J.D. Killian The Hockey Writers
5 Worst Avalanche-Nordiques Draft Classes of All-Time
The Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques hit home runs on some of their drafts, particularly in the first round. However, not every draft turned into a pot o’ gold. In fact, the franchise managed a few stinkers, regardless of location. Here are the five worst drafts ever in franchise history. Buckle up, because this depth of bad is rarely seen.
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For purposes of transparency, the rankings take into consideration the number of players who played more than 100 NHL games, the number of selections who had an NHL career, and the number of picks.
100 games seemed a reasonable threshold as it means a skater played in more than one season, showing enough talent to be considered a promising prospect. Since players in recent draft classes may still be developing, the analysis covered the seasons from 1985 until 2016.
53 percent of the Nordiques’ draftees laced up their skates at least once for an NHL game, as 97 of their 183 picks made the show. Once the franchise moved to Colorado, the club saw 48 percent of their draftees hit NHL ice at least once, as 89 of their 186 selections made a big-league appearance.
The 2006 draft class earns an honorable mention as only one of the six players selected played any NHL games at all. While the Avalanche only had a single player make the NHL, he made a career for himself.
That player? Chris Stewart, a plucky forward who has played in 668 contests so far.
He’s currently signed with the Philadelphia Flyers although he’s with their AHL affiliate as of now. He’s earned 322 points and racked up 720 penalty minutes over the course of his career to date.
The Nordiques’ 1985 draft is the only Quebec class to make the list. They had 13 picks and five of those actually participated in the NHL, however briefly.
Unfortunately, forwards Bruce Major (fifth round – 99th pick) only played four NHL games and Max Middendorf (third round – 57th pick) skated in 13 NHL contests. First-rounder – forward David Latta – appeared in 36 NHL games while eighth-round goaltender Mario Brunetta played in 40 NHL matchups.
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The only member of the class to play over 100 NHL games was second-round pick Jason Lafreniere, who tallied 34 goals and 53 assists in 146 NHL contests. He finished his hockey career playing for the Polish club Podhale Nowy Targ.
The Avalanche’s draft of 2010 left a lot to be desired. The club owned eight picks and only two of them played in over 100 NHL games. One player – goaltender Calvin Pickard – played an NHL game in the 2019-20 season. A back-up goaltender, he’s seen limited ice time since leaving Colorado, with 107 NHL games under his belt.
Left-wing Michael Bournival tops the class with 113 NHL games, although injuries shortened his career, forcing him to retire on June 14, 2019.
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First-round pick – center Joey Hishon – only played in 13 NHL games for the team, back in the 2014-15 season. He played for a couple of seasons in Europe before hanging up his skates. Meanwhile, fourth-round goaltender Sami Aittokallio only played in two NHL contests before electing to pursue his career in Finland.
The 2012 draft class was a disaster on a number of fronts. First, the team only had five picks. Second, only two of their picks played any NHL games. Third, their highest pick was second-rounder Mitchell Heard, selected 41st overall. He never made it to the NHL, instead bouncing back and forth between the ECHL and the AHL.
Sixth-round pick Joseph Blandisi is the only member of this class to play over 100 NHL games, sitting at 101. He played in two NHL games in 2019-20 for the Pittsburgh Penguins and he’s logged 188 AHL contests.
The only other player to make it to the NHL was center Colin Smith, who made his lone NHL appearance for the Avalanche on Dec. 1, 2014. He now plays in the German leagues.
Not a pretty set of picks. But it gets worse.
The Avalanche owned seven draft picks in 2008, with their earliest one being in the second round. Only three players saw any NHL ice time and none of them played over 100 NHL games.
Defenseman Cameron Gaunce was the first selection and he’s played in 37 NHL contests so far, including three for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2019-20 season. He does, however, have 646 AHL games.
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Forward Mark Olver played 74 NHL games for the Avalanche and now plays in Germany. Meanwhile, defenseman Jonas Holos played 39 NHL contests for Colorado before moving to the Norwegian leagues.
That’s a big swing and a miss on all of their draft picks. It’s a wonder the Avalanche could ice a competitive team with this kind of drafting.
Oh wait, this could explain their precipitous drop in the rankings in the following seasons. Hmmm.
The biggest stinker in franchise history is the 2014 draft class. It’s miserable. For those who don’t remember, the Avalanche selected forward Conner Bleackley as their first-rounder. He re-entered the 2016 entry draft, where he was selected by the St. Louis Blues, who did not extend his entry-level contract. Bleackley appears destined to be an ECHL player.
But wait, there are more dismal pickings in that class. Six of the seven players have not suited up for a single NHL game. The one player who has seen NHL ice time is defenseman Anton Lindholm, who’s played in 66 NHL games, filling in for injuries.
Three players have left pro hockey and two others look destined for the AHL to be the high point of their careers.
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Granted, with this class, there could still be a late bloomer in there somewhere, but none of their career paths currently indicate there’s untapped potential.
What’s truly disturbing is not a single pick turned into a starting NHL player. That’s a waste of a draft.
When compiling the list, one thing stood out. Three of the franchise’s worst drafts happened in the last decade, four of the five in the last 12 years. In all four of the classes, the Avalanche couldn’t even get an NHLer out of their first-round pick.
It’s hard to build a team that way.
When Patrick Roy said they needed to rebuild the Avalanche from the ground up, he wasn’t kidding. More recent drafts have shown improvement – with two first-round picks already playing in over 200 NHL games and defenseman Cale Makar on the verge of becoming a legend. Time will tell if the organization has truly remade their infrastructure. But one thing is assured – it’s hard to ice a competitive team in the salary cap era without good drafting.
Hopefully, the Avalanche learned their lesson.
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