Under the leadership of Joe Sakic, the Colorado Avalanche are both a team in win-now mode, with a bright future on the horizon as well. The Avalanche core of the roster is comprised of players in their prime under 25 lead by Nathan Mackinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Cale Makar.
Captain Gabriel Landeskog is only 26-years-old and the veteran leader of the team is Erik Johnson at 31. Makar still qualifies for a prospect despite being a full-time NHL regular and headlines a top heavy prospect pool full of defensive stars.
What it all likely means is the Avalanche are a team that has their window of opportunity just starting to open, and it’s opening wide. With the prospects coming the window could be open for a very long time.
1. Cale Makar, D – Colorado Avalanche (NHL)
Drafted: Fourth overall in the first round of the 2017 draft by Colorado
The quickest way to sum up Makar is to call him a winner. Makar helped Canada to a 2020 World Junior Gold in the same year he won the Hobey Baker Award as the top NCAA player after dominating at UMass in his freshman season. Makar signed after one year in NCAA and made his NHL debut in the playoffs with the Avalanche and made an immediate impression with six points in ten NHL Playoff games.
Entering his rookie season Makar is a favorite to win the Calder as the NHL Rookie of the Year and would be only the second defenseman in ten years (Aaron Ekblad won in 2015) and third Avalanche to win it in ten years as well (MacKinnon in ’14 and Landeskog in ’12).
After the first quarter of the season, he is living up to if not exceeding expectations with 20 points in his first 22 games, and well on his way to fulfilling the prophecy of the Calder winner. For a team in “win-now mode” Makar has fit right in and will be their top defenseman anchor offensively for the foreseeable future. When his career is all said and done in the very distant future his trophy cabinet will likely have an impressive collection including a Stanely Cup and a few Norris Trophies.
2. Bowen Byram, D Vancouver Giants (WHL)
Drafted: Fourth overall in the first round of the 2019 draft by Colorado
The Avalanche selected another defenseman fourth overall after picking Makar in the same spot in 2017. Like Makar, the Avalanche secure themselves an offensive defenseman with the potential to be a number one NHL defenseman. With Makar locked down in that role, Byram will provide a lethal one-two punch from the backend that will give opponents a matchup nightmare.
Byram dominated in his draft year in the WHL starting with a Gold Medal at the Hlinka with Canada. He posted over a point per game during the regular season with 26 goals and 71 points in 67 games. Byram was the playoff leading scorer as he lead Vancouver to the WHL final but fell short to the Prince Albert Raiders.
Byram was returned to the WHL where he will try to win a Championship and will be a lock for Team Canada at the World Junior. Next year Byram will look to make the jump to the NHL and turn pro, he will not be eligible for the AHL meaning his options are make the NHL, or return for his fourth season of Junior.
3. Conor Timmins, D – Colorado Eagles (AHL)
Drafted: 32nd overall in the second round of the 2017 NHL Draft by Colorado
Injuries have massively derailed his development and knocked him down on a lot of other rankings. Timmins missed the entire 2018-19 season (his rookie pro season) with a concussion and missed significant time in his final season in the OHL again due to injury. Having missed so much critical development time can have catastrophic results on a players development but I am giving Timmins the benefit of the doubt as his junior career was so impressive and his pedigree supports it.
Being returned to health, Timmins made his pro debut in the NHL making the opening night roster and playing in two games. He has since been assigned to the AHL where he has been impressive with six points in 13 games including goals in his last two games. With Timmins returned health, he gives the Avalanche scary good depth with defensive prospects.
4. Alex Newhook, C – Boston College (NCAA)
Drafted: 16th overall in the first round of the 2019 draft by Colorado
After dominating the BCHL with 102 points in his draft year, and impressive U18 performance with Canada posting five goals and five assists in seven games, the Avalanche selected Newhook with their own first-round pick in 2019.
The offensively gifted Newhook is currently in the NCAA with Boston College where he has made an immediate impact with eight points in his first 11 games. An impressive start for what is a difficult jump going from the BCHL to the NCAA. His first six games yielded only one point but posted seven in the next four.
