Top 10 prospects
The Colorado Avalanche placed 29th out of 30 NHL teams in 2010-11 and are not short on areas that need to be addressed. With 287 goals allowed this season, the Avalanche surrendered 25 more goals than any other team en route to a hefty 3.45 goals against average, the highest total for any NHL team since the Philadelphia Flyers turned in a 3.58 back in 2006-07.
After trading Craig Anderson to the Ottawa Senators for Brian Elliott, there is great uncertainty as to who will guard the crease for the Avalanche in 2011-12. Elliot was abysmal for the Avalanche in the 12 games he played last season and could be let go on July 1st when he becomes a restricted free agent. Their other netminder from last season was Peter Budaj, who played only marginally better but is set to become an unrestricted free agent. With no one in the system set to take over a starting job at the NHL ranks, the team will likely sign or trade for a goaltender this offseason.
One of the primary reasons Avalanche goalies surrendered so many goals this season was because they were peppered with shots on many nights. Colorado ranked 23rd in shots allowed, indicating that defensively, the team has much room to improve. At forward, the Avalanche have a need for defensive specialists so that they can ice a shut-down line rather than opting for an ineffective third scoring line. This type of player would also be a welcomed addition to a penalty kill that ranked last in the NHL this past season.
With Chris Stewart's departure, the Avalanche have a glaring need for scoring wingers. It is possible that restricted free agent David Jones' 27 goals last season were an aberration, and 35-year-old Milan Hejduk is not getting any younger. Tomas Flesichmann is an unrestricted free agent, Peter Mueller sat out all of 2010-11 with a concussion, and the team's hopes of turning Ryan Stoa into a menacing power forward with a scoring touch are waning.
On offense, the Avalanche have an abundance of talent up the middle in prospects Joey Hishon and Mark Olver, not to mention the three young pivots currently playing for the parent club in Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly. Both Hishon and Olver have top six potential, are capable of playing the wing, and could crack Colorado's 2011-12 roster with strong training camps.
Skill on the wings is sparse in the Avs' system, with Stoa having yet to show he belongs at the NHL level. Justin Mercier is Colorado's best defensive forward prospect but is set to become a restricted free agent. Gritty right winger Luke Walker showed progression over his first season of pro hockey playing for Colorado's AHL-affiliated Lake Erie Monsters, but is still at least a season or two away from challenging for a spot with the Avalanche. Antagonizing forward Brad Malone plays a similar style to his cousin Ryan of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and turned in an impressive senior season at the University of North Dakota.
The Avalanche are blessed with a plethora of talented defensemen at all different stages of progression. Skilled puck-moving defensemen Jonas Holos and Cameron Gaunce split the 2010-11 campaign between Lake Erie and Colorado. Sharpshooting Joel Chouinard impressed with Lake Erie, albeit in limited action due to injury. Young guns Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott displayed incredible offensive prowess during their respective careers in the WHL and appear ready to demonstrate their skills in either the NHL or AHL next season.
Top six left and right wingers are Colorado's greatest area of concern. The Avalanche are bone dry in the "scoring line wingers" department and are likely to heavily address this need at the upcoming draft. Not a single one of Colorado's wing prospects tallied more than 16 goals this season playing at any level of hockey.
While the Avalanche are stacked with offensive-minded defensemen in their system, they lack true shutdown rearguards. If they do decide to draft any blueliners this year, they will likely be of the defensive or at least two-way variety, and will have ideal NHL size.
The 2011 NHL Entry Draft will mark Greg Sherman's third as general manager of the Avalanche. Colorado has selected 15 players over the previous two Sherman-led drafts, including 11 Canadians, three Americans, and one Finn. Ten of his selections have come from within the Canadian Hockey League, with five from the WHL, four from the OHL and one from the QMJHL. Sherman also has not shied away from selecting prospects from the US National Development team, taking one in each of the last two drafts. He has also selected one high school player.
Colorado currently has just six picks in the 2011 draft, but is fortunate enough to have two picks in the first round (No. 2 and 11), the second of which was acquired in the trade that sent Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart and this year's second-round pick to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Erik Johnson and Jay McClement. Having traded their second and third round picks, the Avalanche hold selections in the fourth (No. 93), fifth (123), sixth (No. 153) and seventh (No. 183) rounds.
By position, the Avalanche have selected six forwards, five defensemen and four goalies during Sherman's tenure with the team. Based on team needs heading into this year's draft, it should not come as a surprise if the Avalanche opt to spend most of their draft picks on forwards, specifically wingers, and only one or two of their selections on all-around or shutdown defensemen. Sherman has been known to draft players from the OHL in the first round, but that could change this year with the densely projected pool of early first-round talent from the WHL, QMJHL and European leagues. With the Avalanche in somewhat of a rebuild, Sherman could also employ the "best player available" drafting strategy rather than selecting players based on areas of need.
Hockey's Future staff mock draft result:
No. 2: Adam Larsson
In trading Kevin Shattenkirk and Colby Cohen this season, the Avalanche cut ties with two of their brightest prospects on the blue line. While they still have Elliott, Barrie and Gaunce, it might be hard to pass on a player of Adam Larsson's stature and skill-set, especially when considering that he has already been playing against grown men for two years. If the Avalanche instead opt to go with a forward at number two, the Kitchener Rangers' Gabriel Landeskog would be their most likely selection and would immediately become the top winger in their system.
No. 11: Sven Baertschi
With the 11th overall pick, Colorado could viably target left winger Sven Baertschi. The Langenthal, Switzerland native is a slick sniper who consistently produced throughout the season and into the WHL playoffs for the Portland Winterhawks. He the type of skill set that could eventually complement Matt Duchene or Paul Stastny on an Avalanche scoring line.