Story by Callie Parmele @CallieParmele / ColoradoAvalanche.com
When the Colorado Avalanche opened the 2020 NHL Draft by selecting defenseman Justin Barron with the 25th overall pick, director of amateur scouting Alan Hepple had a feeling that this year's event would be favorable for the Avs.
Colorado drafted five players in total in 2020, selecting Barron in the first round before adding forwards Jean-Luc Foudy, Colby Ambrosio, Ryder Rolston and Nils Aman in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth rounds respectively.
"I said last night when we got Justin Barron at 25, it made me feel like today was going to be a good day for some reason. I don't know what it was. Maybe it was getting that guy at 25 and not having a second-round pick, and getting somebody that we really coveted kind of made up for not having the second-round pick," Hepple said after the draft concluded on Wednesday. "Then when Jean-Luc Foudy and Colby Ambrosio drop, it's like 'whoa, this is getting good.' Then to be able to pick Ryder Rolston and get that guy that we like--the game, we like how he plays with speed--we were very happy. And then to get the big center (Aman) that we can leave in Europe and develop, it's a win-win for everybody. For us, the Avs, and the prospect."
When Avalanche executive vice president & general manager Joe Sakic announced Barron's name on Tuesday night, he was adding a prospect to the Colorado organization that possesses a high hockey IQ, strong compete level and speed.
Barron has played with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for the past three years and led all D-men on the club in 2019-20 with 19 points (four goals, 15 assists), despite being limited to 34 games because of injury.
He was named to the league's All-Rookie Team in 2017-18 after registering two goals and 19 assists in 51 regular-season contests and three helpers in nine playoff outings. Barron followed up that strong first campaign with a better second season as he posted a career-high 41 points (nine goals, 32 assists) in 68 games. In the 2019 QMJHL postseason, he produced two goals and 11 assists in 23 outings, but Halifax fell to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in six games in the President's Cup Final.
"He's been on the scene for a long time, we had a good book on him," Hepple said of Barron. "He didn't have a great year (in 2019-20), he missed a lot of games. He is the big, skates fast, speed, move the puck, plays hard, two-way guy. Good first pass, he will be fine.
"If you told me a year ago we were going to get this guy at 25 I would have said you're crazy, there's no way because of the way he played as an underage. You know, with the injury, I leaned on [Colorado head athletic trainer] Matt Sokolowski and the doctors and they were fine with everything that went on, and they had no problem with clearing him so that's not an issue… He missed a lot of time this year, but at the same time we had a good book on him and that's what we liked."
With their first selection on Day 2 of the draft, the Avalanche chose Foudy with the No. 75 overall pick in the third round. The 18-year-old just completed his second season with the Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey League and recorded 43 points (15 goals, 28 assists) in 59 games. In his first OHL campaign in 2018-19, he paced league rookies with 41 assists in 49 contests.
In the fourth round, Colorado drafted Ambrosio with the 118th overall selection. The Welland, Ontario, native recorded 50 points (26 goals, 24 assists) in 48 games during the 2019-20 season, his second with the Tri-City Storm of the United States Hockey League. He finished the campaign tied for fifth in the league in goals and ranked second in power-play markers with 13.
Both prospects were high on the Avs list and the team was pleased to see that they were available when it was Colorado's turn on the clock.
"I think it was fairly deep, even Jean-Luc Foudy in the third and Colby Ambrosio in the fourth. Did I think we would get those guys there? No," Hepple said of the 2020 draft class. "It was fairly deep, and we are happy with all the guys. We got a lot of speed, a lot of skill, a lot of sense, so we were very happy with all the guys we got."
Looking at Foudy and Ambrosio, both skaters demonstrate the qualities that the Avalanche looks for in its players, with a focus on their pace of play.
"Jean-Luc Foudy--all about speed, speed, speed. He is great through the neutral zone with the puck, plays hard, works and it's all about his speed," said Hepple. "He has got skill and the speed; he's got that calling card that will get him to the next level. We like playing fast so he's going to fit in very easily. Colby Ambrosio, the same thing, all about speed, skill. Can really shoot it, going to [Boston College] playing with (Colorado's 2019 No. 16 overall selection) Alex Newhook, it might be a good combination at school next year if they get playing together. But again, skill, sense, speed. It was very good."
Later on in Day 2, the Avs traded up to make sure they could select Rolston. Colorado sent their own fifth-rounder (No. 149) and their seventh-round selection (No. 211) to the Pittsburgh Penguins and chose the forward with the 139th overall pick.
Rolston notched 33 points (16g/17a) in 42 games for the USHL's Waterlooo Black Hawks in 2019-20 and is playing for the University of Notre Dame this season. He is the son of former NHL forward Brian Rolston, who played 50 games for the Avalanche in 1999-00.
"Yeah, we really wanted him. The one thing, he's a big kid, he skates, he works, he's hard to play against," Hepple said of the right wing. "He is a character kid up and down, kind of hard-nosed, can shoot the puck. Good bloodlines, it was the whole deal. We didn't want to lose him, so we thought the deal made sense so that's why we did it."
With their final selection, the Avs chose Swedish center Nils Aman at No. 167 overall in the sixth round. The 20-year-old is 6-foot-2 and 179 pounds and split last season between three leagues in his home country. He spent the majority of the time with Leksands IF's under-20 team in the SuperElit junior league, appearing in 30 contests and registering 47 points (14 goals, 33 assists). He also played eight professional games with Leksands' senior team in the Swedish Hockey League and six contests with Karlskrona in Allsvenskan, the country's second-tier pro league.
"He was a guy that came on late a little bit, but an older guy that we think give him two or three years over in Sweden, he's coming over as a 22, 23-year-old and he'll be fine. Big centerman, has skill, has sense, but he's a big guy. He got hurt last year going into the World Junior and didn't make the team, but from all accounts he was going to make the team. Now he is playing in the [SHL] in Leksands, it's all good on him, his development. He is older, but he's going to be fine."
Regardless of where they were selected, being drafted by Colorado completed the next step in the careers of each of these young prospects. A lot of hard work lies in front of them before they can ultimately fulfill their goals of making it to the NHL, but the Avs are excited about the potential of the newest members of the organization.