Newhook is a likely one-and-done candidate as he could be ready to make another jump to pro hockey going from the Boston College Eagles to the Colorado Eagles in the AHL. Look for Newhook to compete for a roster spot on Team Canada for the World Junior. Canada does tend to favor players from the CHL as a tie-breaker for roster spots.
5. Justus Annunen, G – Karpat (Liiga)
Drafted: 64th overall in the third round of the 2018 draft by Colorado
At a glance the hole in the Avalanche armor may be goaltending. Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz both lack pedigree but are playing adequately for the Avalanche. In the AHL, Adam Werner has been recalled to fill in for injury and is having a good season. But in Finland Justus Annunen is doing something pretty special.
The 19-year-old has played in 12 games with a 10-0-2 record, a 1.28 GAA and .946 SVS%. But the real impressive stat is he also has five shutouts! Annunen is splitting games on a strong Karpat roster but the big goalie is getting some high praise for his play.
Annunen recently signed a two-year contract extension and maybe a few years away from playing in the NHL, but if he can continue this level of development he could be the future starting goalie.
6. Martin Kaut, RW – Colorado Eagles (AHL)
Drafted: 16th overall in the first round of the 2018 draft by Colorado
Kaut made his North American debut as a 19-year-old in the AHL following his draft year from the Czech league. Kaut played big minutes and posted modest numbers, 26 points in 63 games. The AHL is a very difficult league for a teenager and his performance was praised by the Avalanche.
Kaut has yet to register a point in seven games in his sophomore season in the AHL, he has been injured since then and hopes to turn his slow start around. Kaut will likely play the full year in the AHL and all goes well, use that momentum to push for a top-six roster spot for the 2020-21 season.
7. Shane Bowers, C – Colorado Eagles (AHL)
Drafted: 28th overall in the first round of the 2017 draft by Ottawa Senators
Since his draft, Bowers has produced two impressive seasons in the NCAA with the Boston Terriers – posting 32 points as a freshman and 21 points in 37 games as a sophomore. Upon completion of his sophomore season, Sakic signed Bowers to his entry-level contract and he played the final four regular-season and four more playoff games in the AHL.
In his first full season as a pro, the rookie is off to a slow start, going pointless in his first seven games and a total of four points in his first 14 games. The AHL is a big adjustment, so Colorado will be patient in the development with Bowers giving the big forward time to round out his game.
8. Vladislav Kamenev, C/LW – Colorado Avalanche (NHL)
Drafted: 42nd overall in the second round of the 2014 draft by Nashville Predators
Acquired from Nashville along with Sam Girard and Shane Bowers in the Matt Duchene trade. Kamenev has made the Avalanche to start this season but was a healthy scratch until October 30th when injuries hit. Kamenev is not exempt to waivers and that may be a factor in his sticking in the NHL this year as well.
In the nine games he has played this season, Kamenev has recorded three points. This is a critical year for Kamenev to turn potential into production and crack the Avalanche roster full time or risk dropping off the radar.
9. Alex Beaucage, RW – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)
Drafted: 78th overall in the third round of the 2019 draft by Colorado
The knock-on Beaucage is his skating. That’s a pretty big knock these days based on how the game is played in the NHL. However, skating is absolutely something that can be improved.
What Beaucage brings is a pair of highly skilled hands and the ability to score goals. Beaucage lit the lamp 39 times as a QMJHL sophomore in his draft year and continues to improve in his D+1 season with 28 points in his first 16 games for the Huskies.
His defensive game is good, he has good size and will use this year and next in the QMJHL to refine his game and work out the skating deficiencies. He will either be a steal, or a bust.
10. Sampo Ranta, LW – University of Minnesota (NCAA)
Drafted: 78th overall in the third round of the 2018 draft by Colorado
The big Fin had an impressive performance at the World Junior Summer Showcase this offseason and will be an important player for Finland at the World Junior where he will try to repeat as Gold Medal Champions.
In his sophomore season with the Gophers, he is having a good year of development and continues to progress nicely. Ranta has that nice blend of size, skating, skill, and smarts and is trending towards a NHL career.
The Avalanche will try to sign Ranta this year or next to avoid losing him as a free agent and begin his development at the pro level. Ranta has two years in the USHL prior to his NCAA career so he is well adjusted to the North American game and culture.