An In-Depth Look at the Avalanche Prospect Pool: Volume I

Just because an organization has a great roster to compete for a Stanley Cup, doesn’t mean they have to have a depleted prospect pool. As for the Colorado Avalanche, that is not the case. Joe Sakic has managed to build a championship-caliber team while maintaining a group youth strong enough to help the current team in the future. I am going to be ranking every prospect in the system, from worst to best. This specific article will be ranking prospects 19-27.

To qualify as a prospect on this list, the player must have under 25 regular season games of NHL experience and be under 25 years of age.

NOTE: The players I compare the prospects to are stylistic comparisons, and not meant to be viewed as players that the prospects could become.

27. C Taylor Makar

Kicking off the list, we have the brother of Cale Makar. He was drafted 220th overall in the most recent draft in 2021. This was likely a selection done to please the superstar d-man. Makar had 19 points through 16 games in the AJHL, playing for the Brooks Bandits. He was not on any draft rankings going into the event. He has good speed and size, as he stands at 6’3. He will become a collegiate player when he starts his NCAA career next season with the University of Massachusetts. From what I can gather, he has a playstyle akin to Evgeni Malkin, where he combines his speed and size to his advantage. It is almost a certainty that Makar will not become an NHL player, but it is a cool story for Cale’s younger brother.

26. RD Nate Clurman

The first defenceman on the list finds himself now 23-years-old, and finally playing pro hockey with the Colorado Eagles. He is a defensive-minded blueliner that has next to no offensive upside. He stands at a respectable 6’2, weighing in at 205 pounds. Drafted 161st overall in 2016, Clurman played 4 seasons in the USHL before becoming committed to the University of Notre Dame for another 3 seasons. He earned himself a pro contract after the conclusion of the 2020-21 NCAA season, where he had only 7 points in 27 games. It is worth noting he was the captain for them, so that’s a plus. His 9 AHL games after that saw him have zero points. He plays a near-parallel game to Derek Forbort. He will look to gain more ice-time with the Eagles next season.

25. C Andrei Buyalsky

It’s always fun seeing countries not particularly dominating at hockey have talent drafted by an NHL team. The Karaganda, Kazakhstan native had never played outside of his home country until last season, where he played for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL, and was nearly a point-per-game. He was drafted as a double-overager, so his stat-count will be less impressive to some people. Buyalsky is a fairly large player at 6’3, and uses his size to drive to the net more often than not. He loves to shoot the puck, averaging nearly 3 shots on goal per game. His skating is also impeccable, which he uses as an asset when in the offensive zone. Despite crashing the net a lot, it is odd to see him shy away from puck battles along the boards, which made scouts question his competitiveness. His defensive play is also a question mark. He plays a game alike Anthony Mantha. Now 21, he is committed to the University of Vermont, where he will look to further refine his skills.

24. C Andreas Wingerli

The oldest player on this list, Wingerli will be 24-years-old on September 11. He went undrafted, and up until June 3rd, his rights were not owned by an NHL team. Wingerli has served in a top-6 role for Skelleftea AIK of the SHL for a few seasons now, and he has even become an alternate captain. It is clear that his performance at the IIHF World Championship for Sweden caught the eye of Avalanche scouts. He stands at just 5’8 and weighs just 170 pounds, but he is a force to be reckoned with when entering a corner. His grit is impressive, and he has a nice scoring touch. He is regarded as a hard worker by his long-time organization. His game is eerily similar to that of Kailer Yamamoto. He will be playing with the Eagles next season, and could challenge for a roster spot in the NHL because of the grit he brings.

23. LD Nick Leivermann

Drafted 187th overall in 2017, Leivermann has had an underrated development curve up until this point. As a defenceman, he put up 37 points in 43 games with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL after this draft year. He was then committed to the University of Notre Dame, where he has gotten better each season. From 2 points in 23 games, to 12 points in 32 games, then 17 points in 29 games, Leivermann is on a steady trajectory. His skating is fantastic, and he has a great stretch pass. He will be 23 in under a week, so it is unclear if he has NHL potential at this point. He plays a game similar to Shayne Gostisbehere. We could see Leivermann get some action in the AHL as soon as next season.

22. G Shamil Shmakov

The first of three goalies on this list, Shmakov is already playing in a men’s league, the VHL (second tier Russian league). This past season on Toros Neftekamsk, he was very solid, compiling a .916 SV% to go along with a 2.48 GAA, and a 5-4-3 record. He played in the USHL for a brief bit in the 2019-20 season, where he put up a subpar .901 SV% and 3.03 GAA. The 22-year-old has plenty of time to develop his game, as the Russian system seems to churn out NHL goalies like it’s nothing. Standing at 6’6, Shmakov can be compared to Ben Bishop when looking at how he plays. The 202nd overall pick from 2018 is nothing more than a project, and still has a long way to go.

21. LD Keaton Middleton

This guy is huge. His game is highlighted by his size, where he stands at an astounding 6’6, and weighs an unbelievable 240 pounds. Originally drafted 101st overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs back in 2016, it was seen as an odd pick by them. Middleton is a player with virtually zero offensive upside, but is an animal when it comes to defence and playing physical. Before entering the Avs organization, he played with the San Jose Barracuda of the AHL for two seasons before signing as a free agent with the Eagles. He has 3 NHL games under his belt, when he played with the Avalanche in the the most recent NHL season. He went scoreless with 4 penalty minutes. Middleton, 23, is just the player a GM wants as a physical, 7th d-man option. His game is comparable to Radko Gudas.

20. C Matthew Stienburg

Not many people would think that a player taken just outside of the second round, just two years ago, would be this low. May I introduce you to this Halifax, NS native. Drafted 63rd overall in 2019, Stienburg played high school hockey St. Andrew’s College, where he was captain. He dominated as you might imagine, having 66 points in just 48 games, along with 70 penalty minutes. He also had a brief stint with the Sioux City Musketeers where he had 1 assist in 3 games. Since then, he was committed to Cornell University, but had just 10 points in 27 games. He followed that up this past season by not even playing, because of COVID-19 shutting down that school’s hockey season. This pick was a reach at the time, and has so far been proven to be the wrong pick. He plays a very physical game and has been known to be a good locker-room presence. He’s wholesome, one could say. If he were to make the NHL, it would likely be in a bottom six role as the “tough guy”; picture him like Cedric Paquette. We hope Stienburg will be able to find more minutes in the NCAA, and maybe even play some games.

19. RW Nick Henry

A dual-threat player in the offensive zone. Henry had shown flashes of brilliance in the WHL for the Regina Pats, and got himself drafted 94th overall by the Avalanche. Henry is now 22-years-old, and has recently succeeded in no level higher than the ECHL with the Utah Grizzlies, unfortunately. His game is highlighted by his great work ethic, and signs that he has what it takes to win. He will do anything to benefit his team, whether it’s making a pass, taking a shot, or maybe going hard to the net. Sam Bennett is a comparable for him. Henry is going to have to grind his way to the show if he ever wants to be an NHL player.

Stay tuned for Volume II of this series, where prospects ranked 10-18 will be reviewed.

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