The Colorado Avalanche have long been one of the league's best identifiers and developers of young talent in the National Hockey League. In fact, six of the team's top eight scorers in 2007/08 were drafted by the organization.
A long run of success has a tendency to reduce the level of talent in any team's organization, and the Avs are no exception. Still the cupboard isn't completely bare with several good prospects in the pipe at different stages of development.
Here are the Fantasy Hockey Network's choices for the top five fantasy prospects in the Colorado Avalanche organization. The list includes a budding power forward, three defensemen with offensive upside and an NHL-ready center who should be a top six forward in 2008/09.
1. T.J. Hensick, C—The future is now for the former Hobey Baker finalist, who the Avalanche have penciled in for the second line center position, if captain Joe Sakic stays retired. Whatever Sakic decides, there's little doubt Hensick will be on the club's opening night roster.
A great skater with a hard, accurate wrist shot and elite vision, Hensick averaged near a point a game in the AHL last season and didn't look out of place in his frequent auditions in Denver.
His size worries some, but the Avalanche brain trust is convinced he'll develop into a all-star caliber pivot.
2. Kevin Shattenkirk, D—The 19-year-old had a successful rookie campaign with Boston University, contributing 20 points in 38 games for the Terriers.
Shattenkirk is the prototypical post-lockout defenseman—mobile with a high hockey IQ and elite passing ability. Although small by NHL standards (5'11”, 193lbs), the 14th overall pick in the 2007 draft more than compensates with his leadership abilities and big heart. He projects as a number one power-play quarterback with 70 point potential.
Two more years of development would be ideal, but circumstances may force the issue.
3. Chris Stewart, RW—Built like a Sherman tank, Stewart is developing a solid offensive game to go along with his size and may find himself in the NHL as soon as this season.
The right-winger scored 19 goals in his AHL debut in 2007-08 and boasts good skating skills and a better than average skill level for a 6'1” 225 lb giant.
Stewart's key to success is hard work but he must improve his play without the puck if he's to reach his potential, which many think could be in the 30-35 goal range. He is valuable in fantasy leagues that reward penalty minutes.
4. Nigel Williams, D—The giant Belleville Bulls defenseman has a unique combination of size (6'4” 226 lbs) and skill that could make him a dominant player at the NHL level.
He was +16 with 10 goals and 12 assists in 38 games for Belleville after a mid-season trade from Saginaw and finished the season with a combined 15 goals and 46 points in 67 games. Williams is a good skater and a great puck handler for a player of his size and he uses his size and strength to play a tough, aggressive game.
Williams is still a project in many respects, but certainly a name to remember.
5. Cameron Gaunce, D—The Avalanche's top selection in the 2008 draft (50th overrall), Gaunce is loaded with leadership qualities and plays with desire and commitment.
The native of Sudbury, Ontario led all Mississauga Ice Dog defensemen with 10 goals and 40 points in 63 games last season and Colorado management feel he has more offensive upside. The 18-year-old has good size and strength but needs to improve his skating to continue his development.
He will return to Mississauga in 2008/09 and plans are to bring the young rearguard along slowly.
Next in our series, we'll look at a team loaded with hot, young fantasy prospects, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Check out the previous articles in the series: