In the third instalment of an offseason series, Mile High Sticking takes a deep dive into the 25-year history of the Avalanche, and celebrates the most obscure, brief, and forgotten players. In this special draft edition, we remember not one, not two, but the three times the Avalanche picked 25th overall in the NHL draft.
The NHL draft is this Tuesday, and the Colorado Avalanche, having finished 2nd in the West, have the 25th overall pick. It’s a pretty unorthodox draft, one that includes sending all the potential first round picks all the teams’ caps.
What better way to honour the Avs and their 25th overall pick, by remembering the last three times the Avs have had the 25th picks? With an instalment of Obscure Avs Series? Say, a crossover episode.
The Colorado Avalanche have picked 25th overall three times since their move to Denver. As the late 90s were, the Avalanche usually finished at the top of the NHL, meaning they got the bottom of the first round. But late first round picks usually come around right? Right?
Why They Were Drafted
This section gets a special name, instead of the usual “How He Got Here.” We know how they got here. Silly reader.
In 1995 the Avs were fresh from Quebec. So fresh, they didn’t even have a name (they did, but that’s another story). With Stephane Fiset a dependable, but not star-quality, goalie, and Jocelyn Thibault a few years from developing, Marc Denis was a safe bet. Wearing a generic NHL jersey, Denis’s parents clap. The play by play guy is quick to note Bill Ranford is rumoured to end up on the new Colorado team, possibly in exchange for Thibault. Things, uh, didn’t exactly end up like that.
A year later, the Avalanche had a name, a Stanley Cup, and a tougher way for Denis to break into the league. The Avs had the second last pick of the first round, and took Peter Ratchuk, an American defenseman who got 50 points in 32 games at Shattuck St. Mary’s. Offensive defensemen are good.
In 1999, the Avs were headed into what was supposed to be one of the deepest talent pools in a draft. Everyone else had picked a European forward, why not the Avs? Left winger Mikhail Kuleshov was the answer, a goal scorer, who in years would develop alongside prospects like Chris Drury and Milan Hejduk.
So how did they all turn out?
Marc Denis broke into the NHL in 1996-97, playing one game in his final junior season with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens of the QMJHL. Denis played for a few years with the AHL Hershey Bears, putting up .899 and.914 seasons respectively. It just happened that Patrick Roy was the starting goaltender, and Denis would have to take the shotgun role formerly occupied by Stephane Fiset and Craig Billington. Finally playing a full season in 1999-00, Denis played 23 games, a 9-8-3 record with a .917 save percentage and three shutouts. Being the young student to fellow Quebecois Roy, he was in a position any netminder thrived to be.
Along came the 2000 Expansion Draft, and the Avalanche, who also had some guy named David Aebischer in their system, and who had done some wheeling and dealing that meant leaving Rick Tabaracci as the experienced goalie to expose. The Avs, wanting to entice the Columbus Blue Jackets to not take any of their other players, dealt Denis for their 2nd round pick. The Jackets took Tabaracci first in the Expansion Draft.
Peter Ratchuk, unlike all of the players in this series, never played for the Avalanche. As a result, there’s no stint to speak of. Whoops.
Mikhail Kuleshov, however, was luckier. After four years in the minors, Kuleshov made the jump after injuries to the Avs’ stacked roster. Playing three games in February 2004, Kuleshov would amount to zero points and a -1.
Did It Work?
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It did not.
Although Denis would have the best career, by far, of the three — and albeit, a similar career to the goalie the Avs chose over him, David Aebischer — being stuck in a logjam that included possibly the best goalie to play the position made a future with the Avs very, very hard. Denis would play in tandem with Ron Tugnutt his first few seasons in Columbus, eventually taking over the starter position in 2002. He would hold the fort for the struggling team, before being shipped to the Tampa Bay Lightning, never matching the heights he reached in Columbus. After being waved, and then bought out, he played in the Montreal Canadiens system for a year before retiring.
The pick the Avalanche got for Denis was swapped in the Sandis Ozolinsh trade, and although it got them defender and current assistant coach Nolan Pratt, none of the picks (Vaclav Nedorost, Jared Aulin and Agris Saviels) amounted to anything.
Ratchuk finally broke into the NHL with the Florida Panthers, where he played parts of two seasons, before leaving North America for Germany. Over a round after the Avalanche picked Ratchuk, the New York Islanders picked their own offensive defenseman who turned out pretty good. You might have heard of him.
Kuleshov went back to Russia for the lockout, playing a season before retiring. The 1999 draft ended up being remembered as the worst draft, and none of the European players drafted supposed to take the NHL by storm ended up panning out, except for the Sedin twins, Martin Havlat, and some Henrik Zetterberg guy in the seventh round.
The lesson? Late first round picks are a crapshoot. Of the players available when the Avalanche step up to pick 25th, including scorer Noel Gunler, and defensemen Braden Schneider and Ryan O’Rourke, any one of them can develop. And any one of them can become the basis for the next “25th overall pick” article in 2040. Let’s hope they’re the only one.
Since we’re on the topic of players the Avs passed on, let’s mention four rounds after Denis, Miikka Kiprusoff was picked up by the San Jose Sharks, Tomas Kaberle and Sami Salo (and the aforementioned Chara) were drafted rounds after Ratchuk, and Martin Havlat was literally picked right after Kuleshov. There, feel better?
Note: Credit to DoofiestDoofz on r/ColoradoAvalanche for the idea, sort of.