Just because an organization has an incredible roster to compete for a Stanley Cup doesn’t mean they have to have a depleted prospect pool. It’s what the Colorado Avalanche is. Joe Sakic has managed to build a championship-caliber team while maintaining a group of 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 1-9.
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.
9. LW Sampo Ranta
The top Finnish skater on this list is one-of-a-kind. Sampo Ranta was drafted 78th overall back in 2018 after playing in the USHL with the Sioux City Musketeers. He had 23 goals in 53 games and was considered one of the top goal-scorers in the draft class. He committed to the University of Minnesota, and even though he started slow, he became a point-per-game player in the 2020-21 season. He signed his entry-level contract (ELC) in April and was able to play in 14 AHL games, putting up seven points. He played two playoff games for the Avalanche as well but put up zero points. Some question marks come with Ranta, however. While he has many offensive tools and can generate at a high rate, his defence is suspect. He has been caught trying to make offence happen while his team is in the defensive zone without the puck. With his 6-foot-2 frame and 205 pounds, he is not physical and will most likely not be involved in puck battles. Ranta is a very raw player with some work to do, although his issues have improved. He reminds me a lot of Phil Kessel.
8. RW Martin Kaut
People and scouts expected a lot of Martin Kaut after he was drafted 16th overall in 2018. He dominated internationally in his draft year for the Czech Republic and had 16 points in 38 Czech Extraliga games. He immediately signed his ELC and played in the AHL for the Colorado Eagles, where he had 26 points in 63 games which is not bad for a 19-year-old. After that season, he was considered a top prospect in hockey. He has slowly progressed into a great player in the AHL, as he had 16 points in 20 games this past season. Kaut, 22 in October, has 14 career NHL games, where he has two goals and an assist. As for his talent, Kaut is a dual-threat in the offensive zone, having both exceptional passing and shooting skills. He is not very physical, but he still makes an effort in the defensive zone. He plays a lot like Mike Ribeiro. Kaut should be in contention for a roster spot next season.
7. RD Drew Helleson
A US National Team Development Program (USNTDP) product, the Farmington, Minnesota native has spent the past two seasons at Boston College with another Avalanche prospect that will be on this list later. Standing at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, Drew Helleson is the best defensive defenceman in the Avalanche prospect pool. He won a gold medal recently with Team USA at the World Junior Championship, where he collected two goals and two assists in 7 games. He broke out offensively in the NCAA this season, with 15 points in 22 games, which is a mighty improvement from his 2019-20 season that saw him have just 6 points in 28 games. Helleson is great in transition and rarely makes a mistake when deciding where to pass. While it shouldn’t be a significant priority for a defenceman, he could work on the power in his shot. Helleson is great in the defensive zone, and he uses his body for getting inside position on the puck quite often. He could be a top-four defenceman one day, like Brian Dumoulin.
6. G Justus Annunen
Justus Annunen was almost considered the best goaltending prospect in the entire NHL after the 2019-20 season. It was all thanks to him posting a remarkable .929 save percentage (Sv%) and 1.77 goals-against average (GAA) through 23 games with Karpat of Liiga (a men’s league, by the way), at just 19 years of age. His six shutouts were tied for second in the league, and he also set a new Liiga record for the longest shutout streak that clocked in at 302:05. He was so good that he earned himself an entry-level contract. Unfortunately for the 2018 64th overall pick, he had a complete opposite 2020-21 season. His Sv% plummeted down to .880, and his GAA rose to 2.43. Annunen, 21, also has two AHL games in the books, where he had a .900 SV% and a 2.93 GAA. While he is still very young and goalies are random a lot of the time, Annunen’s comparable is Frederik Andersen.
