With the 23rd pick at the 2014 NHL Draft, the Colorado Avalanche have selected forward Conner Bleackley of the WHL's Red Deer Rebels, adding to the already fantastic depth the Avalanche have up front. At first, one might begin to wonder why Colorado seems to always take a forward in the first round, especially when the group of forwards they already have is stronger and deeper than the defensemen, but given the team's penchant for finding good players in all kinds of ways, it would probably be wise to defer to knowledge of the men making these decisions. Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy and company have a way with these things.
Entering the NHL Draft this year was a bit of a different experience for the Avalanche than it was last year. At this time a year ago, Colorado held the first overall pick, which they used on Nathan MacKinnon. The circumstances that resulted in Colorado having the first pick were rather unsavory. This year, the story is completely different. Following a spectacular season, the Avalanche came into this year's draft holding the 23rd selection. But for a couple of late goals in a certain Game 7, Colorado would be picking even later. While it was exciting to be picking high in recent drafts, it's even more exciting to be done picking high, because that means the team is good again. That's why picking near the top of the draft is exciting in the first place; it brings new hope of being good enough to not be picking there again soon.
Conner Bleackley is off to a good start in his junior hockey career. Last season was his second for the Red Deer Rebels, and he led the team with 29 goals and 68 points. Last November, he became one of three 17 year old captains in all of Canadian junior hockey, along with Aaron Ekblad of the Barrie Colts and Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice. Interestingly enough, those other two players just happened to go first and second respectively in the first round of the draft tonight. The last of the three young captains comes to the Avalanche having gone 21 picks later.
In yet another (probable) coincidence, Bleackley's pre-draft bio showed that he had listed the Colorado Avalanche as his favorite NHL team and Joe Sakic as his all time favorite player. What, if anything, that had to do with him being selected by Colorado can be mulled over by people who have time for such conjecture. For Bleackley, it must be hard to believe today really happened. He has realized the dream of being drafted into the NHL, and the man who had the final word on the decision to select him was none other than Super Joe himself. Even though Bleackley will turn 18 on July 2, it is safe to say that today's events will be far more memorable for him than his upcoming birthday. As for the Avalanche, the reserve of promising young forwards continues to grow.
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