Avalanche

Grading the Colorado Avalanche draft weekend

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The 2016 NHL Draft closed its doors yesterday and the future of the league was parsed out with 211 players selected in a seven-round process that spanned two days. The Colorado Avalanche came into the weekend with six selections and they stayed put in each round, taking their guys and even making a trade just after the conclusion of the draft to land a future draft pick. As a means of wrapping up the draft, we wanted to break down what the Avs did and give individual grades to each of the moves and then provide an overall grade of the weekend.

1st Round - Tyson Jost, C, Penticton Vees (BCHL)

When Matthew Tkachuk fell to the Calgary Flames at number six, it seemed like the Avs were setting up to get another steal at 10 as a major player was set to drop to them but the Arizona Coyotes bucking conventional wisdom and not selecting a defenseman turned things around in a heartbeat. When the tenth selection rolled around, the Avalanche made a mild surprise of the selection when they tabbed Tyson Jost of the Penticton Vees (BCHL) as their guy.

With 6'6" Logan Brown sitting on the board and playing the same position as Jost, it was widely viewed as likely the Avs, who have been seen as a team obsessed with size over skill in recent years, would select the hulking Brown out of the competitive OHL versus the smaller Jost from a league that rarely produces high-level NHL players. Jost, however, is a very intriguing prospect in his own right. He's a strong two-way center who brings an enticing offensive upside and his breaking of Connor McDavid's scoring record at the Under-18 World Juniors certainly helps ease the question of his competition in the BCHL.

Jost has succeeded at every level he's played and he's been a captain along the way. His strong leadership skills and high character marks seem to have scared some Avs fans after the Conner Bleackley selection went so poorly but Jost is a legitimate blue chip talent. After letting the pick marinate for a few days and getting past the other players still on the board, we're giving this pick an A-.

2nd Round - Cameron Morrison, C, Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)

The selection of Morrison, like with A.J. Greer last year, caused some Avalanche fans to be upset because they looked at draft rankings and saw the Avs use the 40th selection on a guy who wasn't ranked quite that highly. Given how the actual NHL Draft works, however, that's not something we're going to ding them for. It's one thing to draft a player ranked in the 150's in the second round; it's another entirely to draft a guy ranked 58th at 40.

Morrison is a big-bodied, two-way center with good hockey IQ and decent skating for a guy who is 6'2" and 200 pounds. He stepped into the role vacated by Kyle Connor's exit to the University of Michigan and kept the Youngstown Phantoms afloat en route to winning the Rookie of the Year Award in the USHL. He was a point-per-game player all while playing a consistently sound defensive game and managing to be a force on both ends of the ice.

Morrison also fills a need in the Avalanche organization as the team came into the draft needing to add some quality high-end forwards, and especially centers, to their prospect pipeline. They accomplished that in the top two rounds. Morrison's selection does bring some doubt, however, as his offensive upside has been questioned and there were potentially more dynamic players on the board. As such, we're docking the grade a bit and giving it a B.

3rd Round - Josh Anderson, D, Prince George Cougars (WHL)

This is where the draft started to present some real question marks. Anderson is a stout defender who produced essentially zero offense the past two seasons and added the juicy bonus of breaking his back to prematurely end his draft season. Given that he is 6'3" and 220 pounds, this felt like the Avalanche had turned back the clock and drafted a 1990's defensive defenseman simply for the sake of it. It's hard to be overly encouraged when you frame it that way but when you dig a little deeper, some positives start to emerge.

ESPN's Corey Pronman, a skeptic like most Avalanche fans, says he's spoken to scouts who absolutely swear by Anderson and insist he has significantly more offense than he's currently shown. The most consistent downsides he has shown up to this point almost all involve his skating. He's not a great skater and will need significant improvements down the line and his shoddy footwork gets him in trouble defensively but it's also the most correctable flaw of his game.

Defensively, he mauls people in the dirty areas of the ice and excels moving bodies in front of the net while also asserting his dominance in the corners and along the boards in general. He's an ace penalty killer and shows great defensive awareness and his ability in his own end is the most encouraging portion of this selection. That said, there were significantly more dynamic, well-established and higher upside prospects on the board that filled positions of need so this selection is getting a D+.

5th Round - Adam Werner, G, IF Björklöven, Allsvenskan (SHL relegation league)

Werner, on loan to Bjorkloven for the next season after playing for the Farjestad J20 last season, fits the typical Avalanche goaltender preference attributes since Patrick Roy and Francois Allaire arrived in 2013. He's a 6'5" giant with good athleticism and is a noted hard-worker. His puckhandling has been said to be good and the raw tools appear there for the legendary Allaire to go to work.