5. RD Justin Barron
Justin Barron is your prototypical two-way defenceman. I was not a fan of this pick when the Avalanche made it at 25th overall back in 2020. Barron would proceed to prove me wrong and show us all why he was picked that high: he dominated the Quebec Major Junior League (QMJHL) with 31 points in 33 games for the Halifax Mooseheads, then went pro in the AHL and put up 4 points in 7 games. And on top of that, he is good defensively. Sakic is attracted to good skaters, and that’s what Barron is. A unique part of his game is that he has a fantastic shot from the point. He can make stretch passes with ease. While his stickwork is good, Barron will often use his 6-foot-2 frame to retrieve the puck from opponents. However, he does have issues staying healthy, which is his biggest downfall, and the fact that a fantastic Halifax team might have inflated his stats. Nonetheless, he has an excellent (although small) sample that has proved he can play with men. Ryan Pulock is a solid comparable to Barron.
4. LD Sean Behrens
Some people would disagree with the placing of this player, that he’s too high. I see a future top-four defenceman that excels at both ends of the ice. Sakic nailed this pick, which was the 60th overall selection in the most recent draft. To me, Sean Behrens is a first-round talent that fell because of his size. He stands at 5-foot-9 and 174 pounds. The Barrington, Illinois native played with the USNTDP in the 2020-21 season, where he put up 35 points in 46 games. His talent starts with his skating, which is just about as smooth as it gets. He can make passes from just about anywhere on the ice to open teammates. The University of Denver commit’s only downfall is his physicality, which often sees him lose puck battles. He makes up for it with the great stickwork that he uses in both zones. He has a strikingly similar playstyle to Colorado’s own Samuel Girard.
3. LW Oskar Olausson
In a weaker 2021 draft with a late first-round pick, the Avalanche selected a gem with the 28th overall pick. The Swedish winger was projected in the 11-20 range after scoring 4 points in 16 games for HV71 of the SHL. Oskar Olausson has many dynamic skills in his repertoire, most notably his fantastic skating abilities. He is a very unpredictable player, as opposing defenders always have to find a way to fend him off because of his creativity. He has one of the best shots of his class and could be a 30-goal scorer sometime in the future. Olausson’s puck-carrying is another benefit of his game, although he sometimes gets carried away in the offensive zone. One could say he “tries too hard” to make plays happen, but that is very easily fixable with the correct development. His defence is solid as well when he decides to help at that end. His game is like William Nylander’s. He recently joined the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), where he will be playing out the rest of his junior hockey career.
2. C Alex Newhook
One of the best playmakers of his 2019 draft class, Newhook has all the tools to become a top-6 forward. After destroying the British Columbian Hockey League (BCHL) in the 2018-19 season (102 points in 53 games), he was drafted 16th overall by the Avalanche. He has so much creativity in the offensive zone with his insane passing ability, along with a great shot. He is ahead of every play, thanks to his high hockey IQ. In just 46 games at Boston College, he put up 58 points in his freshman and sophomore seasons combined. His first nine professional hockey games went more than swimmingly, as he had 9 points in 8 games as an Eagle in the AHL. Newhook has 14 NHL games under his belt, with 8 of them being in the playoffs. He has 5 points in those games. He is the future 2C of the team, where he should be a perennial 60-70 point scorer behind Nathan MacKinnon on the depth chart. Think of Mat Barzal.
1. LD Bowen Byram
Bowen Byram was drafted 4th overall with the pick the Senators gave the Avs in 2019; he was the first defenseman selected. He has 19 games of NHL experience to his name, where he has so far put up 2 points, along with solid defensive play. Standing at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, he has excellent skating and shutdown abilities, as well as a physical side to his game. He is the supposed left-handed defence partner for Cale Makar in the years to come. Byram could end up being an elite two-way but more defensively sound defenceman in his own right. However, it is more likely he ends up as a solid top pairing d-man. His captaincy on Team Canada at the 2021 WJC proves he will be a good leader down the stretch as well. In training camp, he will be going up against Ryan Murray to get a spot on the bottom pair. Jaccob Slavin is a good comparison for Byram. He’s only 20 years old, folks.
The future is bright in Colorado.