30in30: 2014 Pick Bleackley Heads Avalanche Top 10 Prospects

Friday, 08.15.2014 / 10:07 AM
Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com

What are the odds center Conner Bleackley becomes the fifth draft pick in five years by the Colorado Avalanche to go straight to the NHL?

As good and mature as Bleackley is as an 18-year-old, that wouldn't appear to be in the cards since Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon have the top two center positions locked up. Though Bleackley could be eased into a third-line role, there's no reason to rush him and his return as captain of the Red Deer Rebels in the Western Hockey League would appear imminent following training camp.

The bottom line here is that the right-shot pivot might be best suited in a top-six role, and the Avalanche seem well fortified in that area entering 2014-15.

"He's not ready for NHL hockey," Red Deer coach Brent Sutter told The Denver Post. "Conner still needs to grow, especially with skating and defensive responsibilities. His vision needs to improve. I'm not Colorado, I'm not [coach] Patrick Roy, but I feel like he's not NHL-ready. There is growth in his game. There is a reason he went [No. 23 in the 2014 NHL Draft] and not in the top 10, but I do think he's a great prospect for that organization."

Even if Bleackley is returned to Red Deer, there's no denying the success Colorado has had at the draft in recent years. Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly were drafted in 2009 and were key members of the team in 2009-10. Gabriel Landeskog was drafted No. 2 in 2011 and won the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year in 2012, and MacKinnon was drafted No. 1 in 2013 and won the Calder Trophy in 2014.

Who is next on the list to join that illustrious group?

Here's a look at the Avalanche' top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:

1. Conner Bleackley, C

How acquired: 1st round (No. 23), 2014 draft

Last season: 71 GP, 29-39-68, Red Deer, WHL

Bleackley led Red Deer in points and finished tied for the team lead in goals. The 6-foot, 197-pound forward was named Red Deer's captain in November 2013 as a 17-year-old and had one assist in one playoff game last season; a one-game tiebreaker against Prince Albert for the final seed in the WHL Eastern Conference. The High River, Alberta native was an alternate captain on Canada's bronze-medal winning team at the 2014 Under-18 World Championship, where he had one goal and two points.

"One thing that attracted us to Conner is his hockey sense and strength on the puck," said Avalanche director of amateur scouting Rick Pracey. "We like his versatility, as we have seen him play all three forward positions. Being a right-handed shot, he potentially addresses a need on the right side on our organizational depth chart. He's a responsible two-way player, and his leadership qualities were a positive factor. Other key quality traits we liked were his competitiveness and instincts."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

2. Chris Bigras, D

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 32), 2013 draft

Last season: 55 GP, 4-22-26, Owen Sound, OHL

The 6-foot-1, 186-pound left-hand shot might just be the best defensive prospect in the system. He's a responsible two-way force with good speed and positioning. He will probably spend one more season in the Ontario Hockey League with the Attack before turning pro in 2015-16. Bigras, voted the best defensive-defenseman in the OHL last season, might also play a role for Canada at the 2015 World Junior Championship in Montreal and Toronto in January.

"He's a good-skating, intelligent, two-way puck moving defenseman," Pracey said.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

3. Joey Hishon, C

How acquired: 1st round (No. 17), 2010 draft

Last season: 50 GP, 10-14-24, Lake Erie, AHL

Injuries have slowed the progression of Hishon following four productive seasons in the OHL with the Owen Sound Attack. He missed the entire 2011-12 season due to a concussion sustained during the 2011 Memorial Cup and played in just nine games in 2012-13. Hishon, 22, is projected to be a top-six left-handed shooting center at some point in his career. If anything else, Hishon provides the Avalanche great depth down the middle of the ice for the foreseeable future. He wasn't able to participate in training camp last year due to a groin injury, but did play three games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and had one assist.

"He's progressing well after his injury," Pracey said. "He has high-end offensive skill with NHL talent."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

4. Duncan Siemens, D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 11), 2011 draft

Last season: 46 GP, 1-3-4, Lake Erie, AHL

The 6-4, 209-pound stay-at-home defenseman is closing in on a roster spot in the NHL, but he needs to have a strong sophomore season in the AHL to prove he can manage the grind of a full season. Siemens plays a physical game, as evidenced by his 45 penalty minutes as a rookie in Lake Erie last season, and is a good shot blocker. He seems to understand what it will take to get to the next level, but needs to show it on the ice on a consistent basis. Siemens, who turns 21 on Sept. 11, had 17 goals, 124 points and 412 penalty minutes in 258 games spanning four seasons with the Saskatoon Blades in the WHL.

