HAZELWOOD, Mo. - Sometimes you get lucky enough to get a second chance.
Conner Bleackley got his two weeks ago at the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo when the St. Louis Blues selected him in the fifth round (144th overall).
Originally a first-round draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 2014, Bleackley has faced an overwhelming amount of adversity in his young career. The 20-year-old native of High River, Alberta reportedly angered the Avalanche coaching staff by showing up to training camp out of shape in 2014. His rights were later traded to the Arizona Coyotes, who declined to sign him. While playing with the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League, Bleackley sustained a groin injury, a broken knee cap and a severed tendon in his wrist after being cut by a skate.
So things haven’t been easy for the NHL hopeful, but now things are looking up.
“Not to discount anyone, but I was really excited with us picking Conner because he was once a first round pick,” said Tim Taylor, the Blues’ Director of Player Development. “I feel like we got a first-round pick in the fifth round. Physically, he looks really good. He’s going to turn pro this year and we’re going to give him every opportunity to crack that Chicago (Wolves) lineup.
“I think there’s huge upside for him,” Taylor added. “He’s shown his work ethic has changed. Sometimes it takes that fall down before a guy gets up and becomes a better person or player, and I think with Conner, we’ve got that fall down early in his career.”
Bleackley’s best season with Red Deer came in 2013-14, where he played in 71 games, scoring 29 goals and 39 assists (68 points). Last week, the Blues signed Bleackley to a three-year entry-level contract, and this week, he’s here in St. Louis working to make a good impression alongside 29 other prospects at the Blues’ annual development camp.
“I’ve got lots of prove. I believe I’m a lot better player than when I was a first-round pick,” Bleackley said of his second chance. “At the end of the day, whatever round you’re picked, it doesn’t matter. Everybody is trying to earn a spot. All the adversity I’ve had to go through serves as motivation.”
“I’m ready for the future,” he added. “I think sometimes you never know quite the impact (adversity) will have on you until a couple years later. For myself, I hope a couple years down the road I can look and say I was better for it. That’s what I think will happen, and I’ll work every day towards that.”