Avalanche 2006 draft review
Written by Courtney Wagner on 07/04/2006
The Colorado Avalanche were in need of power and offense up front as well as solid blue line prospects. They fulfilled these needs with six picks in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. The Avs selected two Canadian players and four from the U.S., three of whom are U.S. national team development program prospects. Their selections included three forwards, two defensemen and one goaltender.
Chris Stewart, RW
1st Round, (18th overall), 6'1 228 lbs., Kingston (OHL)
A power forward was high on the list of needs for the Colorado Avalanche and they fulfilled that need by selecting Kingston Frontenac Chris Stewart. A Toronto native, Stewart is the younger brother to Florida Panthers prospect and World Junior gold medalist for Canada in 2005, Anthony Stewart.
The younger Stewart has come a long way in the last few years. After playing in his older brother's shadow for years, Chris quit hockey in 2003-04 to play football. But he couldn't stay away from hockey and returned to the game the following year as a walk-on with Kingston, something his brother Anthony helped him with.
"My brother got me a tryout in Kingston and everything worked out for the best," he said at the draft. "If he can get me a tryout he must have somewhat a confidence in me because he didn't want to embarrass himself. He had the confidence in me and he is my mentor and he is my best friend in life -- so I just have to thank him for that."
Labeled mediocre by some, Chris proved he was anything but. In his first season with the Frontenacs, he put up respectable numbers with 18 goals and 30 points in 64 games. He said his role on the team gradually became more important.
"I started off as a fourth-line energy guy and as I started to slim down, I lost about 10, 15 pounds, I started getting more confidence and more ice time and I started to produce."
In 2005-06, his offense improved and so did his draft stock. He was second on the team in scoring, goals, assists and penalty minutes. In 62 contests he had 37 goals, 50 assists, 87 points and 118 penalty minutes. No longer just Anthony Stewart's brother, Chris had made a name for himself. Touted for a great work ethic, good hands and size, and the willingness to play physical, Chris came into his own in 2005-06. His hard work did not go unnoticed, he was named an OHL Eastern Conference All-Star and named to Team Cherry for the 2006 CHL/NHL Top Prospects game. Being drafted in the first-round was just the icing on the cake for Chris. "I can't even explain how I feel right now. I just feel amazing and excited for camp to come in September," he says.
Another thing Chris is looking forward to is getting the shot to play alongside veteran Joe Sakic. “Oh man, it would be amazing (laughs). He is one of my idols and a Canadian idol growing up and stuff like that. He has the best shot I have ever seen, so it would be great to play with him.”
Unlike his brother, Chris had more to prove and worked hard to get drafted in the first round. This drive and display of character got him this far and should propel him to greater heights in the next few years, but he knows there is still a lot of work to be done. "You have to give yourself a pat on the back, but you just have to know how hard you have to work from now on to get in the lineup, so it's all just a stepping stone."
Nigel Williams, D
2nd Round, (51st overall), 6'4 226 lbs., (USNTDP)
Possibly one of the biggest surprises at the draft was that Nigel Williams was still available when Colorado chose him 51st overall in the second round. The defenseman, who has committed to play for the University of Wisconsin in 2006-07, was a projected first-round pick by many. His stock may have dropped due to the lack of certainty in his development as a player.
But Williams isn't concerned with how high he was selected.
“I’m not really worried about where I get drafted," he said that day. "This next couple of years I am going to prove myself, this has nothing to do with how somebody’s going to do in the NHL or anything like that. If anything, it’s driving me right now, it’s going to drive me to be a better player. When I'm in the weight room gritting my teeth I’m going to know why. First round, screw that, I am going to grit down harder, I’m going to get an extra squat in there. So I think, if anything, it’s helping me.”
Williams has good size and work ethic and possesses strong puckhandling and skating skills. If he develops into a strong two-way defenseman, the Avalanche may have gotten away with a steal. In 2004-05, Williams played for Team Illinois in the Midwest Elite Hockey League where he had 14 goals and 32 points in 60 games. In 2005-06 he played with the U.S. under-18 team and notched six goals, 15 points and 59 penalty minutes in 56 games.
