Today's look at our top 25 Avalanche under 25 hits on number 15, forward Julien Nantel. Given his draft status, role on his junior team, and NHL upside, it's a testament to how easy he is to like that our seven ballots gave him an average ranking of 16.2. His highest ranking was 11th, by one voter, and his lowest 19th, by three voters. Nantel ultimately lands right in the middle of our rankings, which feels appropriate.
Who is Julien Nantel?
Julien Nantel was a seventh-round selection by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2014 NHL Draft. While that draft class has since been obliterated by trades, Nantel stands out as one of two players who will play for the Avalanche organization professionally. Ranked much higher than his draft position, Nantel has already turned himself into a bit of a steal just by reaching the level he has.
Nantel responded to his lower-than-expected draft day position by improving significantly each season since, culminating in him playing a key defensive forward role in the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies' march to the Memorial Cup final last season.
While his offensive numbers took a large leap in his first post-draft year, Nantel's game is much more known for his strong two-way play and high hockey IQ so when the Huskies brought in Timo Meier (9th overall selection in the 2015 draft by San Jose) and A.J. Greer (who you'll read about in coming days) joined the Huskies after leaving Boston University, Nantel was able to slot into more a defensive role that still brought a scoring touch but was an effective shutdown player as well.
The Avalanche were big enough fans of Nantel to offer him a contract after the 2014-15 season but were only doing so at the normal seventh round compensation. Nantel, feeling he was deserving of a higher slot, requested more and the Avalanche responded by telling Nantel to go out and prove he earned it. Last season's great play and willingness and ability to adjust his role through the course of the season was enough to sell the Avalanche on his merits and ultimately Nantel got the higher compensation he was seeking.
What is the future for Julien Nantel?
Following his strong finish with the Huskies, Nantel is moving on to his first professional season with the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL. While the Rampage roster appears to be absolutely loaded with veterans and interesting prospects, Nantel is a guy who demands attention in his own right.
Given his two-way acumen and limited offensive game, Nantel isn't a player who is going to tear apart the score sheet like Mikko Rantanen did last year but he should quickly become a favorite under new head coach Eric Veilleux as he's as coachable and dependable as prospects come. There isn't a ton of flash to his game but Nantel is the kind of guy who regularly succeeds at the highest level of the sport because of his multi-faceted skill set.
He's a player the Avalanche hold in high regard and should he adapt quickly to professional hockey, could be competing for the NHL roster as quickly as 2017-18.