Which 2017 draft prospects best fit the Avalanche?


With the Colorado Avalanche mired in last place in the NHL and with seemingly a guarantee they finish no higher than 29th given the large gap between them and everyone else but Arizona, we've decided to take a midseason look at the NHL Draft this summer. It's unfortunate Colorado's season has gone such a way this conversation is relevant but reality says it's time to start taking a look at who Colorado might draft this summer as they seek to change their fortunes.

To start, the 2017 NHL Draft does not feature a breakaway, franchise-altering star along the lines of Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, or Patrik Laine and it certainly doesn't have the same caliber of high-end depth at the very top of the draft. That said, it's not like this draft is a bunch of leftovers or anything. It's a solid group of players who will instantly become top prospects for whatever organization drafts them.

For the sake of the Avalanche, we're only looking at the top handful of prospects because the chances they end up with a draft pick beyond the top five is extremely small. Keep in mind these aren't scouting reports (we'll get to those after the season) and beyond the top two, these aren't rankings. Just seven players to keep an eye on. Let's get to it!

1. Nolan Patrick - C/RW, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

How does he fit with the Avalanche?

The consensus number one player in this class is Nolan Patrick, a 6'3" center who has missed most of this season due to injury. He just returned to the Brandon lineup a few days ago, registering four points in his first game back to remind everyone why he's been the slam dunk top player in this class for a very long time.

Given he was just four days removed from being in the 2016 draft, one should take his age into consideration when looking at his extremely impressive numbers. That isn't to take away from his dominant numbers but context is always important.

To answer the question, if the Avalanche win the top pick, he's the guy. If the Avalanche follow through on the much-rumored trading of star forwards Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, Patrick immediately fills the void left by Duchene as the team's likely number two center in 2017-18. Should they keep Duchene, Patrick becomes another premier offensive talent in a top six sorely lacking in firepower beyond the team's top four forwards.

This would be a slam dunk for the Avalanche, with or without Duchene.

2. Nico Hischier - C, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

How does he fit with the Avalanche?

The big riser in this draft class, Nico Hischier's first year in North America has been nothing short of spectacular as he has taken the reigns of his Mooseheads team and even almost led his Swiss team to an upset of the United States in the medal round of the recently-completed WJCs.

Hischier is an explosive playmaker from the pivot who would immediately come into Colorado's system as the top prospect. Given his dominant performance and Patrick's injury, there has even been talk of him being the first overall selection.

Regardless of where he's selected, Hischier would be an electrifying addition to Colorado's prospect pool. It's possible he plays in the NHL next year but another year of junior play would not be out of place. A lot could depend on what happens with Duchene and Landeskog but he would certainly be an Avalanche regular no later than 2018.

3. Casey Mittelstadt - C/LW, Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)/Eden Prairie High (USHS)

How does he fit with the Avalanche?

This is where things start to get a little more complicated. As of today, the top two picks appear to be Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier in some order. After that, it becomes anyone's guess where the teams picking turn their attention.

Mittelstadt has had an interesting year as he started the season with Green Bay of the USHL but chose to leave halfway through to return to his powerhouse high school, Eden Prairie, in hopes of winning a state championship. He will return to Green Bay when his high school season is completed.

As a potential Avalanche pick, he's yet another center who is known best for playmaking, skating, and tenacity. He's probably a couple years away from seeing the NHL but adding Mittelstadt to Colorado's young forward corps would do nothing but provide hope for the future, even if it is still a few years off.

4. Timothy Liljegren - D, Rogle BK (SHL)

How does he fit with the Avalanche?

Here's where things get interesting! The only defenseman on this list, Liljegren has been labeled as the top defender in this draft for a long time and despite not playing much this year due to illness, he's largely maintained his presence high on the draft boards. The first major blip came yesterday when the NHL released the Central Scouting mid-season rankings and he ended up as the seventh-rated European skater and second defenseman. That's the first real drop we've seen as a result of his season-long absence.