"He's a big, defensive-defenseman who moves well and is competitive in the defensive zone," Pracey said.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

5. Troy Bourke, LW

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 72), 2012 draft

Last season: 69 GP, 29-56-85, Prince George, WHL; 15 GP, 3-4-7, Lake Erie, AHL

The 20-year-old Edmonton native finished second on Prince George in scoring in 2013-14 with 85 points. He led the team in assists and finished second in goals while serving as an alternate captain. Bourke joined the Lake Erie Monsters at the conclusion of the WHL regular season and impressed with three goals and seven points in 15 games. The versatile 5-11, 176-pound forward completed his four seasons in Prince George with 84 goals and 236 points in 276 games.

"He's a good hockey player, skilled and competitive with very good instincts," Pracey said.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

6. Sami Aittokallio, G

How acquired: 4th round (No. 107), 2010 draft

Last season: 36 GP, 15-15-3, 2.65 GAA, .909 save percentage, Lake Erie, AHL; 1 GP, 0-1-0, 4.50 GAA, .833 save percentage, Colorado, NHL

The 22-year-old Finnish goaltender has played in two games for the Avalanche over the past two seasons and has stopped 38 of 43 shots with a 3.36 goals-against average. He will battle Calvin Pickard for the No. 1 spot in Lake Erie this season. Aittokallio (6-1, 181) stood out for Finland at the 2012 World Junior Championship in Calgary, going 3-2 with a 2.52 GAA and .936 save percentage in five games for the fourth place Finns.

"He has a sound combination of size and technique," Pracey said. "He has an efficient and calm demeanor in the net."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

7. Calvin Pickard, G

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 49), 2010 draft

Last season: 43 GP, 16-18-7, 2.85 GAA, .906 save percentage, Lake Erie, AHL

The 6-1, 198-pound Pickard is a workhorse between the pipes. Pickard, 22, has had two productive seasons in the AHL, totaling 37 wins in 90 games with a 2.70 goals-against average and .910 save percentage. During his four seasons with the Seattle Thunderbirds in the Western Hockey League, Pickard appeared in at least 47 games and played in 62 or more during his final three seasons. He left the Thunderbirds as the WHL's all-time record holder in saves (7,027) and minutes played (14,025).

"He's an athletic goalie with quickness, instincts and a good compete level," Pracey said. "He's gaining valuable experience at the AHL level."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

8. Spencer Martin, G

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 63), 2013 draft

Last season: 64 GP, 24-33-5, 3.54 GAA, .899 save percentage, Mississauga, OHL

The 19-year-old Martin struggled a bit in his second season for the Steelheads, who averaged an OHL-low 2.45 goals per game and finished 24-38-6. The Oakville, Ontario native saw his share of breakaways, 2-on-1 attempts and power plays throughout the course of 2013-14. He still has plenty of potential and is regarded very highly by the organization because of his athleticism and intimidating 6-3, 198-pound frame.

"He has that prototypical NHL size for a goalie," Pracey said. "His quickness and movement in the net are his strengths in his athletic-style game."

Projected NHL arrival: 2018-19

9. Dennis Everberg, C/LW

How acquired: Free agent, May 29, 2014

Last season: 47 GP, 17-17-34, Rogle, Allsvenskan

The 6-4, 205-pound power forward closed out the regular season strong for Rogle in Sweden's second division (Allsvenskan), finishing third on the team in points, before producing eight goals and 11 points in 16 playoff games. Everberg, 22, will challenge for a roster spot in training camp in September, but will have no issue if sent to Lake Erie to begin his professional career in North America in the AHL. He offers the skill of most Swedes, but also incorporates a lot of intensity into his game.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

10. Cody Corbett, D

How acquired: Free agent, March 5, 2014

Last season: 65 GP, 17-44-61, Edmonton, WHL

The undrafted Lakeland, Minn., native showed improvement the past few years, but only last season did that hard work pay off on the way to becoming a dominant two-way player for the Memorial Cup-winning Oil Kings. Corbett (6-1, 194) set a franchise record for goals and points by a defenseman in a season, and also finished as the franchise's all-time leader on defense in goals (30) and points (129), a mark set in only three WHL seasons. The 20-year-old had six goals, 13 points and a plus-12 rating in 21 playoff games, and one goal, six points and a plus-2 rating in five Memorial Cup games on the way to being named to the tournament All-Star Team.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

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