After the Avalanche’s 2014 postseason run came to an end, head coach Patrick Roy and executive VP of hockey operations Joe Sakic got right to work molding their team’s prospect pool to their likings.
The duo kicked things off by signing five free agent players to entry-level contracts from various European and CHL leagues. The players signed exhibited similar qualities of possessing size, skills, and character both on and off the ice. They continued that trend with their selections in the 2014 NHL Draft.
Red Deer Rebels captain and centerman, Conner Bleackley, headlines this draft class for the Avalanche and embodies everything that the team wants in a player. After Bleackley, the Colorado Avalanche selected three additional forwards, two defensemen, and one goalie. Two of those forwards are versatile in that they are able to play both the center and wing positions.
Conner Bleackley, C, Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
1st round, 23rd overall
Height: 6-1 Weight: 197
With the 23rd overall pick the Avalanche chose Conner Bleackley from the Red Deer Rebels. Bleackley was chosen as the Rebels captain as a 17-year-old, an ode to his leadership skills and maturity despite his young age. The gritty two-way forward averaged nearly a point per game last season for the Rebels and was tasked with playing in all situations.
Bleackley possesses elite defensive intelligence and can play in all three zones of the ice effectively. With or without the puck, Bleackley can be counted on to make the correct play making him a coach’s favorite. He is projected to be a top-six NHL forward and while he could use another year of juniors to help further hone his offensive and skating skills, Bleackley could make a strong push to appear on the Avalanche’s roster on opening night.
Shortly after being drafted by the Avalanche, Bleackley was unable to contain his excitement about being drafted by the team he grew up cheering for.
“I idolized Joe Sakic growing up so this is a dream come true for me for sure.”
Additionally, Bleackley is well aware of the upward trend the team is climbing and the strength of the roster.
“It’s really exciting seeing what they did this last year. That core group they have in Colorado is real good and it’s exciting to be a part of that and hopefully I can a part of that as soon as possible.”
Patrick Roy’s admiration of the L.A. Kings’ blue line could have been a prime factor in the Avalanche’s second choice in the 2014 draft. Kyle Wood, a right shooting defenseman for the North Bay Battalion, is an imposing player on the ice thanks to his 6’4” stature.
Wood climbed up the draft board late this spring due to an outstanding playoff performance for the Battalion. He had a slow start to his season and was sidelined until December because of a knee injury but since returning has only continued to improve.
Even though his size would dictate he be more of a stay-at-home defenseman, Wood was key in aiding the Battalion’s transition game. He is more than capable of carrying the play into the offensive zone and was the second power-play unit quarterback late in the year and into the postseason.
Wood is a great addition to the Avalanche’s growing stable of defensemen in the minor and junior leagues.
Wood met with the media following his selection, with some of his comments being included in this HF video.
Nick Magyar, C/RW, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
4th round, 93rd overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 194
Nick Magyar made his OHL debut this year and surprised everyone by scoring 20 goals in 66 games and adding 26 assists for a total of 46 points. He shared the Rangers’ Rookie of the Year honors with Ryan MacInnis, the 43rd overall pick of the Arizona Coyotes.
Magyar spent the 2012-13 season split between the Midwest Elite Hockey League and the USHL. That transition from minor hockey to junior ‘A’ was rough to say the least but the experience he gained playing for the Sioux City Musketeers helped him blossom into a big powerful forward for the Rangers.
He is a gifted offensive player with a heavy and accurate shot. His quick release and vision helped him score his 46 points in his rookie OHL season. Magyar will return to the Rangers next year where he will play a crucial role in trying to get the Rangers back into the OHL playoffs.
Magyar spoke with the media following his selection by the Avalanche, with some of his comments being captured in this HF video.
Alexis Pepin has all the tools to become a great hockey player in the best league in the world. He has a big frame and a heavy shot that would make any goalie shiver. He is also good at using his size to protect the puck and drive to the net to create scoring opportunities.
Unfortunately, Pepin showed up to Canada’s camp last summer overweight leading many in the junior hockey circle to question his commitment to being a hockey player. His inconsistent effort and lack of motivation was enough for the Charlottetown Islanders to trade him to the Gatineau Olympiques. While the trade did wake up Pepin, it remains to be seen how he fares long term.
Anton Lindholm, D, Skellefteå AIK (SHL, J20)
5th round, 144th overall
Height: 5-11 Weight: 185
Anton Lindholm is a left handed defenseman who plays on the right side. The 19-year-old appeared in seven regular season games for the parent club and all 14 playoff games, which culminated in an SHL championship. Lindholm was asked to play a top-four role and performed admirably and contributed a game winning goal and three points in his 14 playoff appearances.
Lindholm plays a physical game and could pan out as a steady defensive stay-at-home defenseman for the Avalanche. Prior to being drafted, he signed a two year extension with Skelleftea. He is expected to stick with his SHL team next year.
Much like fellow Avalanche prospect Calvin Pickard, newly drafted goaltender Maximilian Pajpach is used to facing a lot of shots and being relied upon as a workhorse goalie. He has played for some poor teams in Slovakia’s junior leagues as well as international tournaments and his stats have suffered. His career highlights include appearing in a U18 game for HK SKP Propad as a 15-year-old in 2011 and not allowing a goal in his first U20 game for the same club in 2013.
Despite his subpar numbers, he was ranked ninth amongst international goaltenders in the Central Scouting rankings.
Pajpach has a lot of upside but will have a lot of work to do if he wishes to transition to North America in the future. He uses his large frame very similarly to Sami Aittokallio, another Avalanche prospect playing in the AHL, and too often relies on his athleticism rather than technique to make a save.
Julien Nantel, C/LW, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL)
7th round, 204th overall
Height: 6-0 Weight: 193
Julien Nantel is a streaky scorer whose work ethic and hockey sense is unparalleled. After enjoying a short stint with the Huskies in 2013, his first full season saw him bounce between the second and third line. He played in all situations and was a key contributor for a deep Huskies team. Nantel was one of the main penalty killers for the Huskies while also contributing 34 points in 68 games.
Nantel might be a long shot to make it to the NHL but could help push other prospects to perform with his high energy during practice and games.