This year, head coach Jared Bednar, general manager Joe Sakic and Colorado Avalanche upper management were not afraid to enter the 2018 NHL Draft with an “all-or-nothing” mentality. It comes as no shock that the eight players the Avs selected to be a part of the organization fit that mentality to a T.
In the draft, Colorado snagged two netminders, a defenseman and five forwards. The number of attacking players came as quite a surprise to me especially, since the Avalanche defense has struggled in years of late. Yet, the decision does demonstrate Bednar and Sakic’s trust in the developing youth talent currently on defense and the mindset that speed and quick offense is the way of the future in the NHL. An idea that has seemingly been confirmed with the amount of sub-six-foot D-men drafted in the first round.
For now, though, it’s time to focus upon who these new draft picks are, and what they can bring to the team in the future. Starting of course, with the 16th overall pick, Martin Kaut.
Martin Kaut, Right Wing (16th overall selection)
Kaut could be one of those feel-good stories, and one that many fans can emotionally latch on to. Earlier this year, Kaut received heart surgery for a condition that sidelined him from the NHL Scouting Combine, but he is looking to impress this coming season as he will most likely debut for the newly promoted AHL franchise, Colorado Eagles. Kaut is a smart pick as he has already had experience playing with adults in the Czech Extraliga, finishing with 16 points in 38 games with his club, HC Dynamo Pardubice. Look out for Kaut, as he is one of the top so to speak “NHL ready” players that came out of this year’s draft class. Expect to see him in an Avalanche sweater for a few games this season.
Justus Annunen, Goaltender (64th overall selection)
Annunen is about everything you want out of a young goaltender. In the past season for Karpat (U20) in Liiga, he played 26 games while tallying a 2.31 GAA with a .907 save percentage. Annunen also helped the Finnish U18 team win gold at the Junior World Championships boasting a .914 save percentage and averaging exactly 2.00 GAA in 6 games. If the Avalanche are smart (and they are), they’ll keep Annunen in Europe for at least the next season to ensure consistency; but he adds much-needed talent to the youth goalie pool.
Sampo Ranta, Left Wing (78th overall selection)
A steal of a pick if you ask me, Ranta is as physical as he is a fast skater. Ranta has experience playing at the international level with Finland (U18) and is set to start playing hockey for the University of Wisconsin this winter. It will be a few years before any mention of him playing in the NHL is brought up, but he is a player to mark down for sure.
Tyler Weiss, Left Wing/Center (109th overall selection)
Weiss is a player that is a toss-up right now. As a part of the USNTDP, Weiss found himself as part of the bottom lines for the team, racking up 11 points in 22 games and 31 points with the United States U18 team. Weiss’s chance to shine will be this upcoming season at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and we’ll finally be able to judge more accurately the player he may be able to develop into.
Brandon Saigeon, Center (140th overall selection)
A late round pick you’d expect a team to pick up, all things considered. He is a skater that needs to really improve on his footwork and stickhandling but has a powerful shot that can scorch the net as long as he has time to wind it up and let it rip. He helped lead the Hamilton Bulldogs to an OHL championship with 70 points.
Danila Zhuravlyov, Defense (146th overall selection)
Alright, just try to pronounce this name… No? Same. Skating abilities run supreme with Zhuravlyov. A small D-man, Zhuravlyov more than makes up for it by shutting down attackers with speed, sticking to them rather than using physical play. Zhuravlyov also has a pretty hefty shot and can open the door as a goal scorer in the future.
Nikolai Kovalenko, Right Wing (171st overall selection)
If that name sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Son of former Avalanche Andrei Kovalenko, Nikolai will be on an uphill climb to reach North America from Russia, but a player to keep track of if he does explode out of his shell.
Shamil Shmakov, Goalie (202nd overall selection)
Shmakov is a literal giant, standing at 6’6”. A very interesting choice, Shmakov is a player that likes to use his size to fling himself to stop the puck… in other words, he is a project in the works. But if the Avs can develop him, he could be a real goalie weapon in the making.