Story by Elizabeth Severy
Codey Burki has been on a tear. The 18-year-old Manitoba native has scored at least one point in 14 of 17 games with the Western Hockey League's Brandon Wheat Kings after spending two weeks in Colorado during training camp in September.
Burki attended both the Avalanche's rookie camp and training camp in September and soaked up knowledge from the likes of Joel Quenneville, Joe Sakic and Milan Hejduk. Burki didn't make the opening night roster, but he learned what he needs to improve to play in the National Hockey League.
"I saw what it takes to be a pro," Burki said. "That's what I took with me to the Western League."
The play at training camp was "a lot harder than it is here (in Brandon)," Burki said. "Training camp really helped in coming here to the Western league where the pace is a little bit slower."
He returned to the Wheat Kings confident and ready to do what he does best - in his own words, "making plays and putting pucks in the net."
With 13 goals and 12 assists for 25 points in 17 games, Burki is a point behind teammate Mark Derlago for the team lead and ranks third in WHL scoring. Derlago is the first to admit that Burki is the team's number one man and most explosive scorer.
"He's the top guy, a great scorer, and he's taken on a leadership role," Derlago said. "He's a flashy-type player, good with the puck and likes to make a pretty play."
Burki, the Avs' second round selection (59th overall) in the 2006 Entry Draft, has been with the Wheat Kings for four years, starting as a 16-year-old. He led Brandon in scoring last season with 61 points in 70 games.
"He's become more consistent, more dedicated, bigger and stronger," said Brandon Assistant Coach Brad Wells.
The 6'0", 190-pound Burki has worked hard to become one of Canada's top young prospects and his dedication is paying off.
He scored the game-winning goal and added an assist for Team Orr at the 2006 Canadian Hockey League's Top Prospect Game in Ottawa, earning him top player honors. Burki also participated in Canada's National Junior Development Camp last summer.
Burki was recently selected to represent Team WHL in the annual Canada Russia Challenge, which pits Canada's top juniors against a Russian junior all-star team. The event will be held Nov. 29-30 in British Columbia.
Burki's success has been partly due to his willingness to acknowledge his faults.
"He knows what he's got to work on - competing every night on a consistent basis," Wells said.
Burki has had a solid start to the 2006-07 season. He collected multiple-point efforts in six games, including a four-point night (one goal, three assists) on Oct. 20. His nine power-play goals rank second in the WHL.
"We always knew he was an offensive player," Wells said. "His skill level is top end."
The new rules enforced in both the NHL and WHL stand to add to Burki's strengths, but he says that everything can be improved in his game. He will focus on bolstering his defensive play.
"The new rules will enhance his game, specifically in the offensive area," Wells said. "It is harder now to defend in your own end. With his ability to skate - he's big and strong - he'll be able to be strong defensively."
Burki hopes his offensive skill and defensive improvement will land him in the NHL one day. If his early season success is any indication, that day may not be far off.