Williams plans on continuing to work hard in order to reach greater heights in hockey. “I’m just going to try to get all-around better. I am going to hit the weights a lot harder; I’m just going to pretty much work as hard as I can, at everything that I can, just to be the best that I can,” he says.
With the departure of veteran blueliner Rob Blake to the Los Angeles Kings, Colorado will benefit from a prospect who can play strong in both ends and Williams could be a strong defender for the Avs in years to come, something he is excited about. "I love everything that has to do with the Avalanche, I’ve watched them since I was little ... I’m just glad to be with Colorado.”
Codey Burki, C
2nd Round, (59th overall), 6'0 190 lbs., Brandon (WHL)
Colorado picked up a second-round pick in the trade that saw Alex Tanguay go to the Calgary Flames for Jordan Leopold. With that selection the Avs picked up Codey Burki out of Brandon in the WHL.
In 2004-05 Burki played alongside solid NHL prospects and three of the top four point-getters in the WHL that season: Eric Fehr (Washington), Ryan Stone (Pittsburgh) and Tim Konsorada (Columbus). Burki became a leader for the Wheat Kings in 2005-06 with these guys gone and he excelled. He led the team in scoring and posted WHL career highs in games played (70), goals (27), assists (34), points (61), and penalty minutes (69).
His progress did not go unnoticed. His strong play garnered him an invite to the 2006 CHL/NHL Top Prospects game and he did not disappoint. He scored the game-winner for Team Orr in a 7-2 win and was named player-of-the-game for his efforts.
Burki has good skills and size, but has lacked consistency. His future is promising for the Avs and he could be a strong offensive player for the team in the future, something that will be required once Joe Sakic hangs up the skates.
Michael Carman, C
3rd Round, (81st overall), 6'0 180 lbs., (USNTDP)
Headed to the University of Minnesota this fall, Michael Carman has played the last two seasons in the U.S. national team development program.
In 2005-06 Carman finished third on the team in points with 54 in 60 games including 21 goals and a team-high 102 penalty minutes. He also netted 11 power-play markers. Carman has good hockey sense and will battle aggressively for the puck. A dependable, hard working player, he is strong in both ends and can be used in all game situations.
A reliable player who has made good progression in his hockey career thus far, Carman will continue his development in the NCAA this fall and could be a solid member of the Avalanche in a few years.
Kevin Montgomery, D
4th Round, (110th overall), 6'1 185 lbs., (USNTDP)
In the fourth round, the Avalanche selected Kevin Montgomery with a pick they received from the Edmonton Oilers. A defenseman who has played with the U.S. national team development program for the last two years, Montgomery is headed to Ohio State this fall to play for the Buckeyes. In 2005-06 with the U.S. team, he had six goals, 22 points and 76 penalty minutes in 59 games.
Solid and quick on his skates, Montgomery has strong, accurate passing skills. He makes smart decisions with the puck and is utilized on the power play. A defensive defenseman, he plays a safe game and is not afraid to step in and hit an opposing player. He will continue his development in the NCAA this fall.
Billy Sauer, G
7th Round, (201st overall), 6'2 170 lbs., University of Michigan (NCAA)
The Avalanche traded their fifth- and sixth-round picks and used the seventh-round and last selection to take goaltender Billy Sauer from the University of Michigan.
After playing with the Chicago Steel of the USHL in 2004-05, where he had 12 wins, a 3.05 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage, Sauer played his freshman collegiate season with the Wolverines. In 23 games with the team he had 11 wins, a 3.04 goals-against average, a .898 save percentage and one shutout.
Sauer has solid reflexes and a good glove hand. He has displayed strong athleticism and quickness and has shown a willingness to challenge shooters. He may be considered a steal by some, going in the seventh round, but has a lot of progression to make before he will have a shot at the next level.
Jeff Dahlia, Sean Ruck, Glen Erickson, DJ Powers and Leslie Treff contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey's Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.