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Analysis of Drew Helleson’s future in the Colorado Avalanche Organization

The 2021 Junior World Championship ended on Tuesday evening with an exciting gold medal game between Team USA and Canada, in which Team USA won 2-0. For Avalanche fans, the tournament offered four promising young talents who made it to the gold medal game for their respective country. For Team Canada, co-captains Bowen Byram, Alex Newhook and Justin Barron have all rang the maple leaf exceptionally, and on the other side of those three highly acclaimed candidates for Team USA was defenseman Drew Helleson.

As the 47th pick in the second round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Helleson is described as “a skilled defensive defender with an impressive level of competition and a really good hockey sense”. Skates well and is a decent puck handler, but distinguishes himself as a solid defender who rarely makes mistakes and can knock out the top players on the opposing team, ”said EliteProspects.com. A product of the U.S. National Team Development Program, Helleson would join Boston College with 2019-20 Avs colleague Alex Newhook upon being called up for the 2019-20 NCAA season. As a freshman, he scored 1 goal and 6 points in 28 games, while finishing +12 in the +/- category. Currently, Helleson appeared in just 4 games in his sophomore season, scoring 1 goal and 3 points before receiving the call to trial for Team USA for the 2021 World Junior Championship. Helleson made the team and showed an outstanding performance on an international level, scoring 2 goals and 4 points in 7 games and really showing his skills as a dynamic all-round defender.

While his play at the World Juniors was certainly impressive, there is no reason to expect Helleson to move into the Avs lineup anytime soon. At 19 and the deep blueline that Colorado has, Sakic has plenty of time to help Helleson develop his game even further at Boston College. However, the question that arises is if Helleson will be NHL eligible in a couple of years, then where will he fit on the Avs list?

The current Defense Corps looks like this:

Devon Toews – Cale Makar

Samuel Girard – Erik Johnson

Ryan Graves – Ian Cole

Conor Timmins

Bowen Byram

Dennis Gilbert

With the immense talent the Avs have in defense and more help along the way, it will be very difficult for Helleson to establish himself in the Avs lineup for at least the next three seasons. A realistic assumption about the state of the defense is that Ian Cole will be replaced by Bowen Byram this season and the Avs will not sign him again after this season. The next sacrifice for younger, cheaper options that could open Timmins to a full-time position would be Ryan Graves. Defense depth is crucial here, as the Seattle Kraken expansion design will take place after this season. It can be assumed that if Graves’ metrics stayed solid, he would be the most likely candidate for the Kraken selected from the Avs roster. This would open the door to a permanent place for Timmins, who would send the Avalanche with a defensive corps in that direction into the 2021-22 season, provided the Avs don’t sign defenders:

Toews – Makar

Byram – Johnson

Girard – Timmins

Gilbert

Burroughs

By this point, Helleson should start his junior season at Boston College, and the other notable defensive candidate, Justin Barron, is likely to make the leap to the AHL. For additional defenders Dennis Gilbert and Kyle Burroughs, this will be the year they step in for injured players. Gilbert gives the squad courage and physicality and will protect the stars, while Burroughs offers more of the same game, just with a slightly more offensive advantage. This season will come and go, and apart from trades, no changes will be made in the off-season.

Next up is the 2022/23 season. This season should have the same defensive core as last season, but once this season closes a new face will step in to replace Erik Johnson who has spent nearly 13 full seasons in Burgundy and Blue. Assuming Sakic is following the same strategy of staying young, 35-year-old Erik Johnson would be expected to come to an end as a member of the Avalanche. This frees up a seat on the right, but Sakic also has to decide: which right-handed person will get the free seat, Drew Helleson or Justin Barron?

This question cannot be answered anytime soon, and it will likely come down to which player Sakic feels he has developed into the better NHL player. If Helleson hits the Avs in 2023, Barron could be the subject of a trade or a potential replacement for Devon Toews when his four-year deal ends. It’s hard to pinpoint the future of these guys when the depth of their position is stacked for years to come. This is all speculation at the moment. The great thing about all the depth on the blueline is that neither Helleson nor Barron get pushed into the NHL. Both will be able to complete their junior careers and at 22 years of age a decision can be made about their future in Denver.

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