It’s good to be great!
That’s the Colorado Avalanche's situation right now, fresh off of their Stanley Cup victory. The best part about it is that they already have several key contributors and upcoming players on the roster.
As a result, though, the team's prospect pool isn’t particularly deep. They have some intriguing and talented young players such as Oskar Olausson and Jean-Luc Foudy who play with speed and skill up front and as well as diminunitive defender Sean Behrens who is a skilled puck mover as well.
But beyond that, it gets a bit bleaker.
Goaltender Justus Annunen could be one of the team's better young prospects and has stolen the show in the past internationally and back home in Finland. But his adjustment to North America last year didn’t come without hiccups. Trent Miner and Ivan Zhigalov have also shown flashes of potential, but neither has done much to instill long-term confidence.
Sampo Ranta is an energetic winger from Finland who plays with pace and vigor. He hasn’t been able to break through offensively at the AHL, though, which has prevented him from reaching his ceiling. Alex Beaucage made his AHL debut last year and looked comfortable at times but was equally as overwhelmed by the level's speed and pace of the game.
Beyond that, most of the players in Colorado’s system are getting to their mid-20s and looking more and more like AHL players long-term than real NHL prospects.
2022 NHL Draft Class
Round 6 (193 Overall) - Chris Romaine, D, Milton Academy (Mass. H.S.)
Round 7 (225 Overall) - Ivan Zhigalov, G, Sherbrooke Phoenix [QMJHL]
What is there to say really about the Avalanche’s draft class? They didn't exactly do much.
Making two picks late in the draft, the Avs selected right-shot high school defender Chris Romaine. The New England prep player is a good skater who will take his development to Providence in the NCAA for the 2023-24 season but the plan for next year is still a bit up in the air. The USHL seems like a natural next step.
Ivan Zhigalov is a netminder that some have enjoyed in the scouting community because of a few big performances in big spots. The Belarusian netminder hasn’t exactly played a ton of hockey the last few years with single digit game totals in the Russian junior and Belarusian leagues. He can be quite the entertaining goalie though as he is a true battler and does everything in his power to help keep his teams in games.
The Colorado Avalanche’s best young talent is on the roster. That makes it difficult to determine what the strength of their prospect pool is considering it’s not all that deep and the top-end talent has essentially graduated. The Avalanche’s biggest strength may very well be that they have quite good depth in net. Justus Annunen, Trent Miner and Ivan Zhigalov fill out the pipeline’s crease quota. Miner has shown some solid results at the junior level and although his AHL numbers haven’t been stellar, the 21-year-old has excelled in the ECHL. Zhigalov is a bit of a hit-and-miss goaltender who can flash brilliance or look woefully average depending on the game. Some consistency could make him a steal late in the 2022 draft.
Annunen, the head of the Avs goaltending pipeline, is a very good netminder who has had good international results with Finland at the U-18 and U-20 levels. His Liiga results over 49 games have been excellent with a .906 save percentage, highlighted by a stellar .929 save percentage over 23 games in 2019-20. Annunen is a very positionally sound netminder with excellent reflexes and a great glove hand. He understands who to angle off shooters in a one-on-one battle. Annunen is quite efficient moving around his crease as well, integrating with his posts effectively and still having the burst to move laterally from any position.
The Colorado system is lacking depth all over the place, a side effect of having a competitive roster and a boat load of young talent already on the team.
Coming off a Stanley Cup, it’s a problem that they are probably pretty OK with. They especially lack defensemen on both sides of the ice. Sean Behrens is a highly regarded player because of his skill and offensive intuition. Still, there are limitations in his game defensively and physically that he may not be able to overcome at the NHL level. Beyond Behrens, there aren’t many names of note.
Drew Helleson was a solid prospect, but he was moved in the deal that brought over Josh Manson. Bowen Byram graduated last year, and Samuel Girard has solidified his NHL spot the last couple of years. Cale Makar won the Norris and looks poised to challenge for it again for the remainder of his career. So, while they are weak in the pipeline and that will need to be rectified, the Avalanche shouldn’t be too worried about the future of their back end.
Next Man Up: C Ben Meyers
The former captain of the University of Minnesota men’s hockey squad made his NHL debut last year with the Avalanche, playing in five games after the NCAA season. He could be poised to slot in as a fourth-line center should Nazem Kadri not come back or someone else isn’t signed to step into the fold. He is already a mature player who, despite standing just 5-foot-11, is built like a man and will turn 24 years old a month into the season. We aren’t talking about a difference-maker stepping into the roster, but he could be a steady depth piece that can play in the bottom six and continue to make a contending team even deeper.
Prospect Depth Chart Notables
LW: Oskar Olausson, Sampo Ranta
C: Jean-Luc Foudy, Ben Meyers, Colby Amrbosio
RW: Alex Beaucage, Martin Kaut
LD: Sean Behrens
RD: Chris Romaine
G: Justus Annunen, Trent Miner, Ivan Zhigalov
For a deeper dive into the prospect pool with player rankings, check out the Yearbook and Future Watch editions of the Hockey News print edition!