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Siemens Looks to Show His Skill in NHL Debut

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

The Lake Erie Monsters coaching staff played a mean trick on Duncan Siemens, but it is one that the defenseman can now laugh and smile about.

Driving to the Lake Erie practice rink near Cleveland, Ohio, on Friday, Siemens was preparing to head on a bus for an eight-and-a-half hour trip to Glens Falls, N.Y., to play the Adirondack Flames this weekend when he received a text from Monsters head coach Dean Chynoweth asking him to come to the coaches office when he got to the rink.

After arriving at the facility, the 6-foot-3 blueliner was walking to see Chynoweth when he noticed his gear was still in the locker room, a sign that he wouldn't be making the trip to Upstate New York.

"I didn't quite know what to think," Siemens recalled. "I kind of assumed that I wasn't making the trip to Adirondack, but I didn't know that I was going to come here."

The coaches continued the joke a little longer with Siemens, hinting that he wasn't going to travel with the Monsters during a crucial, playoff-push part of their season before finally revealing that he was instead heading to the airport and trekking to Denver for his first NHL game.

"Obviously, when I came into the coaches office, they had a little fun with it and kind of made it a little bit like I wasn't going on the trip and then they surprised me with the news that I was going to come here," said Siemens, cracking a grin on his face. "It's a good trade (to be fooled like that). It's a trade I'm sure any player would take."

It's been nearly four full years since the Colorado Avalanche selected him at No. 11 overall in the 2011 NHL Draft, but Siemens will finally get the chance to show what he is made of tonight at Pepsi Center against the Chicago Blackhawks.

"Hey, if you're going to start, might as well start against one of the league's best," Siemens said after morning skate. "Being a Canadian kid, getting to play against an Original Six team, that is something pretty special. I'm looking forward to the challenge ahead."

Chosen nine slots behind Gabriel Landeskog (the second pick) in the first round of that year's draft, Siemens is nearly 10 months younger than the Avalanche captain and went on to spend two more seasons with the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League before playing parts of two years with Lake Erie due to injuries. Because of all that and with him having one more year left on his entry-level contract, it has been a long road for Siemens to make it to the major leagues.

Still, the big rear guard is quite aware that his performance this evening will be crucial for him as far as future call-ups and possibly a more permanent spot in the Avs lineup.

"It's a huge opportunity. Like everyone says, you can only make one first impression," Siemens said. "I think it's important that I go out there, keep my game simple, stick to my strengths, try and not do too much and be effective in the areas that I'm strong in.

"I think it is a good opportunity to make a statement. I feel that I can contribute to this organization and try and make it so they see me in the future, hopefully nearer than further."

Because of injuries, Siemens has been limited to 97 American Hockey League contests over the past two seasons. This year, he has six points and 57 penalty minutes in 51 games, while playing the traditional, shutdown-type defenseman role on the squad.

"I can't try and handle the puck too much. I need to get the puck, make the first read and make the simple play with the puck (out of the zone)," said Siemens of what he brings to the roster. "Finish all my checks and close (gaps) as quick as possible and try and be a pain out there."

He'll play a similar role tonight as he'll replace Brad Stuart in the Colorado lineup.

Stuart will miss the season finale after suffering a leg injury in the first period of Thursday's contest against the Winnipeg Jets. He did not return to the game, and the Avalanche was forced to play with only five D-men for the rest of the 1-0 shootout victory.

The Edmonton, Alberta native will be paired with another young defenseman in Tyson Barrie, who had played with him briefly last season while with the Monsters.

"We don't want him to put pressure on himself," head coach Patrick Roy said of the club's expectations of Siemens. "We just want him to be him. I want to see what he learned this year in Lake Erie. I want him to enjoy this game."

With Siemens' addition to the lineup, the Avs will make one more minor adjustment to their defensive pairings; Nick Holden, who had been playing with Stuart, will now be playing with Nate Guenin, who had been Barrie's partner for most of the season. The other duo of Jan Hejda and Zach Redmond will remain the same.

Nearly all of the other Avalanche defensemen have played in at least 100 NHL games (except for Redmond, who has 76 career contests), giving Siemens a good opportunity to lean on his fellow blueliners for advice before and during the contest against the Blackhawks.

 Duncan Siemens during preseason game on Sept. 30, 2015 at Calgary
 (Photo Credit: Gerry Thomas/Calgary Flames).

"Everybody has been there before with their first game," Guenin said. "I'm sure with all the 'D,' if he has any questions, we'll be able to help him out. We've all been there in that situation."

Siemens seems to know that he has an important job to do once the puck is dropped, but he's also going to try and enjoy the moment a bit as well.

"It's a pretty cool feeling," Siemens said of today's experience so far. "Taking a look around, knowing tonight is going to be the night that I dreamed of since I was three years old. It's all about taking it in and focusing on what I have to do."

PROJECTED LINEUP

Gabriel LandeskogRyan O'ReillyAlex Tanguay
John Mitchell
Matt DucheneJarome Iginla
Cody McLeod
Joey HishonMarc-Andre Cliche
Jordan Caron
Freddie HamiltonDaniel Briere

Nick HoldenNate Guenin
Duncan Siemens
Tyson Barrie
Jan Hejda
Zach Redmond

Semyon Varlamov
Reto Berra

MORE PREGAME NOTES

- The Avalanche/Nordiques franchise is 17-11-6 all-time in season finales, 8-6-4 since moving to Denver.

- The Avs enter the final day of the regular season tied for fifth in penalty killing at 84.6 percent. This will be the club's first top 10 ranking since 2005-06, when they finished sixth (84.6 percent). The last time the Avalanche finished among the top five PK teams was 2001-02 (second).

- Five different Avalanche players are expected to appear in all 82 games this year: Matt Duchene, Jarome Iginla, Gabriel Landeskog, Cody McLeod and Ryan O'Reilly. The last time Colorado had five players dress in all 82 games was 2006-07. For Iginla, this will be the 10th time that he's played in all 82 games. This will be the first time that either Duchene or O'Reilly have dressed in all 82 contests and the second time for Landeskog (2011-12). This is also the first time McLeod has reached 82 games, but he did play in all 48 contests during the shortened 2012-13 campaign.

- Jarome Iginla leads the Avalanche with 27 goals. Iginla, who is 37 years, 284 days, will be the oldest player in franchise history to lead the team in goals. He is nine days older than Joe Sakic was when he led the club in goals at the age of 37 years, 275 days on the final day of the 2006-07 season.

- Ryan O'Reilly entered the final day tied with Ottawa's Mark Stone for the league lead in takeaways (95). O'Reilly led the NHL in that category last season and in 2011-12. He has 26 points (seven goals and 19 assists) in his last 26 games.

- Cody McLeod leads the team with 189 penalty minutes, tying his career high set in 2010-11 (189). McLeod also leads the club with 262 hits, the most ever by an Avalanche player since the league began recording the statistic. He ranks second in the league in PIM and seventh in hits.

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