Not much is really known about Werner and I'm certainly not a goaltender expert so I'll keep this short and sweet. Werner was a second-time draft eligible prospect and the organization definitely needed to draft one this season so getting a guy they have four years to make a decision on seems like good planning but there were some more high-profile talents at the position left on the board at the time. It's hard to be too up or down on this selection so the grade lands in the middle at C.

6th Round - Nathan Clurman, D, Culver Military Academy (USHS)

Clurman is almost completely unknown. He's a Boulder, Colorado native who attended the Culver Military Academy, which has produced a number of NHL players, including former Av John-Michael Liles, and played just 20 games last season. He's about as long-term a project as I can remember the Avalanche drafting as he is slated to played for the Tri-City Storm of the USHL next year and then is committed to Notre Dame to begin play in the NCAA in the fall of 2017.

With all of the said, there has still been some real optimism about this selection as his few scouting reports available have said Clurman is a good skating puck-moving defenseman who reads the game well and despite being extremely raw presents a lot of interesting upside. I'm drinking the kool-aid with this pick and giving it a B.

7th Round - Travis Barron, LW, Ottawa 67's (OHL)

The final selection of the draft by the Avalanche landed them the third overall pick of the 2014 OHL Draft. Barron's career with the 67's has obviously not gone according to plan but the Avalanche still saw enough in the hard-working Barron to make him their seventh round pick. Barron isn't a guy with a ton of offensive upside and the Avs' own Alan Hepple compared him to 2014 seventh rounder Julien Nantel as a guy who can come into pro hockey in a few years and provide lots of all-around value.

Barron also helps fill the forward cupboard just a bit more and as one of only two players in this draft class the Avs have to make a contract decision on in two years, Barron can't afford anymore down years. Barron's game in its current form is most notable for his strength and effectiveness on the defensive end and as a top penalty killer. He reads the play well in his own end and is an effective forechecker who plays with a constant physical edge. He's not a great offensive prospect but if he improves on that end and finds some consistency he could be a good pro in a couple of years.

Unfortunately, there were some prospects on the board that were falling that have real, genuine upside and not your typical grinder fare. The Avalanche passed on them, and one of them landed in Minnesota so that could come back to haunt them someday. Even though this type of pick makes a lot more sense than Gustav Olhaver selection last year, it's still a low upside selection and they passed on players who could have legitimate NHL futures. This pick gets a C+.

Post Draft - Nick Holden traded to Rangers for 2017 4th round selection

This feels appropriate. Holden was made expendable the moment the Avalanche went out and acquired Eric Gelinas at the trade deadline. Gelinas, several years younger, a little cheaper, and better offensively, cost the Avs a third round pick so Holden's price was fine. Holden was overextended a great deal in his time in Denver and what should have been celebrated as a pretty decent find by the Avalanche as Holden was brought in with no real NHL experience through his mid-20's will instead be thought of as a merciful ending of a failed era.

Holden is a flawed defenseman, for sure, but it will be interesting to see how he responds if he's used more conservatively in New York as opposed to being asked to play a top four role. He's clearly not suited for that kind of responsibility and despite him putting up decent advanced stats, he should be much better off as a depth defender for the Rangers.

For the Avalanche, they cleared out a bit more salary cap space and removed a potential logjam on their NHL roster and actually acquired an addition draft pick, something they have not done much of since Joe Sakic took over as General Manager. This moves gets a solid B+.

Overall weekend - B

I'm adding in the Reto Berra for Rocco Grimaldi trade into the draft weekend grade as well and that helps bring the overall grade up to a solid B. The Berra and Holden trades helped clear out some salary cap space as well as bring in a future draft pick and a likely top six forward for San Antonio. All of those were good, solid moves that were positive but not overwhelming.

The Avs had a decent draft, selecting decent value throughout the draft and not making any major reaches for anyone based on rankings. The Avs had a decent draft but it feels like it was on the verge of being much better. They started out strong, addressing organizational needs with high-upside players and then kind of veered off into bad habits with the Anderson selection. The organization is loaded with defensemen with limited offensive upside and Anderson was picked in a spot where very intriguing talent is still available. The rest of the draft was decent with a chance to be a lot better given some time.

Maybe most interesting of all in this draft was that two guys, Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy, running the organization and facing an increasing amount of scrutiny, decided to go with a draft that will provide no immediate returns. Jost, Morrison, and Clurman are all NCAA-bound and Anderson is coming off back surgery. There's a very real chance none of these guys see NHL time for three or four years, which could be a couple of years into the tenures of new decision makers. It's either a bold show of confidence or a refusal to stop building for the long-term even when immediate success is becoming increasingly important to save their jobs. If nothing else, it's tough to argue this draft is anything but the guys in charge looking out for the long-term health of the organization the best way they know how.



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