Why It’s Okay if Colorado Doesn’t Win the Draft Lottery

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GM Joe Sakic shakes 2016 1st round pick Tyson Jost's hand, as then-coach Patrick Roy watches on. Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

They call it the weakest draft in years. They say hockey fans have been spoiled these past few seasons, with names like McDavid, Matthews, Ekblad, and Eichel gracing underachieving teams. They say this year is different than all that. No future Hall of Famers, no “Next One,” just a write-off and an easy excuse to trade picks… they say.

In some ways they may be right, but don’t count the 2017 NHL Draft out just yet.

On June 23, a team will walk up to the podium and make their 1st overall selection. That team will likely be the Colorado Avalanche, their dismal 21-54-3 record making for a lowly 45 points. Everything has gone wrong for the Avs this season — coach Patrick Roy stepped down a few weeks before taking the ice, key players have been lost to injury, and those who have stayed healthy comprise a cast of thousands, who for unknown reasons, have failed to show why they’re still in the NHL.

Come tonight, the Avs will be treated to the possibility of having their first 1st overall pick in four years, following Nathan MacKinnon in 2013. To some, that’s where the good part ends.

As has been said, there’s no McDavid in this draft, no player that can singlehandedly change the shape of the league, let alone a team. But where the draft fails in bona-fide superstars, it excels at players who can develop into key components.

 

Take the likely 1st overall pick, Nolan Patrick. Patrick has had a rough year, losing many teammates to the NHL, and missing 35 games with a lower-body injury, one that would force him to sit out the World Juniors last December. These struggles have cost the Wheat King centre’s draft stock in the eyes of scouts and execs. Even if the Avs don’t get that coveted #1 spot, there’s still some chance Patrick could find himself headed to Denver. At the same time, Patrick’s recurring injuries don’t spell well for a team that’s had their fair share. Despite Patrick’s unmistakable talent, there are other equal choices should there be doubts.

Dynamic Swiss Nico Hischier, or Finnish D-man Timothy Liljegren — both frontrunners alongside Patrick for the #1 spot — are anything but consolation prizes. Hischier has 86 points in his first full season in North America, and while not a clear-cut talent like Patrick, has room to improve. Liljegren has the potential to be a franchise defenceman, something the Avs have needed this season with their three key D-men on the sidelines.

The Avs might have the bottom spot to themselves, commanding the best chances to win the draft lottery, but they aren’t a shoo-in. The Arizona Coyotes, New Jersey Devils, and Vancouver Canucks are among the names eyeing that #1 spot, alongside newcomer Vegas Golden Knights. Like those teams, the Avs are ready to implode, with names such as Landeskog and Duchene rumoured to be on the move this summer. It’s become a question of when, not if, GM Joe Sakic will step down — better than being fired by the franchise he captained for 17 seasons — and coach Jared Bednar’s firing is all but guaranteed. Sakic and Bednar aren’t even the biggest names fans want gone – PP specialist (if you can even call him that) Tim Army’s head has been called for more than once.

And that’s where the possibility of not picking 1st comes back. The Avs have nothing to lose — if Patrick isn’t a viable option, there’s two others they’ll gladly take without question.

 

Swiss centre Nico Hischier, seen here at the 2017 World Juniors, is one of the favourites to be picked first this June. Credit: Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

The lowest the Avs can pick is fourth, and the big three are only the tip of the iceberg. Sniper Owen Tippett could fit in well on a team that lacks offensive talent. Once he has had time to develop, putting Tippett on the wing could have him with MacKinnon or Duchene (on the chance they keep him). Tippett’s development could feasibly go the same way Toronto’s Mitch Marner’s has, a player that has become a steal in his rookie season, despite being picked fourth in a very stacked draft. Other wingers such as Eeli Tolvanen could also fit in that position, a role the Avs have desperately needed to fill with something other than aging veterans and fourth line talent.

In any case, the Avs could walk away from the draft with a Patrick, Hischier, or even a Tippett jersey, and they could come out winners. They may not be a McDavid per se, but for a team that needs everything, it’s a start.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Good article.

    I'll speak to the bit about Nolan Patrick a bit more. He has had a pretty rough year, indeed. Had a nagging injury and I'm actually a little worried whatever it was is something that might come back to nag and hinder him in years to come. I hope that's not the case but I just have a strange feeling because of how long he was out that things aren't all 100%. In a way, that is kind of a blessing because it has caused scouting NHL teams to have to be more cautious on drafting Patrick and thinking he's a team-changing player.

    Patrick is no doubt a fantastic player. Very skilled and all-around talented. But he is no single-superstar. He is a GREAT compliment to a team if not relied on for everything. He might turn out to be as useful as say, Mark Stone (another former Wheat King drafted way lower in the 6th round; huge steal of a pick!) is for Ottawa or more something like Derek Stepan for the Rangers. A good player but in no way shape or form expected to be everything and a game-changer for the team.

    Because of this draft year being labelled the way it is, draft order isn't nearly as important as other years and we'll see in about 3-5 years that probably some teams will have picked a player in the 3rd round or later who DO actually turn out to be key players for their team.

  2. ZMaster32

    I see a big drop-off after Patrick and Hischier. Rough for COL/VAN fans. Also a tough start for Vegas just got harder.

    I do as well. At the top this is probably the weakest draft in a couple years. I honestly don't see any other potential franchise players after the first two.

    By the way, Liljegren isn't ranked as highly as you say by anyone anymore. He's dropped a lot this season and the recent talk is he probably won't even go in the top 10.

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