Hockey returns Dec. 25 and four Avalanche prospects could play big roles

The NHL isn’t tentatively scheduled to begin next season until Jan. 1 or beyond, and despite the NBA’s plans to start its 2020-21 season Dec. 22, I’m betting the world’s top professional hockey league will delay its start because of affordability.

The NBA, which has $2.66 billion in annual television revenue, can afford to play without fans in the stands. The NHL, with just $200 million in annual TV revenue, cannot. The NHL needs the money from ticket sales, sponsorship, and concessions to put on its show, so I suspect a Feb. 1 start date is more realistic.

However, hockey at a very high level will be available before 2021 arrives. And from a Colorado perspective, the Avalanche could have four top prospects compete for North America’s two teams at the World Junior Championship.

The under-20 WJC begin Christmas Day at Rexall Place in Edmonton, where the NHL recently delivered a coronavirus-free playoff bubble and awarded the Stanley Cup to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Avs, Game 7 losers to the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference semifinals, will have big development interest in what unfolds at Rexall Place.

In an example of how well they have drafted lately, the Avs’ top four picks from 2019 and 2020 have been invited to U.S. or Canadian training camps and could make the final 25-man rosters. Defensemen Bo Byram and Justin Barron and forward Alex Newhook are headed to Red Deer, Alberta, for the beginning of Canada’s camp Monday, while defenseman Drew Helleson participated in the U.S. camp last month in Plymouth, Mich.

The Avs chose Byram, Newhook and Helleson with the fourth, 16th and 47th picks of the 2019 draft, respectively, and Barron went 25th overall last month. Byram is a returning member for the defending gold-medal-winning Canadians, who made Newhook a late cut a year ago.

The Hockey News ranked Byram and Newhook first and 13th among NHL prospects to have not made their NHL debuts. They both might do so with the Avs next season.

“I knew him decently well before we were both drafted there,” Newhook said of Byram. “After that, we’ve started to talk a lot more and we got a lot closer last year at this camp. He’s a great guy and a great player. I’m lucky to have a guy like that in a similar situation in terms of development.”

Helleson and Barron, very similar-style defensemen, both have international experience but are newcomers to the WJC. Barron turns 19 on Sunday. The three other Avalanche draftees are 19.

Connections. Newhook and Helleson are sophomore teammates at Boston College. Byram and Barron play major-junior — Byram for the Western League’s Vancouver Giants and Barron for the Halifix Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Newhook will likely follow the Avs’ Tyson Jost (2017, North Dakota) and Cale Makar (2018, Massachusetts) as Avalanche draft picks to play for Canada at the WJC as collegians before signing with Colorado.

Team Canada invited 46 players to its WJC training camp, and 42 of them play major-junior. Michigan declined to release defenseman Owen Power for the camp.

“There’s not many guys who pursue the college level when the opportunities of major junior are there at a younger age. But it’s cool to see those guys — Jost, Makar — that are with the Avs from similar paths than me,” Newhook said. “It’s exciting to look up to those guys, for sure.”

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