What are your expectations with your draft picks? I’m not talking about what you HOPE will happen with your draft picks. As far as I’m concerned, the Kings have drafted 10 potential Hall of Famers in the last 2 drafts. I’m talking about what you EXPECT from each draft. If you have realistic (yet hopeful) expectations, you should be hoping that 3 or 4 of the players eventually see time in the NHL at some point in their career. As we all know, the vast majority of players see their career peak on draft day. And that’s ok—God knows that hearing my name called at the Draft would be one of the best moments of MY life. (and I don’t mean when they say, “Mr. Seats, you left your lights on in the parking lot).
So let’s take reality and compare it to the Colorado Avalanche’s 2009 Draft. Usually we have to wait 3 or 4 years before we can really start to assess a team’s performance in a draft. But not for the Avs this year. It’s been less than 5 months since Montreal hosted this year’s draft and I’m already comfortable in declaring Colorado’s draft a rousing success. And barring any crazy, unforeseen circumstances, it only has the potential to get better.
Going into the draft, most of the experts knew that the top 3 picks in the draft were a cut above the rest. The Avs knew they were going to get the leftovers of the Tavares/Hedman/Duchene threesome. Even though there were whispers that Duchene might jump all the way to #1, he eventually slipped to the projected #3 spot and the Colorado Avalanche.
No disrespect to either John Tavares or Victor Hedman, but the Avs couldn’t have asked for a better fit for their rebuild. With the impending retirement of Joe Sakic, they needed someone who could fill a top line center position, play at the highest level both offensively and defensively and fill a leadership role down the road. Someone like Joe Sakic himself. Or even someone like Steve Yzerman. Enter Brampton Battalion Centre Matt Duchene who was compared to (you guessed it): Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic.
As an 18 year old rookie, Duchene passed the 10 game threshold and locked up a spot on the big club. If things go according to plan, that spot that he locked up should be his for the next decade or two. He’s already showing flashes of brilliance with his high-end speed and has established himself as an extremely mature kid for his young age. He’s second in ice time for all rookie forwards as he’s been put on the ice in every kind of situation. Judging by Colorado’s fast start, he must be doing something right!
Just think, Duchene has been the Avalanche’s SECOND best rookie in this young season. Shocking hockey fans all over North America has been Ryan O’Reilly’s production in the early going. I’m not sure that his success is that much of a surprise, but the immediacy and the degree as to which he’s succeed is certainly an eye-opener. O’Reilly was projected to be a guy that could develop into a good 3rd line center with upward potential to eventually grow into a top 6 forward at the peak of his career. Now he’s 2nd in the entire league in plus/minus!
It only took one game against the San Jose Sharks for the team to see that he already had the speed and forechecking ability to play in the NHL. The 2nd round pick (33rd overall) is the lowest draft pick to stick with his NHL team this season. At a time that most people in his draft position would be going back to Juniors or back to their European team, O’Reilly is perfecting his craft in the world’s highest league. And he’s doing a damn find job of it.
There are a few things that would lead you to believe that he has a jump on the rest of this draft class. He has an idea of the work it will take because his brother Cal is currently going through the same process within the Nashville Predators organization. He understands that while showing up on the stat sheet is always a good thing, his #1 role right now is playing two-way hockey. Hell, he’s already playing about 3 minutes per game on the penalty kill. That would be a daunting role for any NHLer—let alone a guy that is 5 months removed from hearing his name called at the draft. In addition to the bloodlines that have helped him prepare, the younger O’Reilly has also dealt with pressure at adversity in his young hockey career. Check out this insightful Question & Answer from Hockey’s Future:
Question: What’s the most adversity you’ve faced in your career? Maybe a time when you were the most down on yourself?
Answer: “That’s a tough question. I think something I had to face was being the first overall pick (in the OHL). I think there’s a lot of pressure in that situation. Just having to face that, face the pressure and go out and play and put it behind you. It was really hard, a lot of expectations. I think I learned to let go of it and play the game, whatever happens, happens.” –Hockey’s Future
Think back to when you were 16. What kind of pressures were you dealing with? Maybe trying to figure out geometry? Perhaps building the courage to ask a girl out on a date? Trying to figure out how to parallel park? Try dealing with the pressure of being the #1 overall pick in the OHL Draft in hockey crazed Canada! It’s a lot for any of us to deal with—and sometimes we forget that these kids are just that. Kids. Fast-forward to Ryan O’Reilly and his 2nd round selection in the 2009 NHL Draft. The early returns make this look like it might be a match made in heaven for him. Instead of dealing with the pressure of being the go-to guy, he can sit in the background while Matt Duchene deals with most of the glare from the media’s spotlight. Checking out the stat sheet, I think he’s adjusting to this new role just fine.
The season isn’t even 2 months old and I think we can already give the Colorado Avalanche an “A” for last year’s draft. How often does a team get to pickup 2 of their top 3 center men in the span of about 16 hours on a weekend in June? We’re not just talking about guys that can help them this year—we’re talking about the kind of guys that they can build their team around for the next 10 years. Not bad for a couple of guys that are barely old enough to vote!