recovering from a first shot, and in his lateral movements, could improve. Annunen’s regular season numbers were slightly concerning seeing a 3.01 GAA and .893 save percentage in the AHL. In the postseason however, he stepped up and posted strong results. Colorado will hope that his end of season momentum carries over to training camp. It’s premature to call Annunen Colorado’s goalie of the future, but he is their top netminding prospect.

Ben Meyers, F - Widely considered the top NCAA prospect on the market this year, Meyers captained the University of Minnesota and turned heads with a strong performance for Team USA at the Olympics collecting four points in four games. Meyers is a good skater with a quick release and looks like he could plug in up and down a lineup. Following the regular season, where Meyers slid into five games with Colorado, he played in the World Championship where his eight points in ten games against top professionals from across the globe showed that there may be more offensive upside in Meyers than some gave him credit for. Whether he starts in the NHL or AHL next season will be up to his offseason and performance at camp.

One To Watch

When the Ottawa Senators selected Shane Bowers 28th overall in 2017, expectations were sky high for the six-foot-two forward. Now with Colorado, he’s an excellent shooter who can step to a lane and flash his quick release. Between the pandemic and an injury this season, however, Bowers has only played 65 games over the past two seasons. It’s not ideal for a 22-year-old looking to regain his top prospect status. Beyond Bowers, who looks to be in for a make-or-break season, Jean-Luc Foudy has compelled with his blazing speed since junior, but translating that speed into offensive output has been a process. He could start seeing call ups to provide energy and kill penalties with Colorado this season.

Ready To Step In

The Avalanche had multiple prospects audition to mixed results this season. Sampo Ranta played 10 games without a point and Mikhail Maltsev went 18 without scoring. Martin Kaut, the team’s 2018 first-round pick, played six pointless games in Colorado this year. It’s a tough team to crack given how entrenched their top nine were. Any player stepping in was playing limited minutes. Kaut, who plays a power forward style, is perhaps the most likely to make the full time jump, but there are no guarantees in Colorado given the firepower they hold at forward. When camp opens, spots will be limited, and the competition heated. Whoever comes in, which could also include NCAA signing Ben Meyers, will need to prove their acumen in playing a two-way game and an ability to slide into a scoring role when injuries occur.

Needs At The Draft

There are no glaring holes on Colorado’s current roster. They have young defenders playing like Norris Trophy contenders, they have elite talent up front, and if they can re-sign Darcy Kuemper, they’ll have a stable tandem in net for a few more seasons. Goaltending could be a future concern if Justus Annunen isn’t the answer, so taking a netminder is a must for Colorado. Scoring holes are about to appear throughout the lineup as players entering free agency take bigger money elsewhere that Colorado is unable to match. It would be ideal to fill these holes from within. Picking at the end of every round and without a pick in the first two rounds, however, Colorado will likely focus on long term prospects with more upside.

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