The 2021 NHL Draft is unlike past year's iterations with many of the draft-eligible prospects playing less than they had in previous seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But with some of that uncertainty comes valuable opportunity.
With the 2020-21 season presenting travel and border restrictions as well as quarantining requirements, this year's prospects were only able to play in a limited number of games, many of which did not allow NHL scouts to be in attendance.
In Canada, the teams in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League logged anywhere from 16 to 43 outings while the Ontario Hockey League wasn't able to get any games in. In the United States, the USHL saw its clubs play between 49 and 54 contests and the NCAA also featured a limited schedule.
"With mystery comes opportunity. There are going to be some players that are selected maybe later this year that are going to be better than the guys selected before them," said Colorado Avalanche director of amateur scouting Wade Klippenstein. "There are some challenges. We have come up with some creative ways to try and simulate what we didn't see whether it's through our analytics department, whether it is through video or other means. I think every team has done their best with what we have to work with.
"Again, it's not ideal. It would be nice to have a lot more live viewings on players, but I think there is incredible opportunity here this year with this draft."
This year's draft will be virtual with each team making its picks from its home city, the same as it was in 2020. The NHL announced the full order of selection for the draft last week and Colorado is set to make its first pick at No. 28. It is tied for the latest the Avalanche has chosen in the first round since selecting right wing Jonas Johansson at No. 28 overall in the 2002 entry draft. The franchise also had the 28th selection in 1992 (Paul Brousseau) and 1998 (Ramzi Abid).
Colorado presently has four picks in the 2021 NHL Draft, which includes No. 61 overall that the Avs acquired in a trade on Thursday. The club obtained the pick, which was originally the New York Islanders, along with forward Mikhail Maltsev from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for defenseman Ryan Graves.
Video: Avs head scout Wade Klippenstein previews 2021 Draft
"This draft, I think like a lot of drafts, has some spots where there is good depth," added Klippenstein. "This year will be a little different than others, there is some mystery to this draft, some low-viewing spots. If you look at the Ontario Hockey League, the depth there is still to be determined… Getting that second-round pick for our staff, the amateur guys really enjoy when we get another opportunity and having that come together was exciting for our group."
Regardless of where the team is selecting, whether it be in the first or seventh round, Colorado's strategy remains the same as it has been: choose the best player available.
"We look for the best player available. We have players from multiple positions that we target where we think we are drafting," said Klippenstein. "When we build our list, we build our list without the idea of exactly where we are picking, as you know that could change at any time, so it's the best player available each and every time."
With the draft just days away--the first round will take place on Friday and rounds 2-7 will begin on Saturday morning--Colorado's amateur scouts will keep discussing their list until the picks are made. However, the Avs priority will always be to find prospects that have the skills and potential to develop into players who can compete in the NHL.