Director of Amateur Scouting Rick Pracey discussed the seven players the Avalanche selected at the 2014 NHL Draft during a conference call with members of the media on Saturday, June 28. Below is the transcript of the call.
On the difference of this draft compared to others
"I think the big difference is when it comes to mindset and planning. When you're at the top of the board, picking one, two, three, the last couple of years when we were in situations with Matt Duchene, Gabe Landeskog and last season with Nathan MacKinnon; being in that spot you are so focused as the large majority is spent on that pick. Clearly you're prepared and ready for the whole draft, [but] so much time and energy is spent on making that quality decision with the utmost importance. You also have the ability to narrow that field into a certain group. As when you're picking 23, we block players into areas that we target, and it becomes more of a planning stage. For example, with the 23rd pick yesterday, we were hoping to get a player in the teens on our list. We were shooting for a player around 14 or 15 on our final list. We had four or five players we identified, and we were fortunate to get the top player we were hoping for in Conner Bleackley. In terms of the overall plan for the draft, we did have a little bit different approach. We like the demographic of our team. Our younger players are contractually bound for several years, and we're trying to tie up others as well. We did look at need; we did take into account the depth chart, and certainly some attributes as well. We wanted to get bigger, that was something of a goal of ours. We also wanted to address the right side on our depth chart. Conner Bleackley plays all positions up front, but he is capable of playing the wing on the right side, which he did plenty of times last season. As a right shot, Kyle Wood is a right shot defenseman, Nick Magyar is a right-shot winger, Anton Lindholm is a left-shot defenseman but he plays on the right side. Clearly, we had some planning and target players in terms of that and that was part of the process."
On Bleackley being the team's top choice
"Yes. He was a player that we identified and had anxious moments waiting. We put our plan in place and deal with the reality and the objective of knowing the board. He was a player that we clearly targeted. We believe he is a competitive player with good instincts. He is a strong player on the puck. We like his leadership qualities. He was a player that clearly [we set out for at the start of the day]. We're really excited that we were able to land him."
On why Bleackley was still there at No. 23
"I think I go back to the attributes that we discussed. We put a high amount of prominence on the character of the player. I think you know from dealing with me over the years, skill and hockey sense is a big part of it, too. Industry wide, if I had to guess, probably skating is an area people would question [him] if we're talking as a deficiency right now. I don't share that. I think his offense and playing in a lot of situations in the down low game, does skating need to improve, sure it does, but it wasn't a hang up for us and we used our experience over the years, whether it was Ryan O'Reilly for us, or Paul Stastny for us, or Boone Jenner for the Columbus Blues Jackets, or Tyler Toffoli, these are players in their draft year at 17 were maybe viewed as skating being a deficiency but everything about them in the other areas of the game, hockey sense, compete, their instincts and their skill, clearly had them in a different category in their peer group. However, the over/under rating on that particular part of the game or trait maybe affected their draft stock. I guess in short, if there is ever a short answer with myself, I think that was the area that we were able to get Conner. That is okay with us. We believe he is a high character kid, and I think we looked at some results (from the combine) and the power that he generated in dealing with Casey Bond, our strength and conditioning coach, his power jumping, his power on the bikes; we think he is a guy that will work on his game. It wasn't a hang up for us."
On Bleackley being a young captain speaking to his leadership
"Certainly. It is a rarity that we see that at 17. I think when you're in these situations, dealing with players that still have two more years of junior, you're hoping those players elevate themselves and be prominent players on their junior teams, have a voice in the dressing room and be able to influence their peer groups at 19. For Conner to be in that position and have the trust of Brent Sutter and Red Deer, that certainly had our attention."
