DENVER -- After striking gold with its first two selections in last year's NHL Entry Draft, what can the Colorado Avalanche possibly do for an encore?
"That's a good question," Rick Pracey, Colorado's director of amateur scouting, said with a smile.
The Avalanche plucked 18-year-old centers Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly with the No. 3 and No. 33 picks, respectively, at the Bell Centre in Montreal in 2009, and both youngsters played pivotal roles in the team's 29-point improvement in the standings.
"We're obviously very pleased with the way things worked out last year, but it's important to keep in mind that to have two 18-year-olds play in the National Hockey League certainly isn't the norm," Pracey said. "We have to remind ourselves that this is a process; it's usually a two-year to four-year, five-year plan that prospects go through."
Barring a trade, the Avalanche will choose 17th in Friday's opening round at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
"Our position certainly has changed, so there's a challenge there," Pracey said.
The Avalanche also own selections in the second round (No. 47), third round (No. 77) and fourth round (No. 107). Colorado has two fifth-round picks (No. 137 and No. 139) and one pick in the seventh round (No. 197).
While team needs and traits like character are important criteria for Avalanche scouts, ability is priority No. 1.
"If we're looking at it as a two- to five-year process, the needs of the organization today certainly could look dramatically different a couple years down the road," Pracey said. "We're always looking for talent at every position. We're always looking for the best player available. It's important for us not to stray from our list. The list is predicated on coming up with the traits that we feel are important, and it's based on ability.
"There's always that lure in trying to address a team's need. In some cases it does come into effect, but those are more in discussions with (general manager) Greg (Sherman) and our management group. We're looking at observing things from an ability standpoint. Looking at our depth charts, we know where our strengths lie and where some needs are. But at the same time, we need to get assets and talent into the organization and go from there."
Of the 23 players the Avalanche has drafted in the past three years, nine were defensemen and five were goalies, so the staff could be leaning to stock up on forwards this weekend.
Speedy Emerson Etem, who had 37 goals for the Medicine Hat Tigers in the WHL, would be a solid pick if he's available. Other forwards might include Nick Bjugstad, who will attend the University of Minnesota in the fall, and Russia's Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Derek Forbort and Jonathan Merrill, defensemen from the U.S. Under-18 program, are intriguing candidates, but the Avalanche has signed their first two picks from 2007 -- Boston University defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Colby Cohen -- and they are expected to compete for NHL jobs this year or next.
Pracey said the Avalanche managed to select four players last year from its list of top 30 prospects; defensemen Stefan Elliott (No. 49) and Tyson Barrie (No. 64) were on his list, along with Duchene and O'Reilly.
"The realistic goal this year is to try and hit on three players in our top 50 and go from there," Pracey said.
Pracey acknowledged there is some pressure to make good with a first-round pick, though it's rare to nab a player like Duchene that can make an immediate impact.
"In a lot of cases, you're evaluated on what you do with your first pick," he said. "Whether that's fair or not, that's part of the business and we accept that challenge. Being in that 10 to 20 (selection) range, there's a dynamic there that's a dangerous component. I think there are a lot of mistakes that are made in that range.
"It is important to step back and look at the big picture, but there is that pressure. I think it's more important that there is pressure for us to find a (talented) player (for the future) than that he plays next year. If we come to training camp and our player makes it, that's great. Anything is possible, as last year proved.
"We think we're going to get a good hockey player; which one we don't know."