In The System: Avalanche's Defensive Prospects Finding The Scoresheet

James CriderCorrespondent INovember 18, 2009

WASHINGTON - APRIL 11:  Kevin Shattenkirk #3 of the Boston Terriers tries to keep the puck from Tommy Wingels #9 of the Miami Red Hawks during the NCAA Men's Frozen Four Championship game on April 11, 2009 at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. The Boston Terriers defeated the Miami Red Hawks 4-3 in overtime to win the national title.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Historically, the Colorado Avalanche haven't had a deep prospect pool.

Sure, there was the occasional late-round pick that turned into a Milan Hejduk or a Chris Drury, but for the most part that Avalanche haven't bred any star players. That's not a knock on them; when you're a power house team, you trade away your first-round picks in order to make the best short-term team possible before a Stanley Cup run.

But the glory days are over.

Management had to take a long hard look at where they wanted to start the foundation, and they ultimately chose defense.

Over the past three drafts, Colorado has used at least one first or second-round pick to draft a defenseman, and they seem to have done a bang up job by looking at the draftee's junior successes.

Tyson Barrie (2009 - 64th Overall)

The son of Tampa Bay co-owner Len Barrie was taken by the Avalanche in the third round of the most recent NHL draft.

In two full seasons with the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League, Barrie has established himself as an offensive dynamo. Last year as a 17-year-old, Barrie scored 52 points in 68 games, and added an additional 18 points in 22 playoff games en route to Kelowna's WHL championship.

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This season, Barrie is on a torrid pace as he's collected 18 points in the first 14 games of the season.

Perhaps the best part about Barrie is that despite his success, he's considered to have the lowest ceiling out of all the players I'll be discussing. On the flip side, it also means that Barrie will likely take the longest to develop, so don't look to see him in an Avalanche sweater for at least another couple seasons.

Colby Cohen (2007 - 45th overall)

When the Avalanche took Colby Cohen 45th overall in the 2007 draft, they did it with the knowledge that he's the best friend and defensive parter (at Boston University) of Kevin Shattenkirk (see below), the player the Avalanche took 14th overall in the same draft.

Last season was a breakout year for Cohen. Combining a strong physical game with a booming slap shot, Cohen racked up 32 points and 65 penalty minutes in 43 games for the Terriers.

Like Barrie, Cohen's season ended in celebration. Boston University won the NCAA Championship thanks to Cohen's overtime goal in the championship game.

This season, Cohen has had a strong start, collecting six points in nine games. Despite strong offensive play, it's likely Cohen will stay another season at BU in order to develop his defensive game.

Stefan Elliot (2009 - 49th overall)

Before the 2009 draft, many predicted the Avalanche would use their 33rd overall pick to draft Stephane Elliot. As fate may have it, O'Reilly fell to the Avalanche in the 33rd spot, but the team was fortunate enough that Elliot—projected by TSN's Bob McKenzie to go 35th overall—was still avaliable when it came time for the Avalanche to draft again.

As a player for the Saskatoon Blades, Elliot has gotten the nickname from fans "the Mike Green of the WHL." Speed, great puck moving ability, and solid defensive play summarize Elliot's game pretty well.

Elliot's team hasn't had the success that the formers' teams have, but Elliot has had lots of individual success.

In 71 games last season, Elliot scored 16 goals and 55 points. This season, he's started out strong with eight goals and 23 points in only 24 games.

As far as when he's expected to crack the NHL, Elliot is more seasoned than the previous players. He'll get a chance to make the Avalanche at next summer's training camp.

Cameron Gaunce (2008 - 50th overall)

By far the most physical of the defensemen on this list, Cameron Gaunce racked up a whopping 110 penalty minutes in 67 games for the Mississaugua St. Michael's Majors last season.

But here's the best part: his 64 points ranked fifth in OHL scoring for defensemen, ahead of Rangers standout rookie Michael Del Zotto. 

Gaunce is looking like a real steal of a draft choice. He's been one of the best defensemen in the entire OHL, and was named captain of his team. So far this season, he appears to be picking up where he left off with 18 points and 46 penalty minutes in the first 22 games.

I can pretty much guarantee you Gaunce will be a member of the Avalanche next season. He signed an NHL entry-level contract this summer, and almost made the team out of training camp.

Kevin Shattenkirk (2007 - 14th overall)

I saved the best for last.

Until the Avalanche drafted Matt Duchene last summer, Shattenkirk was the team's top prospect. He's the highest defenseman ever drafted by the Avalanche, and will be expected to fulfill a top pairing role in the coming years.

In his three seasons at Boston University, Shattenkirk has been excellent in all three zones of the ice, being both a top power play and penalty kill contributor. Last season he contributed 28 points in 43 games, and so far this season has nine points in nine games.

Shattenkirk has also shown leadership qualities, and was named BU's captain after the departure of Matt Gilroy over the summer.

With this likely his last season at BU, Shattenkirk will likely join Colorado next season and be thrust into a top-four defensive role. Though, it's possible he may join the Avalanche at the end of the year or in the playoffs if they believe he can be of use to them.