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Elliott Taking On Bigger Role In Saskatoon

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
Defensive Talent In WHL

Stefan Elliott is not the only Avalanche prospect currently playing in the WHL. In fact, he’s not the only standout defensive prospect playing in the league.

In the Western Hockey League, Elliott shares the spotlight with Kelowna Rockets blueliner Tyson Barrie, (pictured above) who currently leads all defensemen in scoring with 64 points (16g/48a) in only 54 contests.

While their teams met for the first and only time of the season back on Dec. 16, the two are far from strangers.

“We’re pretty good friends,” said Elliott. “We chat a bit here and there and obviously we were together at rookie and training camp last summer.”

The two forged a friendship while skating as teammates on Team Pacific at the 2008 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and also through playing summer hockey together. That bond was further solidified after the pair was selected by the Avalanche at the 2009 Entry Draft. Barrie was tabbed by the Avalanche in the third round (64th overall), Colorado’s next pick after selecting Elliott in the second round.

“He’s a really good player,” Elliott said of Barrie. “He’s got good skills, great skating and a nice shot.”

Prospect Video:
Leading up to the 2009 Entry Draft, nearly every time Stefan Elliott’s name was mentioned it was followed by a reference to Mike Green, the puck-moving All-Star defenseman from the Washington Capitals.

Those references seemed appropriate, as both Elliott and Green are smooth-skating blueliners who have a knack for knowing when to jump into the offensive rush.

Fitting his understated personality, the Saskatoon Blades defenseman shrugs off the comparisons but does say it’s an honor to be mentioned in the same breath as Green, one of the players he tries to model his game after.

“I guess it’s kind of nice,” said Elliott. “He’s kind of an accomplished defenseman in the NHL. I just try to go out there and play my game and not worry too much about people comparing me to other players.”

Although Elliott says those comparisons have subsided a bit since he was selected in the second round (49th overall) by the Avalanche last summer, it hasn’t been due to a drop in his play. In fact, with 57 points (22g/35a) through 62 games, Elliott ranks fourth among WHL defensemen in scoring and has already topped his career-best of 55 points (16g/39a) set during the 2008-09 campaign.

Much like with Green, when people talk about Elliott they tend to focus on his offensive abilities. An active defender who thrives when joining the rush, Elliott’s 22 goals rank second among WHL backliners.

What may be more impressive is how effective he has been during five-on-five play. Only six of his goals have come on the power play, meaning 16 of his tallies have been scored at even strength - tops among league defensemen.

“I like to jump up in the rush and create offense,” said Elliott. “When the opportunity comes, you have to bear down and capitalize.”

But for all the attention his offensive play receives, Elliott feels his defensive game may be underrated. Every blueliner hopes to be considered a two-way player, but Elliott personifies that role for his Saskatoon squad. As a testament to his defensive commitment, the Vancouver native is tied for second in the league with a +36 plus/minus rating.

“I’m not going to go out there and be the most physical guy, but I think I do a good job of putting guys in positions they’re not going to be comfortable in,” said Elliott. “I try to play smart positionally and have a good stick.”

The 2009-10 season has lived up to expectations for Elliott personally and for Saskatoon on a team level. The Blades have already secured a playoff spot and presently sit atop the Eastern Conference standings with 89 points (41-14-3-4).

While Elliott says he still has improvements to make in his own game – namely being more consistent in his defensive zone and learning to play with an extra edge – he claims there is really only one goal on his mind: a WHL title.

“I think we’d be pretty disappointed in ourselves if we came up with anything short of a title,” said Elliott. “We know we have a good group of guys in the room and a group that can take it all the way.”

And on a loaded Saskatoon squad that features six players already drafted by NHL clubs and a dozen more who will be draft eligible over the next two years, that goal doesn’t seem too far-fetched for Elliott and his teammates.
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