It looks like the Colorado Avalanche might not—scratch that, there’s almost no way they will—repeat at the top of the NHL Draft next summer, as an impressive turnaround so far has them poised for a return to the playoffs.
That’s a great sign for an organization that finished last in the Western Conference and second-to-last in the NHL in 2012-13, hired a rookie coach and completely reshuffled its front office.
The problem, however, is that their first round pick won’t have quite the star power that Nathan MacKinnon had when he came to Denver as the first overall pick this past season. Instead, Colorado will be sitting in the mid-to-late first round, likely drafting a longer-term project player than a star who can make the immediate jump to the NHL.
But when all is said and done, it’s better to win in April and May than it is to keep risking organizational success on the top picks of the draft (looking at you, Edmonton). When the Avalanche appear at the podium this summer to make their first selection, here are five names that they will be considering.
With Paul Stastny an unrestricted free agent after this season, Colorado has a few long-term options at the center position if he leaves. One is to replace Stastny with a permanent place for Nathan McKinnon, their first overall pick before this season, down the middle; another is to draft Larkin, part of the US National Team Development Program, and see how well he adapts to the NHL game in training camp.
It’s not likely that Larkin would make the NHL right away as he is committed to the University of Michigan for 2014-15. But he’s a solid two-way player who shows the prerequisite grit to be a decent center in the majors. A few years down the road he should be a solid top-six forward.
Patrick Roy loves big defensemen, and at 6-3, Glover is certainly that. He would fit in well with a Colorado squad that boasts five defensemen of that height or taller, including fellow Americans Erik Johnson and Nate Guenin.
Better yet, Glover is more than just a big name (literally). He’s a great puck mover and skater, two assets that don’t always show up in the Avalanche defensive corps. If he falls to wherever Colorado selects, he would be a great value grab on par with the Bruins stealing Dougie Hamilton in 2012.
Another USNTDP player who is committed to Boston College, Milano’s scouting report is reminiscent of a young Alex Tanguay, albeit without quite as much speed. Milano is a gifted attacker with great hands and playmaking ability, traits reminiscent of the former Stanley Cup winner whose current season has been derailed by an injury.
There’s no doubt that Roy is familiar with Barbashev’s nearly point-per-game production from their time together in the QMJHL, with Roy the coach of the Quebec Remparts and Barbashev one of Moncton’s best scoring options.
This season, Barbashev has 37 points in 29 games, good enough for the team lead, and he has attracted Russian national team interest.
At 6'3" and 222 pounds, Tuch is taller and heavier than any current Avalanche forward except for Patrick Bordeleau. That size and strength would be an asset to any team at the NHL level, especially given his excellent reach. Once again, he’s a USNTDP player, which is further proof that it doesn’t take a Canadian Hockey League team to develop a strong NHL prospect these days.
Chris Leone has written for Bleacher Report since 2008 in multiple capacities. Follow him on Twitter @christopherlion.