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The Draft Is The Scouts' Day

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

BUFFALO, N.Y.—The NHL Draft is the day that Colorado Avalanche director of amateur scouting Alan Hepple and the rest of the team's scouts live for. This is their Stanley Cup Final, Super Bowl and Christmas, which brings with it excitement and a bit of nerves.

"I don't know if I'll sleep all week," Hepple said earlier this week as the Avs were doing their final preparations for the league's 2016 selection showcase.

The list is done, and it won't take long for Colorado to know which player it's going to pick at No. 10 overall. The hard part for the team now is waiting for its time on the clock.

"There is more butterflies until the pick," Hepple said. "Once it's in the computer. Once Team 9, which this year is Montreal, makes that pick, we'll know who we're going to pick. The butterflies [will be gone]. When [Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic] is up there, it is more elation, like 'Yes, we're getting the player we want,' as opposed to the butterflies of making the pick because we already know who we're going to get."

Hepple isn't tipping the Avalanche's hand on which player it will choose, other than saying it will be the best available forward or defenseman they have on their list.

Picking the best skater is how the team has done business since Sakic took charge, and nothing will change tonight at First Niagara Center.

"We try to stick with the philosophy, and with Joe, we try and go with the best player, especially at 10," the Avs head scout said. "Once you pass over somebody that is better then the other guy, that better player sometimes can come back and bites you and he turns out to be a superstar. He was the best player, but you decided to take a D-man and the forward you overlooked was a superstar. With Joe, it's been the best player in the draft and that's what we're going to stick with."

Hepple did say that in the later couple of rounds on Saturday, the team may be looking to select for need, noting: "Do we need a goalie in our depth chart? Do we need more defense? We have forwards and defensemen at every position, I'll tell you that."

The Avs scouting staff has been working for years for this moment, and they know these young adults in and out. They've seen them play countless of times and have done both formal and informal interviews.

Projecting how good these kids will be in a year, or five years, or in 10 is no exact science. Every scout has hit and missed on countless prospects.

"We're drafting 17-year-old kids," Hepple said. "That's what people forget. It's a little different then the NBA or NFL. These are 17-year-old kids and a lot can change between 17 and 21."

The Avs' staff has blanketed the planet for the past year, scouting kids almost every day, surviving flight delays, blizzards, car breakdowns, botched hotel reservations and much more.

Colorado has looked at players from all the junior leagues in Canada and the United States, college, Europe and even those in high school.

  The Avalanche picked Mikko Rantanen No. 10 overall in 2015.

The team has drafted skaters out of each of these areas and will continue to do so.

"It doesn't matter to us, we'll go where the players are and we'll rank them accordingly," Hepple said. "There is no bias on what league they play in."

So back to the Avalanche's 10th overall pick. Who will be the next player to wear the club's burgundy and blue sweater?

"I can't tell you guys that," Hepple said with a laugh and smile. "I can't divulge that. I'm trying to figure out who will be going No. 9 before. We're in this waiting pattern. We have some guys in mind that we would love to get, but we'll have to wait and see."

Now, the wait is almost over.

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