Colorado GM Vince Gibbons used his significant draft capital this past weekend to nab two top prospects and plenty of quality youth.
Colorado had some significant draft capital with two picks at #17 and #18 last week and were sure to get a couple of solid prospects. But the draft seemed to fall perfectly for them enabling them to snag one of the top overage players in Victor Soderstrom and Western Canada’s own Connor Zary - two players who are surely capable of playing at the next level.
After that, the Avalanche draft group were able to select Ridly Greig, Michael Benning, Pavel Novak, and Veeti Miettinen to round out the draft. All of those players have some intriguing potential.
The Hockey News sat down with Avalanche GM Vince Gibbons’ to discuss the draft.
THN: With two first round picks, were you always thinking one defenseman and one forward?
Gibbons: Honestly we thought with all the unknowns about the draft that the Russian goalie Yaroslav Askarov might slide down a few spots to us. But once that didn’t happen we were pretty open to everything.
Our prospects package was pretty balanced with a couple of forwards and a couple of defenders we really liked. So, we could just take the two best players on our board. When Soderstrom was still there we were thrilled because that is a top-end defender that has top pairing potential. He likely plays in the AHL next year but this kid is pro ready.
That Zary was there wasn’t a surprise. A few teams have some concerns about his skating but the rest of his tool kit is very impressive. We love how he thinks the game and can generate offensive in a variety of ways. He is also a solid back-checker and skilled faceoff man.
THN: The table looked pretty animated when your second round pick was up. What happened there?
Gibbons: Honestly we had some confusion internally about who could and couldn’t be drafted so we had a couple ineligible guys on our list. Once we got that sorted out we were pleased to add the ultra-competitive and fiery forward Ridley Greig.
What we like the most about Grieg is that his most productive skills are not part of the score sheet. Sure, he is a good goal scorer with some solid playmaking ability. But what he does off the puck...the forechecking, back checking, getting in lanes and physically punishing opponents, we love those types of guys.
A recent article mentioned how our team is near the top of the league in those categories and Grieg is the type of player that ensures we will stay there.
THN: Some think you went off the board from here on. What do you have to say to that?
Gibbons: We went straight off our board so I don’t really know what you mean. We value things differently than other teams, for sure. But to say we went off the board isn’t really an honest remark.
THN: So Michael Benning was pretty high on your list then?
Gibbons: Absolutely. He is a smooth skating, feisty playmaker that can control the pace of play with the puck on his stick. Despite his small size, he is a strong player in his own zone where he can close quickly and strip the puck before he engages physically.
He has a good point shot, but what we really like is when he walks in from the blueline and he really opens up defenses and can pick them apart. Future power play quarterback like a Torrey Krug-type of guy. We are very high on what this kid can bring to us down the road.
THN: With your last two selections, you took a couple smallish European forwards. What is the thinking there?
Gibbons: Europeans typically get undervalued and you can often get mid-round talent at the back of the draft. Our European scouts know that when we get to the last couple of picks, we are happy to take big swings on kids and size is often a reason highly skilled players get overlooked.
Pavel Novak played with literally no one in Kelowna this year and still managed to exceed a point-per-game pace. He had 22 points more than the next closest forward and was the youngest player in the top 10 of Rockets' scoring. What he did with so little is a real testament to how he drives play despite his small frame. He led his team in goals by 8 and points by 9. He is exactly the type of player that you search for at this point in the draft. I expect him to explode production wise next season when the league comes back online.
Miettinen has taken an interesting path. Most Europeans move up to the men’s leagues to play against strong competition. But Miettinen did not advance with his peers. Few people had concerns about this, but when we sat down with his father over a bottle of Koskenkorva, he let us know his son wants to go to college and that he was trying to maintain his eligibility for that by torching the junior league in Finland.
His 42 goals in 52 games is a torrid pace and his 1.4 points per game is an outstanding mark. We expect his game to grow while he settles into the North American style at St. Cloud next year. At his size it will take a couple years of maturing for him to have the strength to turn pro. But he has the ability to do it so we just need to be patient.
THN: Thanks for taking the time to give us some insights into what happened on draft day, Mr. Gibbons. Good luck going into the inaugural season of BEARD Hockey.