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Elliott To Provide Defensive Depth

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

Call it an early birthday gift for Stefan Elliott.

One day before turning 24 years old, the defenseman was back in the NHL, practicing with the Colorado Avalanche at Family Sports Center on Thursday in preparation for the team's home contest the next night against the Nashville Predators.

"Nice little birthday present for me to be up here. It's kind of cool," said Elliott following the hour-long session on the ice.

The Avalanche recalled Elliott late Wednesday night as a reinforcement for the team's blue line while Erik Johnson is out three to eight weeks with a knee injury, and as a reward for his solid season with the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League.

Prior to the call-up, Colorado only had six active defensemen on its roster, which can be risky on game days. If something happens during morning skate or right before puck drop that forces a D-man to be a last-minute scratch, there might not be enough time to get a player in from Lake Erie by the start of the game. Elliott's call-up helps alleviate some of that stress.

Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said he isn't planning on using Elliott against the Predators on Friday but did say the offensive-minded rear guard will play while with the NHL club.

"[Lake Erie head coach Dean Chynoweth] is very happy with him. We are very happy as an organization," Roy said. "We like his attitude. He will play."

Elliott is no stranger to the Avalanche roster. Selected 49th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft by Colorado, the Vancouver, British Columbia native has appeared in games in each of the last three seasons and has recorded six goals and 12 assists in 58 NHL contests. His last game with the Avs was the regular-season finale last year against the Anaheim Ducks, where he scored a goal.

While he's been up and down from the NHL and AHL since turning pro in 2011, Elliott feels he's playing some of his best hockey right now.

"For me personally, I think I am the best version of myself that I have been throughout my career," Elliott said. "I'm confident in my abilities. I just know that I've improved. I'm a better player than I have been in the past. Seeing how I have played in the past, there is no reason why I can't play better than that now."

His offensive numbers back him up.

Elliott has had a dominant season in the AHL, leading all Lake Erie players with 12 goals while ranking second on the team in points (22) after 40 games.

His solid start to the season also helped him earn a spot at the AHL All-Star Classic in Utica, N.Y., earlier this week. He took part in the accuracy shooting competition (went 4-for-8) and the breakaway relay in the skills competition on Sunday night before helping the Western Conference to a 14-12 win over the Eastern Conference in the all-star game on Monday.

"It was a great experience. Any time you can be named as one of the top players in the league is great," Elliott said. "It was great to represent the Monsters. They have great guys there, and it was just a good time."

Getting adjusted to the Avalanche way shouldn't be too difficult for Elliott as Colorado and Lake Erie employ many of the same playing systems. Having the Avs and the Monsters play similar styles was something that Roy wanted in the organization when he was hired prior to last season.

"Whenever Colorado makes adjustments up here, they are pretty good down there the next day, talking to us and making the adjustments, with guys coming up and down or talking to guys up here," Elliott said. "When they change something, we're trying to do the same thing down there."

Due to the all-star game and the AHL's current midseason break, Elliott hadn't had a real team practice since late last week so he relished the opportunity to get his on-ice feeling back on Thursday.

"It was a good practice, quite a bit of skating out there," said Elliott. "That was my first real practice in four days. It was nice to get out there and feel the puck at the start. Any time coming off of four days of not touching the puck too much, the first couple of times back is a little different, but I felt more comfortable as the practice went on."

Having a few familiar teammates on the ice also helped Elliott ease back to the quicker NHL game. He was selected in the same draft as current Avalanche players Tyson Barrie, Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly.

"I've been up here before so I know a bunch of guys here," he said. "It was good to see some faces."

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