Conner Bleackley has accomplished many things already in his young hockey career. Not only was he one of the youngest captains in Canadian Hockey League when he was named the leader of the Red Deer Rebels at age 17, but he was selected 23rd overall by the Colorado Avalanche at last summer's NHL Draft.
“It was a dream come true,” Bleackley said about being drafted by his favorite team. “Joe Sakic was my favorite player, and he happened to call my name so I couldn’t write it better. Thinking back to when you’re a kid growing up and playing, it’s pretty crazy how one day you’re on the backyard rink and one day you’re here.”
Bleackley, who is mature well beyond his 19 years, is focusing his efforts on a new accomplishment—toward an opportunity to crack the Colorado roster for the first time. He is attending Avs Training Camp in Centennial to prove himself worthy of a shot at the big club.
“All I can control is what I do, and I’m going to make it as hard as possible for them to send me back,” Bleackley said following the second day of rookie camp on Tuesday.
This is the center’s second time attending training camp with the Avalanche, and he has attended the team’s last two July development camps as well. Based on the feedback he received at those previous camps, Bleackley has been putting a lot of time into making adjustments and creating new routines. That is especially the case when it comes to his skating.
“I’ve always been a faster player, but now I think it’s just being more efficient with my stride and being more upright,” he said. “Making new habits are tough to do, but I think you always have to be conscious of that.”
He added: “I’ve talked to Ollie (Avalanche director of player development David Oliver) quite a bit.”
Bleackley has remained focused on his hockey future, working on his skating and incorporating more cardio into his off-ice routine this past summer.
“I showed up [to training camp] in better shape, and I think my skating has improved quite a bit,” Bleackley said. “That’s the biggest thing to make that step to the next level, improving your skating, and that’s something I will continue to work on.”
The High River, Alberta, native has spent the past four seasons with Red Deer, skating in 204 contests and totaling 137 points (67 goals and 70 assists). His expectations for the upcoming season are high as the Rebels are set to host the CHL Memorial Cup in 2016, but he also has some short-term objectives as well.
“My goal is to get a contract in the near future,” Bleackley said. “I’m just trying to take it one day at a time.”
Bleackley has proven that he can handle responsibility, starting with his early playing days.
When asked about being a captain at such a young age, he said, “It was tough at the start. I think back to when I was 17 and some of the stuff I know now, it’s because I was named captain at that young age. With that captaincy comes created responsibility, and it’s something you thrive for as an athlete and competitor.”
With rookie and training camp stretching less than a week, he only has a few days to prove himself to the coaching staff.
Bleackley is taking care of his body and getting the rest he needs to keep his performance at its best.
“Now it’s work. It’s a job for me to try and do everything to make this club better," he said. "It’s a tremendous honor to put that sweater on, and I just want to put it on for years to come.”