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Track Record

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
There are numerous factors that go into the NHL Draft process for amateur scouts, many of which go far beyond simply calculating how talented a player appears to be.

Scouts have to take into consideration the strength of each league and manage their ability to properly cover the junior and international ranks. They must juggle those tasks while also putting themselves through a self-evaluation process to make sure they are on the proper path for evaluating potential picks.

While it’s too early to tell exactly how each pick from Colorado’s recent drafts will turn out – the exact returns often don’t come until years down the road after the prospects have had the chance to grow into their games and continue along their developmental curves – the Avalanche has been pleased with the success rate of its past few drafts.

“Certainly we’re pleased with our picks, the signing ratio we have and the development,” said Rick Pracey, Director of Amateur Scouting for the Avalanche. “The job that Craig Billington and Brad Smith and everyone in the organization does to help them along the way after they’re drafted plays a big part in it. But I’m very proud of our picks in the past.”

Still, the team is not resting on its laurels.

Too often, evaluations of a team’s draft success are based heavily upon the first few rounds. But one thing Pracey and his staff pride themselves on is the amount of time and effort they put into the entire draft, all seven rounds included. In reality, great teams are those that find success not only in the first and second rounds, but in the mid-to-late rounds as well.

“It always works out that for the sake of evaluation, a lot of times scouting staffs are evaluated on what they do at the top of the draft,” said Pracey. “We accept that challenge, but at the same time, from top to bottom, we want to be known for being successful from one to seven.”

Joey Hishon was Colorado's first-round pick in the 2010 Entry Draft
Looking at Colorado’s past few draft classes, it appears as though the club’s amateur scouts should be pleased with their body of work. In addition to some solid work at the top of the draft, several of the Avalanche’s mid-to-late round selections have either already contributed at the NHL level or appear to be on track to do so.

While it’s much too early to make a final judgment on Colorado’s 2010 class, the early returns are encouraging. First-round pick Joey Hishon (No. 17 overall) turned heads with his impressive play for Owen Sound of the Ontario Hockey League this past season, and second-round selection Calvin Pickard (No. 49) is a young goaltender filled with promise. Defensemen Stephen Silas (No. 95) and Troy Rutkowski (No. 137) took on bigger roles with their junior clubs immediately following their draft years. In addition, the Avalanche picked up the top-rated European goalie, Sami Aittokallio, in the fourth round (No. 107) and also added a pair of intriguing forward prospects in Luke Walker (No. 139) and Luke Moffatt (No. 197).

The Avalanche’s 2009 draft class could go down as one of the most impressive in franchise history. The selections of Matt Duchene (No. 3 overall) and Ryan O’Reilly (No. 33) alone made this draft a very good one. That evaluation could swing into the “great” category if puck-moving defensemen Stefan Elliott (No. 49) and Tyson Barrie (No. 64) continue along their impressive development curves. Elliott was named the WHL Defenseman of the Year this past season, beating out Barrie for the honor (Barrie won the same award in 2009-10). This same draft also produced a pair of goalies with Kieran Millan (No. 124) and Brandon Maxwell (No. 154), and defenseman Gus Young (No. 184), who was part of a strong Yale program that was among college hockey’s best this past season.

The 2008 draft produced a very solid bang-for-your-buck pick with Colorado’s first choice, defenseman Cameron Gaunce (No. 50). Gaunce made his NHL debut this past season with the Avs after spending three years in the Ontario Hockey League. Two players tabbed in the mid-to-late rounds of that draft have also seen action at the NHL level early in their careers; forward Mark Olver (No. 140) and defenseman Jonas Holos (No. 170). Blueliner Joel Chouinard (No. 167) turned pro in 2010-11 and began seasoning his game in Lake Erie, while forward Nathan Condon (No. 200) is coming off a solid freshman season at the University of Minnesota.

The list goes on and on.

Of course, every NHL team also has its share of misfires at the draft, and the Avalanche is no different. That’s the nature of the beast when trying to project the long-term futures of teenaged players.

Tyson Barrie, Colorado's third-round pick in 2009, helped Canada to a silver medal at the 2011 World Juniors
The biggest key is that when scouts are faced with those situations, they need to look back and evaluate why the club overlooked or perhaps overrated a prospect, and Colorado does a meticulous job in that regard. The team’s amateur scouts are constantly looking back and trying to find ways to improve their process.

“We critique ourselves and we do a lot of what we call back-checking,” said Pracey. “We go out of our way to do a diligent job to look back and evaluate as much as we can, because there’s always a player who gets through.

“If we’re doing a proper job in our organization, we have to be able to look back and say, ‘You know what? Maybe we didn’t have that player in the right area,’ and figure out why. Was he more talented than we thought he was? Did he grow physically or become stronger? Or quite simply, did we not know a player as well as we would have liked. There are so many factors that go into it.”

The job of an amateur scout is both challenging and humbling. Whether it’s attempting to project the future success of a prospect, trying to factor in physical development, dealing with coverage concerns or keeping tabs on late bloomers, the NHL Draft process is an ever-changing entity that requires attention to detail, from the top of the draft board all the way through round seven.

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