On the Avalanche's second selection, Kyle Wood
"I think the situation with Kyle Wood is that he is a player that is a little unheard of because he was injured the first half of the year. He is a great big two-way defenseman. We think in the next level, he'll probably project into that defensive player, but for a bigger guy we like the fact that he takes his time, thinks with the puck. We like his upside. Size was paramount in this selection, and again it is the projection going forward, but he basically played half a season in North Bay because of injury in the first half. His playoff with North Bay was also something that gave us comfort in. We just saw a player that got better and better. There is always projection in this line of work, but that was a player that we were willing to hedge on."
On Colorado's other draft choices
"With the 93rd pick we selected Nick Magyar of the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League. This is another player, close to 6-foot-2, we think he has a terrific set of hands and skill level. He plays a down-low offensive game. He was a first-year player in the Canadian Hockey League. He is a player that also needs to improve his skating going forward here, but we like his upside based on skill and size.
"Another selection was Alexis Pepin at the 114th slot. This was a player that was a former second-overall pick in the [QMJHL] draft. He fell into a little bit of draft-year blues and went through some inconsistency. He was traded during the season, and we thought he responded well to the trade that brought him to Gatineau in the Quebec league. Another player where size was important for us at this selection. Organizationally, that was something that over the years we have been bringing in skill into the lineup that we have been quite pleased with, but we have been trying to get bigger as a whole group. This is a big player with skill. Even though it was an inconsistent year, this was a risk-reward type of pick. He is a highly rated player in the past that we are taking a chance on.
"Anton Lindholm, he is a 19-year-old, a 20-year late birthday to admit to your one draft. Another player who was a strong second-half riser in the season. He is a shade over 6-foot as a blue liner. He moves pucks. He skates very well, and he plays a firm game in the defensive zone. We were really drawn to his compete level. In the second half of the season, Skelleftea of the [Swedish Hockey League] promoted him and he never looked back. He continued to play better and better and they went on to win the championship, and he played in a top-four role on that club as a 19-year-old. Having played a full half season, although being an older player, he falls into development rules, we have four years of development time before signing, he was a player that we were trying to get on the upside and certainly a strong playoff was a difference maker in our mind.
"In the sixth round we decided to take a chance on a goaltender, Maximilian Pajpach. He is a shade under 6-foot-2 so he is a good-size goaltender, 200 pounds, athletic type of style of goaltender. He is Slovakian that will play next season in Finland. We like the development system in terms of goaltending that goes on in Finland, so we're happy about where he is going to go on playing. Again, we were drawn to his size and his athletic upside.
"With our final selection, we took Julien Nantel from the [QMHL], Rouyn-Noranda. He is a player that is over 6-foot, he is a thick player, he plays an energy type of game. He skates well and is a player that is on top of pucks and has a competitive attitude on the ice.
On if bigger players are the trend again in the NHL
"I think these things have an ebb and flow to them. I think one of the major goals every organization has on draft day is to get better. Clearly that is our primary focus, but as an organization we did want to get bigger. When you hear teams discussing their philosophies, generally right now I think it is a theme in the National Hockey League and we share that thought, but we have our principles of picking quality hockey players and good hockey players. Organizationally, going through those years where we had high picks in every round, skill and hockey sense was a primary factor in our decision-making. It still is, but getting bigger was a goal of ours this weekend, and I believe we accomplished that."
On rating this year's draft class as a whole
"I don't think so (on it being a deep draft). I think before the draft started, we thought there was seven players in particular that were a cut above, and then we had about 10 players that were really, really strong players in terms of overall ability. After that sort of 10th pick, it sprayed into different directions, whether it be philosophy or personal preference. Again, Conner Bleackley was our type of player in that situation. We're certainly really happy with our first-round pick, but as a whole, there are always players out there and it is our goal to find them. We did go from 23 to 84 and that was a long haul in terms of the depth of the draft in the top 100 that we had some anxious moments with. Our goal always, regardless if we believe the draft is strong in any particular year after you get past a threshold, you go back to odds and go back to—I guess to the lack of a better term—playing the odds or knowing what they are. We have to find players, that is our job, but overall, we thought it was a top group and it opened up to different degrees of player preference."
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