Really, Liljegren is on this list simply because he's the only defenseman who has received any kind of real hype so far and even that is (finally) starting to slide a bit. But let's get back to the question at hand.

Liljegren would be kind of a strange fit for the Avalanche because he's best known for his offensive approach to the game. He's an elite skater and a right-handed shot so the immediate fit as a potential teenage rookie would give Colorado a lethal trio on the right side with Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie. If he develops into the star some project, you would have to think one of those three eventually makes the move to the left side or they could look to trade one of them down the road.

It's an unlikely position for the Avalanche to be in on draft day, especially if Liljegren's stock continues to mirror that of Oliver Kylington's in 2015.

5. Gabriel Vilardi - C, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)

How does he fit with the Avalanche?

This is kind of a strange one. Vilardi is certainly a talented guy and he's maintained his spot in the top ten among most ranking services despite a knee injury early on that he's had to work his way back from. His play has picked up lately and he certainly wouldn't be a bad pick by the Avalanche.

It would mostly just feel like getting the short end of the stick. With Patrick and Hischier, you have two dynamite players who produce huge offensive numbers and in Patrick's case, you have a strong two-way presence to boot. Vilardi is a solid prospect but as another center, there are questions about where he would play and the same Duchene/Landeskog caveats apply in a huge way. There's not the same kind of upside as the top two and his skating would seem to be a misfit for what the Avalanche have geared their focus to in recent years.

Also, for a team looking all but guaranteed to finish no better than 29th, them drafting anything outside of the top three prospects would be a bit of a punch to the stomach.

6. Owen Tippett - RW, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)

How does he fit with the Avalanche?

At this point, the either of the next two players would need very strong pushes up the draft board in order to be realistic targets for the Avalanche. It's certainly not out of the question as we still have half of the draft season to still go through. There's plenty of time for these guys to make a move.

For Tippett, it's easy to see the appeal for the Avalanche. Right wing has been a wasteland of theirs for years and they've tried covering the holes by signing Jarome Iginla, moving Duchene and MacKinnon over there, and eventually drafting Mikko Rantanen. The only viable long-term solution was Rantanen and Tippett would bring a dynamic element on day one. He's an excellent skater with an impressive top gear and he is a clear first-shoot player.

Shoot shoot shoot. That's all he's been known for so far in his career and there have been questions about his hockey sense and willingness to get involved in the other areas of the game. He's been among the OHL's best players this year and has impressed many with the development of his all-around game, especially his play away from the puck.

It's not hard to see how a player who has a lethal shot, is a great skater, and plays wing is an excellent potential fit for the Avalanche. That said, would they target him over several players who may have higher upside just because he's a great fit?

7. Eeli Tolvanen - LW, Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)

How does he fit with the Avalanche?

Basically, everything I just said about Tippett could apply to Tolvanen as well, except he's a left wing and he'll be going to the NCAA next year to attend Boston College. Tolvanen isn't quite the skater Tippett is but his shot just might be better. He already has an NHL-caliber shot with a lightning-quick release. Everything about him profiles as a top-flight scoring winger.

He's just a touch undersized so, naturally, there are concerns about him being strong enough to get into the scoring areas he likes at the higher levels of the game. The fit for Tolvanen becomes even more pronounced if the Avalanche do move on from Landeskog but should they decide to keep him, it would give Colorado a potentially troublesome 1-2 punch along the left side.

The fit here is great but the same question with Tippett above also applies here. Do they pass on guys with higher all-around upside like Mittelstadt and Vilardi simply to get a guy who is an easier fit for their current roster? While normally you would simply approach the draft with a "Best Player Available" mentality, the separation between the group this year is such that maybe the Avalanche prioritize one of these lower-ranked guys.

As the trade deadline approaches, there could be major draft ramifications for the Avalanche involved as they look to move on from several of the veteran players currently on the roster. As we go through that process and the draft lottery, we will be delving much deeper into the draft this season as it has become the linchpin of this lost Avalanche season.

Not subscribed yet? Click below to for full access: