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Decisions Await Avalanche on Draft Day

Colorado taking wait-and-see approach with its first-round picks

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

Draft day is the biggest day of the year for scouting departments in the NHL. It's where their hard work comes to fruition after spending countless of miles traveling via car, train, ferry and plane and watching games almost daily in cold rinks throughout the world.

Draft day is where tomorrow's stars enter the NHL, and the Colorado Avalanche looks to select a few of them at the June 21-22 draft in Vancouver, British Columbia.

"There is always pressure," said Avalanche director of amateur scouting Alan Hepple on Thursday. "I think there is always pressure in the first round. I think the last few years with Mikko Rantanen, we got him at 10. Tyson Jost at 10. Cale Makar was four obviously. There is always pressure in the first round I think."

Colorado presently has eight picks in the 2019 NHL Draft, which includes No. 4 and 16 overall and five total choices in the first three rounds.

It is the seventh time since the franchise joined the NHL in 1979 that it has had multiple picks in the opening round and only the third time it has happened since the team moved to Denver in 1995. Colorado last had two choices in the first round in 2011 when it selected Gabriel Landeskog at No. 2 and Duncan Siemens at No. 11.

The Avalanche's five draft selections in the first three rounds are the franchise's most since 2005 when it had four second rounders (34, Ryan Stoa; 44, Paul Stastny; 47, Tom Fritsche; 52, Chris Durand) and one in the third round (88, TJ Hensick).

While the team has stockpiled five picks in the first 80 selections, Hepple says the team's draft strategy heading into the 2019 summer selection remains the same as it has been: choosing the best player available.

"The one thing I say to [general manager Joe Sakic] all the time and I tell my [scouts], I don't play GM," Hepple says. "We give Joe the list, and he makes the call at the end of the day, especially the top-end picks based on the fact that he knows them, he's seen them. Down the road, yeah we need forwards now, but by the time some of these kids are ready to play, we might need defensemen again. It will be the best player."

Video: Alan Hepple talks about the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft

The Avalanche still has some decisions to make with its first two choices, as this year's draft has garnered a reputation for being wide open after the top two selections.

Jack Hughes--NHL Central Scouting's top-ranked North American skater--and Kaapo Kakko--the No. 1-ranked international skater on Central Scouting's list--are expected to go to either the New Jersey Devils or New York Rangers, the owners of the first two picks of Round 1. After that, the draft really begins.

The Chicago Blackhawks own the No. 3 pick before the Avalanche chooses at No. 4, a selection the club received from the Ottawa Senators in a three-team trade that also included the Nashville Predators on Nov. 5, 2017.

"I told Joe to just go ask them," Hepple joked of trying to figure out who the Blackhawks will select. "Really after the first two--the first two are kind of set in stone it seems like… We got a few guys targeted. We know what we have. I have an idea of who Chicago is going to take and that is just talking to people, talking about who they like, the word has gotten out and things like that. I have an idea of who they are going to take, but it's never set in stone until they make that call when they go to the mic on Friday night (June 21)."

According to Central Scouting's final lists, defenseman Bowen Byram (No. 2 North American) and forwards Kirby Dach (No. 3), Alex Turcotte (No. 4), Dylan Cozens (No. 5) and Vasily Podkolzin (No. 2 International) all have the potential to go in the top five.

Colorado's first pick will ultimately be decided by what Chicago does with its own selection.

"It's real unpredictable," Hepple said of this year's draft. "I'm trying to get a handle every day, trying to figure out who. We got it sort of pinpointed at four of who we want. It's that 16 pick that comes into play and becomes a little more wide open."

The Avalanche could go in several different directions with its own selection, the highest among the 16 clubs that participated in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Hepple discussed several options for No. 16 on Thursday, including Spencer Knight, Central Scouting's top-rated North American goaltender.

Goalies being selected in the first round have become a rarity in recent years for a variety of reasons, but the longer development to become an NHL-caliber keeper is likely the biggest factor. In the previous six drafts, only two netminders have been selected in Round 1 and neither was chosen before pick No. 22.

Knight could be one of the exceptions.

"I think he's on the top of everyone's (goalie) list," Hepple said of Knight. "We'll have to see what is available. We do our goalie list separate, so we'll have to see what is available at 16, see if Spencer Knight is that guy that is going to be better than the forward or defenseman that we have at 16. That will be a decision that we'll make at the table at 16."

With the draft just days away, there are still plenty of question marks with the Avalanche's picks, but the club expects to get eight good players to continue to boost its organizational depth.

Building a prospect pipeline for the present and the future is what the draft is all about.

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