As fans eagerly await the arrival of the next generation of talented skaters at the upcoming 2013 NHL Entry draft, General Managers and scouts from the bottom 3 teams of the 2013 season are working overtime evaluating this year’s projected top 3 picks - D Seth Jones, C Nathan MacKinnon, and C/RW Jonathan Drouin. After finishing the regular season with the worst overall record in the NHL, the Florida Panthers bad luck continued as the Colorado Avalanche (who finished with the 2nd worst record) leap frogged them in the newly revamped NHL Draft Lottery.
After the dust had settled at the draft lottery, the top 3 picks went to the Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, and Tampa Bay Lighting in that order. In other words, the collective destiny of both the Panthers and Lightning now rest in the hands of the Colorado Avalanche as their course of action with the first overall pick will surely shape how the rest of the first round plays out.
Luckily for both the Avalanche and the Panthers, the current players slated to go #1 and #2 in this year’s draft could both make an immediate impact on their respective clubs. Although, while each team could potentially grab a bona-fide NHL ready player, each team’s specific needs could play a huge role in their selections as both teams look to build a future Stanley Cup Contender.
Ever since the Colorado Avalanche once again ripped out the hearts of the Florida Panthers by winning the draft lottery (First heartbreak- See Stanley Cup winner 1996), the rumor mill in Colorado has been on over-drive and Seth Jones has been the gas that fueled the media’s fire. Given Jones’ out-of-this-world play in the World Junior Championship back in January and with the Avalanche chosen to pick 1st in the 2013 NHL Entry draft, the big bodied mobile defenseman Seth Jones has been a constant link to the Colorado Avalanche franchise. But recently, the buzz of Seth Jones destined to play for his hometown in Denver has switched gears.
Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star writes via Twitter,
“With Patrick Roy installed as coach and uber-hockey-decision guy (but not GM) of Avs, hearing it’s more likely COL goes for Nate MacKinnon”.
After witnessing the MacKinnon show during the Memorial Cup, it’s hard to imagine that this exciting and possible “future Sidney Crosby” will not go first overall. And if I’m being truthful, every team in the NHL could use the offensive skill level that Nathan MacKinnon brings to the table, (except for maybe the Pittsburgh Penguins). But are the Colorado Avalanche really in desperate NEED for help up front? Or should they be seeking an establish blue-liner at the draft? Though MacKinnon may look nice on paper, the Avalanche already have a handful of formidable offensive talent, especially at center.
Per Adrian Dater of the Denver Post News, former Avs captain Adam Foote said:
“Avs’ biggest need is a “one, two or three” defenseman. In order for a team to win a Stanley Cup, it must have two top defensemen, two excellent centers, and two big, powerful wingers. That forms the core, and everything else is secondary.”
According to Adam Foote’s comments, the Colorado Avalanche have 2 of the 3 necessities he believes his former team needs in order to bring home Lord Stanley for the 3rd time since becoming a franchise. Newly acquired winger P.A. Parenteau and all-star centerman Matt Duchene finished the season tied with 43 points each, 25th overall in the league. Along with that mega talented duo comes reigning “rookie of the year” and captain Gabriel Landeskog who will be hungry for a bounce back year. After being sidelined for various games due to a head injury and then later a torso tear, Landeskog never fully got his groove back as he finished the season with a meager 17 points in 36 games played. Some may call it the Sophomore Slump? Possibly. But with his compete level it’s hard to believe that Landeskog will continue his struggles through next season. Then there is the 27-year-old centerman Paul Statsny who has been apart of the franchise since the 2006-2007 season. The pending UFA has one full year left on his contract before he becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent, so his status with the Avalanche remains unclear. But until we know for sure, we will just assume that the two-time all-star will be apart of the franchise for the foreseeable future. And don’t count out Ryan O’Reilly. While the contract dispute between O’Reilly and the Colorado Avalanche may have been the most annoying contract dispute this year (Sorry P.K. Subban), you cannot take away the versatility and the fire-power that center O’Reilly brings to his team. After finally coming to terms on a new contract, O’Reilly never missed a beat as he tallied 20 points in the 29 games he appeared in.
Were these the two centers and two wingers (and more) Foote was referring to? Moving on.
That leaves us with the giant gaping hole that is the Colorado Avalanche’s defense. Lets take a look at their current roster blue-liners: Erik Johnson, Jan Hejda, Tyson Barrie, Matt Hunwick, Greg Zanon, Ryan Wilson, and how could we ever forget about Shane O’Brien? That’s because it’s easy. It’s nearly impossible to look at this list and think “this is a defensive unit that can win you a cup”. Unfortunately for the Avalanche and Erik Johnson, the St. Louis Blues 2nd overall pick that they had traded for back in 2010 has been less than spectacular since leaving the Blues organization. In 31 games this season, Johnson tallied a dismal 4 points and a -4 rating. In fact, every Avalanche defensemen scored a minus rating this shortened season with the exception of Shane O’Brien who broke even. 21-year-old rookie Tyson Barrie seemed to be the only bright spot on defense this year as he appeared in 32 games and lead all Avalanche defensemen with 13 points. On top of all the defensive troubles the Avalanche have been facing, to make matters worse, Colorado will be forced to make the decision whether or not to re-sign pending UFA defenseman Greg Zanon, as well as Matt Hunwick whose contracts are up at the end of next season.
To compound their current defensive troubles, the Avalanche have very little on the way in terms of top graded defensive prospects. In 2011, the Colorado Avalanche selected defenseman Duncan Siemens 11th overall in the NHL Entry Draft. Siemens can be described as a big-bodied physical defensman, with a good stride and definite mean streak. He isn’t a goal scorer by any means, but he will block any shot, and drop the gloves if need be. Siemens currently plays for the Saskatoon Blades, but hasn’t quite lived up to the hype as a promising future NHL defensive-defenseman, yet. Also affiliated with Saskatoon Blades and the Colorado Avalanche, Stefan Elliott made his NHL debut with the Avalanche during the 2011-2012 season where he appeared in 39 games and tallied 13 points. While he may have had a decent rookie year, Elliott hasn’t proved enough just yet to solidify a permanent spot in the Avalanche rotation. So will these young point-men be the solution to the Avalanche’s defensive problems? In the words of Daniel Alfredsson “Probably Not.” But luckily for the Avalanche they finally have a chance to build around their struggling defense with the highly anticipated Seth Jones awaiting his future destination. In choosing Seth Jones, Colorado would suddenly have the defensive anchor their team has longed for since Adam Foote. With adding Seth Jones into the mix, the Avalanche can take their young prospects such as Tyson Barrie, Duncan Siemens, and Stefan Elliott and build a cohesive unit for years to come.
Jones has proven that he can single handily win the big games as he showed in this years World Juniors when he brought home the gold for TEAM USA, earning 7 points in 7 games as well as a +8 rating. Jones could bring leadership, mobility, and strength to a lifeless Colorado blue-line. Defenseman like Seth Jones don’t come around too often and the Avalanche would be absolutely foolish to choose anything other than a defenseman at the NHL Entry Draft. It’s time to think realistically and time to focus on future needs rather than future wants. I’m talking to you Patrick Roy.