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Colorado's Prospects Excel Early

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
With two months of the 2009-10 season in the books for most amateur hockey leagues, Avalanche Assistant Vice President of Hockey Operations/Assistant General Manager Craig Billington is pleased with how Colorado’s grouping of prospects has been performing.

In his previous role as Director of Player Development, the former Avalanche goaltender oversaw each of the major junior, college and minor league prospects throughout the organization. Even after taking on additional duties prior to this season, Billington continues to dedicate a large chunk of his time to watching Colorado’s prospects first-hand.

So far this year, he likes what he sees.

Splitting coverage duties with Lake Erie General Manager/Director of Player Development David Oliver, Billington keeps a close eye on how the club’s prospects are developing.

“I think between David Oliver and myself, the coverage in seeing our prospects during the first couple of months has been strong,” said Billington. “A lot of them are off to good starts and are being recognized out in the field on a broad basis.”
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Four players within the Avalanche’s system (Tyson Barrie, Stefan Elliott, Cameron Gaunce and Kelsey Tessier) were recently selected to participate in the 2009 Subway Super Series, which pits teams from the Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League against a team of Russian all-stars.

Billington also points to a strong grouping of collegiate players currently skating in the Boston area. Three prospects (Colby Cohen, Kieran Millan and first-round pick Kevin Shattenkirk) play for defending NCAA champion Boston University, while another (Paul Carey) has experienced a solid start just up the road at Boston College.

“There’s a lot of positives there. You can go right from the college to the junior ranks,” said Billington. “I think it’s important to get good initial viewings on them, but also good contact points early so we’re able to help them through their amateur seasons.”

In addition to those already mentioned, plenty of other Avalanche prospects are off to solid starts. Billington rattles off names such as North Dakota’s Brad Malone, Northern Michigan’s Mark Olver, Quebec’s Peter Delmas and Jonas Holos, a defensive prospect playing in Europe.

While numbers don’t always tell the whole story, they certainly can provide supporting evidence.

Through Thursday’s games, Barrie (6g/21a) and Elliott (10g/17a) rank among the top-10 defensive scorers in the WHL, as does Gaunce (4g/18a) in the OHL. Shattenkirk (2g/10a) and Olver (10g/9a) lead their respective teams in scoring and a handful of other players, including Carey (4g/5a) and Malone (3g/8a), are on pace to shatter their career-highs in points. And those are just a few examples of how the organization’s amateur players are excelling in the early months of the season.

When asked if any of the Avalanche’s prospects have surprised him in his early viewings, Billington is more inclined to discuss the group as a whole.

“I’m kind of impressed with the broad grouping of players,” he said. “When we go through our list of prospects, there are just a lot of positives. I can’t say there’s anyone I’m really surprised with, but I’m kind of pleased with what I’ve seen so far.”

In a broad examination of Colorado’s amateur prospects, it’s safe to say the organization is pleased with the reports that are coming back from the field.

“I know it’s early. It’s only early December, but I think it’s important that those guys do get off to good starts,” said Billington. “It makes it a lot easier for them and for their amateur teams. I’m confident in the coverage we’ve had on them and the communication we’ve had with them.”
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