Part of the intrigue in the Entry Draft in any sport is not only getting a glimpse of the future of a sport but the fascinating truth that not all drafts are created equally. Sometimes you have a draft with a handful of exceptional players, such as this upcoming draft this June where Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are two of the best prospects to come along in many years, and other times the top of the draft is a touch weaker, such as the 2012 draft when consensus top pick Nail Yakupov has failed to become a game-changing player in 192 NHL games.
2013 was one of the years where there was an embarrassment of riches at the top of the draft as 4 players were legitimately in the conversation to be selected first overall. As such, let’s focus specifically on the team who won the 2013 draft lottery, the Colorado Avalanche, and see how they fared in a draft they desperately needed to get right. In case you missed any of the previous Avalanche draft reviews, feel free to go back in time with me and check out the 2009 Draft Review, 2010, Draft Review, 2011 Draft Review, and 2012 Draft Review.
Let’s see how Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic did in their first attempt at running the Avalanche draft table.
Nathan MacKinnon, 1st overall
Long-tabbed as a premier prospect for the 2013 Draft, Nathan MacKinnon had to wait a grand total of about 5 minutes to hear his name selected as the Colorado Avalanche made good on their pre-draft media promise they were leaning towards the talented Halifax Mooseheads player. MacKinnon was selected with the intention of making the NHL roster immediately and he did so with ease.
While he started on the 3rd line, MacKinnon would take about 40 games to adjust to the NHL game before figuring out that he was almost always the most talented player on the ice and started doing things like this and ridiculous things like this.
As great as regular season highlights are, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention MacKinnon’s dominance in the first-round series loss to the Minnesota Wild, a 7-game series that saw MacKinnon score 10 points in 7 games played and gave Avs fans highlight reel plays to enjoy for years to come.
MacKinnon’s rookie season saw him score 24 goals and 63 points en route to winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie. While his second season was a bit of a letdown thanks to an abnormally low shooting percentage and a season-ending broken foot, MacKinnon still projects as the top offensive force on the Avalanche and one of the best young players in the entire league.
Chris Bigras, 32nd overall
At the top of the second round, the Avalanche selected a late-riser during the draft process as they snagged Owen Sound Attack defenseman Chris Bigras. Bigras immediately make an impression on the coaching staff in his inaugural training camp as lasted nearly the entire pre-season and Roy’s public praise of Bigras’ play led to rampant speculation the youngster might be able to steal a spot on the blue line right out of the gate. While Bigras eventually was sent back to his junior club, he announced to the club and fans alike that he was a player to keep an eye on.
Bigras struggled a lot more than was expected after his electric showing with the Avalanche during the pre-season and scored just 27 points in 55 games, a drop off from his draft year numbers (38 points in 68 games). Coming into his second training camp, Bigras suddenly was more of a question mark than the answer so many hoped he would be and none of the same praise from Roy came his way this time around and he was quickly and quietly sent back to his junior team.
Bigras seemed to handle the situation well as he responded by putting up near point-per-game numbers until he was left off of the Canadian team for the World Junior Championships. He responded by picking up the pace even more, eventually finishing the season with 71 points in 62 games and earning a bevy of postseason accolades.
His junior career now over, Bigras jumped to the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters for the final few games of the season and as of this writing he has picked up 4 points in 5 games. Bigras is among the top Avalanche prospects and should contend for a job in the NHL in the next two seasons.
Spencer Martin, 63rd overall
With a system about to lose a handful of goaltending prospects, the Avalanche felt the need to begin re-stocking the farm and selected the 5th-rated North American goaltender (rankings courtesy of Central Scouting Service) in Spencer Martin of the Mississauga Steelheads.
A prospect with quite a bit of volatility to his game, Martin had flashed periods of dominance as well struggling a great deal at other times and the Avalanche felt the talent too great to pass up. Martin’s first season after being drafted was a bit of a letdown as he failed to register a .900 save percentage but was playing on a team that wasn’t very good.
