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Avalanche looking for another bountiful draft

NHL.com @NHL

DENVER (AP) -After hitting the jackpot with two high picks in the draft last June, the Colorado Avalanche feel the pressure to replicate that this summer.

Hardly easy.

Those two players they selected weren't your typical teenagers.

From now on, every Colorado draft pick will be measured against Matt Duchene (third overall) and Ryan O'Reilly (No. 33).

Hardly fair.

The performances Colorado received last season from Duchene and O'Reilly were far from the standard. The talented twosome became a crucial component in the team's turnaround, lifting the organization back into the playoffs a year after finishing in the basement.

"That instant success tells us we're on the right path," said Avalanche director of scouting Rick Pracey, whose team has seven total picks - including the 17th overall - during the two-day draft that begins Friday night. "But I think the hockey fan base is knowledgeable enough to realize it's more of a wait and see thing."

Wait and see didn't really apply to these two.

Duchene and O'Reilly made the team out of camp as the Avalanche became the first NHL squad to boast two 18-year-olds in the season opener since the Winnipeg Jets suited up Shane Doan and Jason Doig in 1995.

The youngsters held their ground quite nicely, too, the ever-elusive Duchene leading all NHL rookies with 55 points and O'Reilly contributing in less glamorous areas such as faceoffs and blocked shots.

And to think these two were almost sent to their major-junior squads for one more year of maturing.

Instead, Duchene moved into captain Adam Foote's basement to help advance his hockey education while O'Reilly took up residence with veteran Darcy Tucker.

With the duo's rapid rise, expectations have gone up.

"There is pressure on us," Pracey said of uncovering that next draft gem. "But I think it's more that there is pressure for us to find a player than it is that plays next year."

Going into this summer's draft, the Avalanche aren't really targeting a certain position.

Rather, they're taking a similar approach as last time - scouring for the best player available. That's how O'Reilly wound up in Colorado.

The team had him pegged as a top-15 prospect. So when O'Reilly began to tumble down the board, the Avalanche attempted to move up to snare him.

A trade partner couldn't be found, yet O'Reilly still fell to Colorado.

"We're confident that depending on how the board shakes out, we're looking at a group of players in our area that we'd be happy to get our hands on," Pracey said. "But I would like to hit it out (of the park) every year."

Colorado has actually had a string of bountiful drafts in recent years.

In fact, the 2010 playoff roster against the veteran-laden San Jose Sharks contained 16 players who were drafted by the franchise. That included another first-rounder in Chris Stewart (2006) and second-rounders such as T.J. Galiardi (2007), Paul Stastny (2005) and Ryan Stoa (2005).

Buoyed by a group of fledglings, no one really expected Colorado to accomplish much of anything last season.

Clearly, the prognosticators concluded, another last-place finish awaited.

The young players developed an us-against-the-hockey-world mindset, serving them well all season long. Colorado regrouped from a late-season slide to make the postseason for a 12th time in 14 seasons in Denver.

In the playoffs, Colorado had 12 different members make their debut in a loss to the Sharks, including coach Joe Sacco, who was hired soon after last season's meltdown and groomed this core of kids into a cohesive unit.

He relied heavily on the leadership of Foote, who recently signed on for one more season of mentoring despite turning 39 in July.

"Having a young group like we did last year come together and compete at a high level was very special," Foote recently said. "We're looking to carry that momentum into next season."

Another draft class like last season certainly would help. But striking gold twice is a difficult proposition.

"We are obviously very pleased with the way things worked out last year," Pracey said. "But I think it's important to keep in mind that having two 18-year-olds play in the National Hockey League certainly isn't the norm. So we have to remind ourselves that this is a process.

"The best way to stay the course is to stay with the plan and not get ahead of ourselves - keep in mind what has been successful in the past."

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