Avs Pick Part of Draft Highlight for Bleackley

First-round pick already showcasing maturity of a leader

Monday, 06.30.2014 / 6:40 PM
Scott Ward

You might expect to read a story here about Conner Bleackley’s grand celebration the day after the Avalanche made him the No. 23 pick in last week’s 2014 NHL Draft.

Maybe you envision yourself in the same scenario, partying it up with family and friends and reveling in a dream realized; taking in the view after years and years of working to get to the top of the mountain.

That’s not what Bleackley did, though.

Instead, after staying up late Friday night wolfing down pizza slices and cheesesteaks—and trying to wrap his head around his burgeoning Twitter following—Bleackley went to bed, grabbed some sleep and then returned to Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center.

A lot of people were there for him Friday as he waited to hear the words he had been waiting forever to hear. He wanted to return the favor Saturday and offer support for all his childhood friends who had yet to hear their names echo across the Wells Fargo Center bowl.

That’s the kind of player the Avalanche drafted.

“Whether you play against guys or at some point you cross paths with them, there’s probably upwards of 50 guys I know that got drafted,” Bleackley said Monday inside the Avalanche dressing room at Pepsi Center.

“They were there for me on the first day, and I [came] back on the second day, and they had the same nerves that I had on the first day. It was cool to be there for them and see all those guys that I grew up with and played hockey with all my life get picked. That was probably the coolest part.”

So, to be clear: For Bleackley, the “coolest part” of the 2014 NHL Draft was seeing his buddies drafted? OK, then. That might just be the most obvious glimpse into the NHL future of the “next” star in a franchise already full of them.

Not to say he wasn’t excited after hearing Avalanche Executive Vice President Joe Sakic say, “From the Red Deer Rebels …” late in the first round Friday. It’s just that Bleackley already seems to grasp the “team” concept Avalanche coach Patrick Roy routinely invokes and that Bleackley will undoubtedly be reminded about throughout his career in Denver.

That’s pretty heady stuff for a player who doesn’t turn 18 until this week. It’s not a surprise, though, considering he was one of three first-time draft eligible players this season to serve as captains of their teams in the Canadian Hockey League. The other two were top-overall pick Aaron Ekblad (Panthers) and No. 2-pick Sam Reinhart (Sabres).

Maybe it’s because one of his first memories is of Sakic himself quickly taking hold of the Stanley Cup in 2001 and sweeping it across his body to teammate Ray Bourque. A moment of true selflessness.

Sakic has long been considered one of the best teammates in hockey history, and the moment that night at Pepsi Center will always be with Bleackley.

“I remember Joe handing the cup to Ray Bourque,” he said. “Just a remarkable team that they had, and to be here today, it’s a dream come true, that’s for sure.”

Add to that the scene Monday, where Bleackley stood in front of the Avs’ burgundy and blue media draping, in the same room where Sakic and Bourque and the rest of the Avalanche celebrated the franchise’s second NHL championship.

Can you imagine what must have been going through Bleackley's head?

“I remember watching it,” Bleackley said. “My parents let me stay up late, watching that, and to see the pictures in here (in the Avs’ dressing room), going through the tour, it’s pretty crazy.”

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