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Sakic, Roy Preview 2015 Draft and Free Agency

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

While the temperature outside might not necessarily be an indicator, it is starting to feel a lot like the new hockey season is just around the corner.

In the next two weeks, all 30 NHL teams will gather in Florida to select their future at the 2015 draft before heading into their respective war rooms to sign free agent players that could have a more immediate impact when the 2015-16 campaign begins in a few short months.

The Colorado Avalanche will look to fill holes in its present and future lineup at both events, and executive vice president/general manager Joe Sakic and head coach/vice president of hockey operations Patrick Roy gave some hints on what the club might do during a conference call with the media on Thursday.

When the NHL Draft gets underway at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida on June 26, the Avalanche will hold six picks, including No. 10 overall. The first round will take place Friday while rounds two through seven will be conducted on Saturday.

 The Avalanche selected Nathan MacKinnon No. 1 overall at the 2013 NHL Draft.

Sakic said the team's strategy for the opening round will remain unchanged as in previous years; it will select the best player available.

"We feel at No. 10 we're going to get a real good hockey player," Sakic said. "We've got our list. We've had our meetings. We're confident. Not going to say you can't go wrong, but we're confident that we're going to get a real good player that will have an opportunity to help us, either next year or down the line."

That strategy will shift on Saturday as Sakic said the Avs will then pick based on need.

This year's draft is considered one of the deepest in talent in recent years, but it's not just at the top. It appears NHL Central Scouting's top two players in its final rankings, forwards Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, seem all but locked to go first and second overall, but several players that will be picked afterward have the potential to contribute right away in the NHL. Other prospects in later rounds can be steals as well.

"We know there are some good 'D' that are going to be up top," Sakic said of the 2015 draft class' depth. "There are also a lot of real good forwards. It is a deep draft, especially the top 12-13. Then you get down to the second, third, fourth rounds, there seems to be a pretty good grouping down there as well."

Alan Hepple will be in charge of his first draft after being recently promoted to director of amateur scouting following years as the Avalanche's assistant director.

Hepple, along with Sakic, Roy and other club scouts and executives have compiled the Avs' final prospect rankings for the draft, but it is hard to predict which players will be available when the team chooses. Colorado is picking 10th in every round except the fifth (the team traded that pick to Montreal last summer).

Another unpredictable facet on draft day are possible trades that could move the Avalanche forward or back in the overall selection, including in the first round.

"We wouldn't rule anything out. Obviously when we get to the draft, a lot of things happen, a lot of different opportunities," Sakic said. "If any opportunity comes, whether you go up or down, we'll have to look at it, for sure. But if we stay at 10, we're content at 10."

Four days after the draft closes, the 2015 free agency window opens with clubs able to sign players beginning at 10 a.m. MT on Wednesday, July 1.

That is also the time when teams can sign current players who are in the last year of their contracts to extensions, and Sakic has held his stance on doing just that with Avalanche forward Ryan O'Reilly.

Last March, Sakic said the club was looking to sign O'Reilly long term, and he reiterated that message during Thursday's conference call.

"I've had early conversations with Pat [Morris] and Mark [Guy], his representatives," Sakic said of a new contract for O'Reilly. "We know where they are at. Like I said, we would like to have him signed by the start of the season hopefully. But right now is a time where we are focused on the draft and free agency and see how we can improve our team.

"I like Ryan a lot. He is a very valuable player. He is part of our core. My first priority would be to sign him. Obviously, we'll see where it all goes."

With O'Reilly set to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2015-16 campaign, Sakic also repeated his statement from March that he doesn’t want contract negotiations to go on during the upcoming season.

"As I've said, I would prefer him not playing it out," Sakic stated. "I think distractions alone, I don't think the team needs it. I don't think he needs it. That's why it is important for us that we have something done."

On the prospective free-agent front, one spot on the depth chart that the Avalanche may be looking at improving is left-shot defensemen.

Additional support on that side of the blue line is an area Roy would like to have in his arsenal next season to complement Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie, both right-handed shooting rear guards that had career years in 2014-15.

"We would like to have somebody to play with EJ and same thing with Tyson," Roy said during the conference call. "Obviously, we have [Nick] Holden and [Brad] Stuart that are left shot, but we would like to add a defenseman to play in the top four. I think it would help our team tremendously."

There is also a possibility that the team would re-sign unrestricted free agents Daniel Briere, Jan Hejda and Ryan Wilson.

"We're going to look at all options. Our door is not closed to anything," Sakic said. "We're going to see how our team is going to shake up at that time, and we'll make decisions depending on what happens out there. I'm not going to rule out either way."

Sakic said the Avs currently have room under the salary cap to spend in the 2015 free agent market, but they will be smart on how they do it with players like Barrie, Johnson, O'Reilly and Nathan MacKinnon due for new contracts after next season.

"We have room, but we also know we have to look down the line as well," Sakic said. "We do have four guys that are going to probably have pretty healthy raises in the following year. So it is a time you have to be careful as well. Make sure that you have the right fit, and also it has to make sense financially."

As a former player himself, Sakic also realizes that players control most of the cards during free agency courting, but the team is still going to be active in attracting players to Denver.

"The thing with free agency, players pick where they want to go," Sakic said. "We have guys in mind that we would like to come on board and help us win, but like I said, ultimately it is the player's decision. We're working and names keep coming up, and we're going to see how we can best utilize that.

"It's definitely an exciting time for everybody. Stressful as well."

Other notables from the conference call:

•The Avalanche will be looking at possible contract extensions to Barrie, Johnson and MacKinnon this summer. Johnson seems to be the focus for now as he will become an unrestricted free agent after next season while Barrie and MacKinnon will still be restricted.

"I've talked with Erik Johnson's agent, Pat Brisson, so hopefully we start that process," said Sakic. "Again, that is something we can't do anything until July 1 anyways, but hopefully we can work on something with him this summer. And same with the other two (Barrie and MacKinnon), but they are restricted free agents after another year so we have their rights."

•It looks like Roy is narrowing down the list of people to fill his vacant assistant coach position for next season, but he also noted that he isn't going to rush the process.

"I have met with a few candidates," said Roy. "There is no timeframe for me to decide when it is going to happen. It is going well, and I just want to take my time and make sure that I hire the right person."

•The Avs should be able to field a healthy roster for training camp in September. Patrick Bordeleau (back and knee), Jaime McGinn (back) and Jesse Winchester (head) missed all or most of last season due to various injuries, but they are progressing well in their rehab.

"We think the three of them should be ready for training camp," said Roy. "Spoke to [head athletic trainer] Matt Sokolowski last week and right now they seem to be doing well and better, and we're confident that these three guys will be back for training camp."

Sakic also said Johnson, who missed the final 34 games with a knee injury, is 100 percent and is cleared to play.

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