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Colorado Adds Talent at Every Position

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
The big news coming out of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft – as far as Avalanche fans were concerned anyway – was the selection of Brampton Battalion forward Matt Duchene with the No. 3 overall pick. While a team’s future is often decided at the draft, many important choices are made well beyond the first round. Adding depth to your organization starts at the top of the draft, but moves down all the way through the seventh round. That being said, when the Avalanche’s draft team departed from the Bell Centre in Montreal this weekend, they were quite pleased with how the weekend panned out.

“I think it went great,” said Avalanche Director of Amateur Scouting Rick Pracey. “We were ecstatic to bring in Matt Duchene, and were very pleased with how the rest of the draft shook out.”

Helping Up Front
Heading into this year’s draft, the Avalanche had made 11 second round selections at the past four drafts. That trend continued, as Colorado owned a pair of second round picks in the 2009 draft.

With the club’s first pick in the second round, the Avalanche continued to bolster its organizational forward depth by picking up Erie (OHL) forward Ryan O’Reilly with the 33rd overall pick.

“In our minds, we had valued Ryan as a first round pick,” noted Pracey.

So when the versatile forward dropped to the Avalanche in the second round, the team pounced. O’Reilly, who served as an assistant captain for the Otters last season, notched 66 points (16g/50a) in 68 games during the 2008-09 campaign. But stats only tell part of the story with O’Reilly.

The Clinton, Ontario native is known as a player who is very responsible in his own end and owns an incredible work ethic. He also has impressive strength, as his 18 reps at 150 pounds on the bench press tied for the most among the 94 players tested at the NHL Scouting Combine.

Opposing coaches were obviously impressed by his game too, as he finished in the top three in a trio of categories when voting was conducted for the 2009 OHL Western Conference Coaches Poll. O’Reilly was voted as the conference’s “Best Penalty Killer,” finished second in the “Best on Faceoffs” category and tied for third place with No. 1 overall selection John Tavares in the “Best Playmaker” voting.

In addition, he has the type of athletic bloodlines many NHL teams crave. His older brother, Cal, was a fifth round pick of the Nashville Predators in 2005 and enjoyed an 11-game NHL stint in 2008-09. His sister, Tara, is the captain of the Carleton University women’s hockey team.

Defensive Minded
Next, the Avalanche turned to the defensive end of the ice by picking up Saskatoon blueliner Stefan Elliott with its other second round selection, the 49th overall choice.

One thing that made Elliott stand out to Colorado’s brass was his power-play proficiency. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound defenseman totaled 55 points (16g/39a) in 71 games last season, with nearly half of those points (8g/18a) coming on the man-advantage. He is also very responsible in his own end, posting a +20 plus/minus rating.

“He’s an offensive defenseman who can skate, process the game and make plays,” said Pracey. “He’s very capable of running a power at the junior level, and we think he can translate those skills to the next level.”

The club added a second defenseman in the third round, snagging Tyson Barrie with the 64th overall selection. Playing for the Kelowna Rockets, Barrie led all team defenseman and finished fourth overall on the club with 52 points (12g/40a) in 2008-09.

“Tyson is an instinctive hockey player,” noted Pracey. “He has the ability to carry the puck up ice, navigate his way through zones and make things happen from the back end. He was another player that fit the criteria of acquiring skill on the back end.”

Filling Up the Goal
Next, Pracey and the Avalanche’s draft contingent went to the net, selecting a pair of goalies with big-game experience.

First, with the 124th overall pick, the Avs tabbed Boston University goaltender Kieran Millan. The netminder led the Terriers to the 2009 NCAA national championship after posting a 29-2-3 record a season ago.

Pracey noted that Millan’s progress was thoroughly covered by the Avalanche throughout the season. Colorado’s professional, developmental and amateur staff kept close tabs on Boston University’s squad, since Avalanche prospects Kevin Shattenkirk, Colby Cohen and Brandon Yip also played there last season. Also, new Lake Erie Monsters head coach David Quinn spent the past five seasons as associate head coach of the Terriers.

“That was one pick in particular that was a nice, shared involvement from everyone at every level in the organization,” added Pracey. “He has a national championship on his resume, which was very attractive to us. He showed the ability to withstand pressure in big-time games weekend after weekend in a really tough league.”

The Avalanche picked up goaltender Brandon Maxwell in the sixth round (154th overall)
The Avs added a second goaltending prospect in the sixth round (154th overall) with the selection of Brandon Maxwell.

“Maxwell is a pick we’re all excited about,” said Pracey. “He was a sixth round pick, but we all had him valued higher than that. We really are attracted to his competitiveness and his skill level. He’s quick, he reads and reacts to the play and he’s a player we were very pleased was still available.”

Maxwell spent the past two seasons playing within the U.S. National Team Development Program. The netminder, who will play for the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers next year, will attend USA Hockey’s National Junior Evaluation Camp later this summer in hopes of gaining a roster spot on Team USA’s entry in the 2010 World Juniors.

Maxwell already has big-game experience on his resume, having backstopped Team USA to a bronze medal at the 2008 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.

One Last Move
Finally, the Avs wrapped up their day at the draft much like they did one year ago. In 2008, the club tabbed forward Nathan Condon from Wausau (Wis.) West High School with their final pick in the seventh round.

Colorado went the high school route again this year, picking Gus Young, a defenseman from Noble and Greenough School in Massachusetts.

Late in the draft, teams focus on finding “hidden gems” and often select players they know will need extra time and development to fully reach their potential. Young’s plans for next season are uncertain at the moment, but Pracey said the blueliner will likely take advantage of another development year before heading to Yale University, where he has a scholarship waiting.

“His size was attractive to us,” commented Pracey. “His development may be on a bit of a longer course. There’s still a decision as to whether he plays another year at Noble or heads to the USHL. Regardless, Gus is a guy that we’re very happy with too.”

When making decisions at the NHL Draft, the strategy ultimately boils down to picking the best hockey player, regardless of where they are playing, what position they occupy or when they might one day reach the National Hockey League.

“I think the philosophy is always taking the best player available,” said Pracey. “I think you run a danger if you’re only trying to address needs or pinpoint certain areas. As we all know, a strength today is something that could be an area that needs to be improved upon two years from now.”

Author: Craig Stancher

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