Welcome to Last Word’s Draft Boom and Bust series. As the 2020 NHL Entry Draft approaches, we decided to examine each team’s best and worst pick since the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. The biggest boom is a player that had the best value relative to where they were selected. Meaning, no one in the first round will be considered a team’s best value pick. However, the biggest bust picks will almost always be in the first round. We will examine each player, why they were picked where they were, and what their NHL career was like. Today, we look at the Colorado Avalanche draft, and their biggest boom and bust.
Colorado Avalanche Draft Boom and Bust
Biggest Boom: Paul Stastny
Paul Stastny looms large in Colorado history. Much of his family starred for the Quebec Nordiques so it was no surprise looking back that the Avs chose him in the second round of the 2005 Draft. Stastny was likely available when he was because he was playing in the WCHA. The U.S. collegiate programs were still far behind the Canadian junior leagues 15 years ago in terms of NHL perception.
Stastny was actually Colorado’s second of four picks in the second round of that draft. The others were Ryan Stoa, Tom Fritsche and Chris Durand, none of whom made an impact. Stastny stands out in a big way when you consider how things could have gone.
Stastny has been nothing short of a star in his 14 NHL season. He spent the first eight of those with Colorado where he scored 160 goals and 458 points in 538 games. He finished second in Calder Trophy voting in 2006-07 behind Evgeni Malkin but also received votes for the Lady Byng, Selke and Hart Trophies during his tenure with the Avalanche. The one thing that Stastny hasn’t done is win a Stanley Cup but has a decent chance of doing that with the Vegas Golden Knights.
Stastny is one of the best picks to come out of the 2005 Draft class. The only players with more points are future Hall of Famer Sidney Crosby and Anze Kopitar. He is easily the best player from his round and one of the most dependable players in the league today.
Ryan O’Reilly nearly takes the top spot as the biggest boom thanks to his recent Stanley Cup victory and Selke and Conn Smythe awards from 2018-19. The second-round pick from the 2009 Draft has 195 goals and 560 points in 804 games. The only reason he loses to Stastny is he came from the more prestigious Erie program in the OHL.
Tyson Barrie is also a worthy consideration as the best scoring defender in Colorado history. Barrie was selected in the third round in the same draft as O’Reilly. The current Toronto Maple Leafs defender has 80 goals and 346 points in 554 career games, most of which came as an Avalanche. He takes a hit as the biggest boom option because he has never been the strongest defensive option on the blue line.
Fans will also remember John-Michael Liles as a strong late-round boom. The fifth-round pick in in the 2000 Draft played as an Av for seven seasons. He scored 68 goals and 275 points in 523 games. He was one of the team’s best defenceman until Barrie came on the scene.
Biggest Bust: Conner Bleackley
Conner Bleackley might be the worst pick associated with Joe Sakic‘s career as general manager. He was the 23rd overall selection in the 2014 Draft from Red Deer in the WHL. The team was looking at an impact centre that season with its one first-round pick and no seconds but it was a bad whiff. For context, Bleackley was selected just before the solid Jared McCann and all-star David Pastrnak. Colorado was clearly interested in Bleackley after he scored 29 goals and 68 points in 71 games for Red Deer in 2013-14 but that was an outlier; Bleackley’s performance declined in his next two WHL seasons.
Bleackley has not played in a single NHL game. He was only with the organization for two seasons before he was traded to the Arizona Coyotes for Mikkel Boedker. He was then drafted a second time by the St. Louis Blues but hasn’t played more than 60 games for any team since his days in the junior leagues. He is now with the Maine Mariners in the ECHL with five goals and 10 points in 15 games. It is unlikely that Bleackley ever makes the NHL at this point.
Few players stand out as busts like Bleackley, but Colorado does have its fair share of first-round misses. The Avs took centre Joey Hishon 17th overall in 2010. He only scored one goal and two points in 13 NHL games but he did reach the top level and outdo Bleackley. Jonas Johansson is another glaring miss as the 28th pick in 2002. He played in just one NHL game with two penalty minutes. The final obvious whiff is Duncan Siemens taken 11th overall in the 2011 Draft. That year produced Gabriel Landeskog but Colorado gravitated to defence for its second first-round pick. Siemens played in 20 NHL games with one goal and two points.
One interesting thing to note in Colorado’s draft history since 2000 is that they have not had a first-round pick in five of those draft classes. They traded away that pick several times in drafts held in the early 2000’s. That lowers the opportunity for first-round failures but means Colorado has had to do a better job with its later round picks like Stastny.