As predicted in the Colorado Avalanche's draft preview, general manager Greg Sherman and director of amateur scouting Rick Pracey targeted scoring forwards in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, selecting two left wingers and three pivots with their five selections.
The Avalanche's plan for the draft appeared to be selecting gritty, junior-playing forwards who have shown an ability to produce offensively. All players drafted spent the 2011-12 season in either the WHL or OHL. Perhaps convinced by Chicago Blackhawks' rookie Andrew Shaw's impressive play last season, Sherman and Pracey did not shy away from taking overage players in 2012, drafting a pair.
The Avalanche did not get into the action on day one of the draft, having previously dealt their first round pick away to the Washington Capitals in the trade that brought them Semyon Varlamov. They made Mitchell Heard – a fearless, hard-nosed scorer – their first of five selections on day two.
After going unranked by NHL Central Scouting and having been passed over in two drafts already, Pracey and his scouting team must have really liked what they saw in Heard to pounce on him in the second round. The 20-year-old is a unique blend of skill and grit, whose skating ability and soft hands are among his greatest assets. He is very agile maneuvering his way through traffic in the offensive zone and is not afraid to drop the gloves. Heard set personal OHL-bests with 29 goals, 57 points and 111 penalty minutes in 57 games with the Plymouth Whalers in 2011-12. The hard-nose forward is already eligible to play in the AHL in 2012-13 if the Avalanche see that to be the best fit for him to continue developing his game.
Troy Bourke, LW – Prince George Cougars (WHL)
3rd Round, 72nd overall
Height: 5'10 Weight: 180 lbs
In the third round the Avalanche again marched to their own beat, selecting undersized left winger Troy Bourke. The 18-year-old was deemed to be the 123rd best North American skater by NHL Central Scouting and while his 56 points in 71 games in 2011-12 aren't eye-popping, he produced despite playing for a basement-dwelling Prince George Cougars squad that provided little in way of offensive support.
Bourke's greatest attributes are his skating, vision, and playmaking skills. In seeing the ice so well, Bourke is able to slow the play down in the offensive zone and show off his tremendous ability to create for both himself and others. Though not quite to the same extent as Mitchell Heard, Bourke plays a physical game and even had three fighting majors this past season. He'll likely play another two years of junior hockey, getting stronger and working on his defensive zone play.
Michael Clarke, C – Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
5th Round, 132nd overall
Height: 5'11 Weight: 184 lbs
What he lacks in size and skating ability, Michael Clarke makes up for with tenacity, creativity, and grit. The diminutive pivot is equally comfortable setting his teammates up as he is shooting the puck, but the London, Ontario-native is best known for his brash brand of hockey. Playing in a secondary scoring role for the Windsor Spitfires in 2011-12, Clarke netted 15 goals and 21 assists in 68 contests. He also added 81 minutes in penalties, which included five major infractions for fighting. Clarke will spend another two to three seasons in the OHL where he'll work on improving his skating and developing his defensive zone play.
Joseph Blandisi, C – Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
6th round, 162nd overall
Height: 5'11 Weight: 184 lbs
After ranking 195th in the NHL Central Scouting's midterm rankings, Joseph Blandisi was omitted from the final rankings. But that didn't deter the Avalanche from taking a chance on the physical forward in the sixth round. Like Clarke, the 17-year-old spent most of the 2011-12 season on the second line. A strong skater with an energetic stride, Blandisi is an aggressive player with a desirable work ethic who can play both center and right wing. He scored 17 times and added 14 assists in 68 games this past year, and could flirt with 30 goals and a point-per-game pace in 2012-13 in an increased role with the Owen Sound Attack.
Colin Smith, C – Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
7th round, 192nd overall
Height: 5'10 Weight: 170 lbs
Colorado selected their second overage player of the 2012 draft when they made Colin Smith their final pick. A playmaking center who can be a factor at both ends of the ice, the 19-year-old registered 35 goals and 50 assists in 72 games this past year. His plus-31 rating led all Kamloops Blazers' forwards and ranked him in a tie for 16th among all WHL players. He'll be in tough to overcome his 5'10 stature, but his creativity and knack for developing offensive opportunities should serve him well on his path to the pros.