The Colorado Avalanche have become the perfect example of an organization that has its development system in perfect alignment right now. Rookie Cale Makar is a serious Calder Trophy candidate, fellow defenseman Ryan Graves was a great find via trade with the New York Rangers, while goalie Pavel Francouz was a fantastic free agent signing.
Oh, but we're not done. That's the present – and the future is looking just as bright.
Two Avalanche prospects recently announced that they would be returning to college for the 2020-21 season and it's the right call for both.
Center Alex Newhook was one of the best players in the entire NCAA this season and he did so as a freshman at Boston College. Newhook, taken 16th overall by Colorado in the 2019 draft, helped the Eagles soar in the second half, earning him conference rookie of the year honors in Hockey East. He tied for fourth in conference scoring and first with Boston College (with senior Julius Mattila) thanks to 42 points in 34 games. But yes, there is more to accomplish as a sophomore.
I've pounded on this table many times on The Hockey News' Prospect Podcast, but the NCAA is an excellent place for players to develop strength and muscle mass. Newhook is listed as 5-foot-11, 193 pounds and that's pretty decent already – but getting one more year in the BC weight room will help prepare him further for the pro ranks. The NCAA schedule, which features about half the games as major junior, allows for a lot of time in the gym, not to mention on-ice action against players who are sometimes 23 or 24 years old (and thus already have their adult strength). Given how skilled Newhook is, I wouldn't want to see him bulk up necessarily, but simply continue to hone his frame.
There's also the matter of the world juniors. Incredibly, Newhook did not make Canada's squad this past winter. Sure, it was a deep crew that did go on to win gold, but his was a controversial omission to be certain (especially since he tied for the Canadian scoring lead at the 2019 under-18s). Luckily, Newhook is still eligible to play at the 2021 world juniors in Edmonton and given how good he was in the second half of the NCAA season, he'll be an absolute monster for Canada. The national program always likes to have an extra-strong (see: older) squad when hosting and Newhook fits the bill perfectly.
Shifting back to Boston College, it's hard not to see Newhook as a Hobey Baker candidate next season. Wisconsin's Cole Caufield (Montreal) will also be up there, so it's going to be a fun race. The Eagles should be pretty competitive next year and at the least, they'll want to snatch the Beanpot Trophy, which is decided in a tourney between Boston's four major schools, from Northeastern.
As for Sampo Ranta, the Finnish left winger is coming off a decent sophomore year at the University of Minnesota, but there is more to unlock. Ranta has great size and there is skill there; now it's time to see him dominate. The 2018 third-rounder finished this season with 20 points in 35 games for the Golden Gophers and he also played a bottom-six role for Finland at the world juniors, where the team finished fourth but did upset the Americans in the quarterfinal.
Minnesota was as middle-of-the-road as possible this season, but the Gophers return most of their important players for 2020-21. If Ranta can become a point-per-gamer (or at least close) as a junior, it would be a great development. Physically he'll be ready for the pros after one more NCAA year – but he'll have to put the work in to be a consistent threat every night.
Circling back to the Avs, this is all part of the process and getting "free" development time (since NCAA players aren't under contract yet) is always nice. Colorado is a top outfit right now and an enticing organization for any prospect looking towards the future. The Avs have made the right picks; now they simply wait for the rewards.
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