This past season Martin flashed quite a bit of the talent the Avs liked so much on draft day as he put up a sterling .921 save percentage before going down for the season with a knee injury.His season was still strong enough for him to be nominated for OHL Goaltender of the Year and in one of the most competitive junior leagues in the world that’s certainly something Martin should be proud of.
Martin should be fully healthy going into next season and it is likely his junior career is over and he should begin competing for the backup goaltender job in the AHL next season. Goaltenders are always a big question mark until they get into pro hockey but as of now there’s still plenty of reason to be excited about Martin.
Mason Geertsen, 93rd overall
Mason Geertsen’s selection would signal a shift from the Rick Pracey drafting of small, quick players to larger, physically assertive players as the 6’4″ Geertsen is the kind of larger player the Avs frequently passed on in the middle rounds of the draft.
Considered a defensive player with limited offensive ability, Geertsen would see his scoring increase from 10 points in his draft year to 23 and then 38 in the two post-draft seasons Geertsen has played. Already physically mature, Geertsen’s skills have developed at a surprisingly rapid rate both offensively and defensively and he became the emotional heart and soul of his Vancouver Giants team this past season, playing in all situations and showing off the kind of two-way game few expected to see when he was drafted.
A player with a mean streak, Geertsen has never been one to shy away from dropping the gloves and his play style will give him an opportunity to make the Avalanche roster sooner rather than later. Should his meteoric rise continue at the pace it is currently on, Geertsen, like Bigras, should see himself competing for a job in the NHL sometime in the next two seasons.
Will Butcher, 123rd overall
Not to shy completely away from the typical Pracey prospect, the Avalanche couldn’t pass up on University of Denver freshman Will Butcher, a smal,l puck-moving defenseman.
The 5’10” Butcher may not be tall but he’s stocky at 200 pounds already and after putting up solid numbers for the US National Development Team, Butcher has continued to be productive at Denver, playing in all situations and helping lead the Pioneers back to being national championship contenders.
Butcher’s most notable work, however, has come as a member of the United States World Junior Championship team, which he has had the rare distinctions of representing twice, the most recent season in which he was named an alternate captain.
In regards to his future with the Avalanche, Butcher will likely play at least one more season of collegiate hockey before deciding on his pro future. The Avalanche own his rights through August of 2017 so there’s no rush from either the player or the organization to make a decision. His success early on his career does suggest he has a future in pro hockey but it’s still too early to tell how high he’ll rise.
Ben Storm, 153rd overall
Another pick that shows Roy’s influence at the draft table, the Avalanche drafted the 6’6″ defenseman Ben Storm in hopes of seeing him develop in the same way Mason Geertsen has up to this point. Unfortunately, Storm hasn’t shown he’s on the same track so far as there’s been virtually no growth on offense and he spent most of last season playing 3rd pairing minutes for St. Cloud State.
The Avalanche own Storm’s rights through August of 2017 so, like Butcher, there’s plenty of time to make a decision on whether or not to offer him a contract. This pick, like the next one we’re about to see, is more of a mystery than anything else but it’s still too early to say anything other than “wait and see”.
Wilhem Westlund, 183rd overall
As a teenager playing in the Swedish Hockey League, Sweden’s highest tier league, the selection of Wilhelm Westlund seemed to strike up more optimism than anything else. It’s not very common for teenage defensemen to play big minutes in the SHL but Westlund accomplished the feat in his draft year. Unfortunately, that would not be something that continued as Westlund has spent the last two seasons bouncing around in lower tiers of European hockey.
Westlund, like Storm, is very much in the “wait and see” category and his rights are owned by the Avalanche until 2017 so both team and player have time to further develop and assess the situation down the road.
As of today, it’s hard not to feel anything but extreme optimism about this draft class. MacKinnon is one of the top young players in the NHL and Bigras, Martin, and Geertsen will all appear in the team’s top 10 prospect rankings going into next season. Obviously it’s still too early to make strong judgments about the class as a whole but the promise of so many of the players has this class in the running to compete with the 2009 draft class as one of the better classes in recent Avalanche history.
While plenty of their moves at the NHL level have been questionable, the Sakic-Roy partnership certainly seems to have put their best foot forward with their first draft class.