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Avalanche 2019 Draft Class Has West Coast Feel To It

Colorado selected five players with ties to Vancouver and British Columbia

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab /

It wasn't on purpose, but the Colorado Avalanche's 2019 NHL Draft class had a Canadian West Coast feel to it.

The Vancouver Canucks were the hosts for this year's summer selection, but the Avs might have been the next popular team at Rogers Arena as five of their eight new prospects have ties to the Vancouver area and British Columbia.

The cheers started early for the Avalanche's picks on the first night of the draft on Friday and were a constant throughout the weekend.

Colorado chose Vancouver Giants defenseman Bowen Byram from the Western Hockey League with the No. 4 overall selection and then chose Victoria Grizzlies center Alex Newhook of the British Columbia Hockey League at 16th overall.

"It's not why we did it. We did it because they were the best players on the board for us," said Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic, who is from Burnaby, B.C., of the team's first two picks. "Not only that, but positions of need as well. There was a centerman with the second pick and a defenseman (with the first), and you can never have enough of them."

Byram was rated as the best North American D-man entering this year's draft, and the anticipation seemed to rise early on Friday with Byram still available when Colorado was on the clock at No. 4. Byram is from Cranbrook, which is on the other side of the province and borders the Canadian Rockies, but he has spent his past two seasons fine-tuning his craft in the WHL with the local Giants.

The rear guard had 26 goals and 45 assists in 71 games during the regular season before leading all WHL players in scoring during the playoffs with 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists) in 22 contests. The Giants fell short of a championship, as they lost in overtime to the Prince Albert Raiders in Game 7 of the final.

Video: Avalanche draft D Bowen Byram No. 4 

Colorado got the player it wanted with its first selection in Byram, but the announcement was a bit delayed as Sakic--who is still popular along Canada's left coast--was serenaded with cheers as he stepped to the mic. Once the ovation died down enough for Sakic to announce the selection, Rogers Arena erupted again when Byram's name was said.

"It was pretty cool," Byram said of the cheers. "Obviously there were probably a few Giants fans in the stands. Being in Vancouver is pretty special for me and my family. Vancouver has kind of been a second home for me since I've started playing junior."

About 40 minutes later when Colorado was back on the clock with the No. 16 overall pick, the cheers once again picked up when of the team chose one of best junior-A players from this past season in Newhook.

The forward dominated play in the BCHL in 2018-19, recording 102 points (38 goals and 64 assists) in 53 outings and was named the league's most valuable player. The St. John's, Newfoundland, native has skated for the past two years for the Grizzlies, who play their games across the Strait of Georgia in the province's capital on Vancouver Island.

When Sakic announced Newhook's name, the loudest cheers came from the stands to the right of the stage. Newhook later revealed it was his Victoria teammates that had come to support him.

"It is an unbelievable feeling," said Newhook, who is heading to Boston College next season. "You have the guys here from Victoria that you share all those memories with throughout the year and for them to want to be here so badly and to support me, I think it means a lot. It touches home a lot for me."

The second day of the NHL's annual selection of amateurs began with Colorado picking an American from Minnesota (Drew Helleson) and Canadians from Nova Scotia (Matthew Stienburg) and Quebec (Alex Beaucage) before reverting back to Pacific Coast players.

In the fifth round with the 140th pick, the Avalanche chose Vancouver native Sasha Mutala, who currently plays for the WHL's Tri-City Americans in Kennewick, Washington. With the 171st pick in Round 6, Colorado selected Brandon Wheat Kings forward Luka Burzan, who is from Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver.

With the Avs final selection, they went back with a player from the local major-junior club, choosing Byram's teammate with the Giants, goaltender Trent Miner.

Miner is originally from Brandon, Manitoba, but has played parts of the past two seasons with the Giants after being selected 20th overall in the first round of the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft.

"To have a familiar face like that and a such a great team and character guy like Bowen is, I'm excited for that. It should be fun," Miner said of joining Byram as part of the Avs' 2019 draft class.

The two-day draft was just the next step for Colorado's newly-minted prospects to get to the NHL, and there is still a lot more work in front of them if they want to ultimately fulfill that dream.

"People always ask me when this is over, 'how did your draft go?' And I go, 'it went great today,'" said Avalanche director of amateur scouting Alan Hepple. "The last couple of days have been great. We got all of these kids, we really like them. Now it's the next chapter. They're going to have to get bigger, stronger, they're going to have to figure out the pro [game] to be at that next level. They're going to have to improve.

"It's exciting now. It was a lot of fun with all of the picks that we had. We'll see. We'll see five years down the road how it all plays out."

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