Avalanche’s stellar World Junior prospect pool to settle on Denver, Boston after tournament
The Avalanche’s four high-profile, 19-year-old participants at the World Junior Championship are bound for Denver or Boston when the United States and Canada win a medal or are eliminated at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
Canada co-captain Bo Byram and teammate Justin Barron might travel directly to Denver before or after the gold-medal game on Jan. 5. The two defensemen — selected by the Avs in the first round of the 2019 and 2020 NHL drafts, respectively — went the major-junior route and have the ability to join the Avalanche’s training camp without losing their junior eligibility.
Colorado’s training camp begins Sunday, and although the roster has yet to be released, Byram and Barron likely will be among the 36 skaters participating if they remain healthy. They both have nowhere else to play, as their junior teams in the Western Hockey League (Vancouver Giants, Byram) and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (Halifax Mooseheads, Barron) are paused because of COVID-19.
The QMJHL is tentatively scheduled to resume its season Jan. 22, and Barron almost certainly will return to Halifax after getting his first look at an NHL training camp. The WHL is paused indefinitely, which further suggests Byram will remain with the Avs beyond the Jan. 13 opener — at least on the four-to-six player taxi squad.
Before the WHL suspended its season or an NHL taxi squad was announced, many believed Byram had a decent chance to become an Avalanche regular, or at least the seventh defenseman and first one to step in for an injured player. Byram, who signed his three-year entry-level contract on July 19, 2019, but has yet to make his NHL debut, was in the playoff bubble in Edmonton with the Avs. He can play up to six NHL games this coming season before he begins to burn the first year of his contract; the limit is nine games in a normal season.
Team Canada forward Alex Newhook and U.S. defenseman Drew Helleson are in a far different situation. They will be Boston-bound, rejoining their Boston College teammates before the Eagles return from Christmas break for a two-game series against Northeastern Jan. 8-9.
Newhook was an Avalanche 2019 first-round draft pick, going 16th overall — 12 spots behind Byram. And Helleson was taken by the Avs midway through the second round (47th overall) in 2019.
Newhook and Helleson cannot attend the Avs’ training camp if they want to keep their NCAA eligibility. And because of unavailable Avalanche roster spots and the uncertainly of the American Hockey League’s status, there is probably no chance they’ll forgo their NCAA eligibility anytime soon.
As a foursome in order, Byram, Newhook, Barron and Helleson represent the Avalanche’s top selections from the 2019 and 2020 drafts; the Avs did not have a second-round pick in 2020.
Byram is on Canada’s first pairing and quarterbacks the No. 1 power play. Newhook is a second-line center who plays on Canada’s No. 2 power play. Barron is a third-pairing shutdown defenseman — much like Helleson is for the Americans, although Helleson played with U.S. minutes leader Jake Sanderson in Tuesday’s 7-0 route over the Czech Republic.
The group is primarily why The Hockey News ranked the Avs with the NHL’s best prospects pool. And Colorado is the only team with three WJC prospects for Team Canada, the defending gold medal champion and perennial power.