Normally it doesn’t make much sense to evaluate an NHL team’s draft one year after the fact. In a sport where draft picks are viewed as long-term projects more often than not, organizations sometimes have to wait two, three or even four years to see any dividends from a draft class at the NHL level.
After selecting 17- and 18-year old players from the high school, junior and NCAA ranks, patience is a key virtue as the prospects continue along their development curves.
But in the case of the Colorado Avalanche, it’s not too early to label the club’s 2009 draft a success.
Obtaining two quality NHL players during one draft year is typically considered a pretty decent haul. Having your first two picks crack your Opening Night roster just months after being selected is an entirely different situation.
Much has been made about the Avalanche’s two ballyhooed rookies from the 2009 Entry Draft, Matt Duchene
and Ryan O’Reilly, but last year’s draft goes deeper than the two players selected at the top.
“We’re extremely excited about the group of players we picked last year,” said Avalanche director of amateur scouting Rick Pracey.
“At the same time, as a staff we believe in order to get better we have to be our biggest critics. We find that very important because as challenging as this job is, it’s also very humbling.”
For Pracey and his staff, that means rehashing each Avalanche pick from every recent draft to figure out what worked and what didn’t. One part of that is taking into consideration how those recently selected players are developing and where their NHL potential resides. The other portion involves assessing their own work in evaluating those prospects and ordering their draft list.
Essentially, Pracey and his staff evaluate the draft process itself, as they try to decipher why some second- and third-round picks never crack the NHL, while later selections like Kyle Cumiskey (seventh round, 222nd overall in 2005), David Jones
(ninth round, 288th overall in 2003) and Brandon Yip (eighth round, 239th overall in 2004) turn into difference makers.
It amounts to an imperfect science, as every player is unique and hits his career peak at a different point in time. Still, Pracey feels it’s important to put those previous picks under a microscope in order to learn from both the successes and the mishaps.
“We talk openly about it and bring up past success and past disappointments,” said Pracey. “We try to figure out the why. We think, looking at last year’s group, it was a successful draft. Now we need to kind of mimic those thoughts and philosophies and keep going down that road.”
By now, everyone is more than familiar with Duchene and O’Reilly, the pair of centers who earned spots in the Avalanche’s lineup this past season. But beyond those two, there’s plenty of optimism that a handful of other players from last June’s draft will one day hit the ice wearing burgundy and blue sweaters.
Start by looking at the Western Hockey League, where defensemen Tyson Barrie
(third round, 64th overall) and Stefan Elliott
(second round, 49th overall) thrived during the 2009-10 season.
Barrie was named the WHL’s Defenseman of the Year after tying for the league lead among blueliners with 72 points (19g/53a) while skating for the Kelowna Rockets. Elliott, meanwhile, led all WHL rearguards in goals (26) and posted a +41 plus/minus rating for the Saskatoon Blades.
After that, the Avalanche picked up two goaltending prospects with winning pedigrees in Kieran Millan
(fifth round, 124th overall) and Brandon Maxwell (sixth round, 154th overall). Millan played his sophomore season at Boston University in 2009-10 after helping the Terriers capture the NCAA title as a freshman a year ago. Maxwell, who led Team USA to a gold medal at the 2008 Four Nations Cup and a bronze medal at the 2008 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, posted a 22-14-2-2 record with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers in 2009-10.
Add in Gus Young
, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound defenseman who spent the year at Noble and Greenough School (Mass.) and will head to Yale University next season, and you can see why the Avalanche continues to be optimistic about its 2009 draft class.
“We added some very good hockey players and very good skill to our depth chart,” said Pracey. “We’re excited about those players. I think it’s a compliment to our staff and a challenge for us going forward to stick with the plan and have our goals in mind.”
Having two young, talented players jump straight from the draft to an NHL roster is an impressive feat, and it will almost guarantee that the Avalanche’s 2009 draft will be looked upon as a success years down the line.
At the same time, the historical view on this past June’s draft could be bolstered even further if some of the other prospects selected continue along their development paths and end up making an impact for the Avalanche.