Several Colorado Avalanche prospects finding success in junior leagues

By Blake Benzel

Troy Bourke - Prince George Cougars

Photo: Winger Troy Bourke, currently ranked second on the Prince George Cougars in scoring, is one of the Avalanche prospects that is making his mark at the junior level during the 2012-13 campaign. (courtesy of Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

 
The Colorado Avalanche currently have eight players developing in the junior league ranks, including their second first-round draft pick from the 2011 NHL Draft, defenseman Duncan Siemens, who joined Team Canada for the 2012 Subway Super Series with Team Russia but was left off of the World Junior roster in Ufa.

After drafting two goaltenders in 2010, the Avs have focused primarily on forwards – more to the point, centers – having used eight of their eleven draft picks over the past two years to pick forwards.

All of these players could be a few years away from the pro ranks, let alone the NHL, but that is not to say that there is not talent there.

WHL

Duncan Siemens, D, Saskatoon Blades
Acquired: 1st Round (11th overall) in 2011

After being taken nine picks after the team’s new captain, Gabriel Landeskog, Siemens had a rough start to the season for the Blades.

After being ousted from the playoffs last season, the Blades had a less than stellar start to their 2012-13 campaign, and Siemens followed that trajectory. He was stripped of the captaincy to start the season, and to add insult to injury, he was not selected to be an alternate by Brendan Walker – the player who had replaced him as captain.

Siemens has struggled at times this season, having started the year on the slide, tallying just four assists in his first 19 games while racking up a minus-10 rating along the way. As the Blades have rebounded, however, so has the Alberta native. Since the Blades’ 6-2 loss to the Seattle Thunderbirds on Nov. 10, Siemens has been a plus-16 with one goal and seven assists. It should be no surprise that, as Siemens’ game has turned around, so have the Blades’ fortunes. The team currently sits sixth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference, just five points behind the Lethbridge Hurricanes for fifth place and seven points out of fourth.

Troy Bourke, LW, Prince George Cougars
Acquired: 3rd Round (72nd overall) in 2012

While Troy Bourke is not having the flashiest season, his stats certainly do not represent his skill level.

Bourke is second on the team in scoring with 25 points in 32 games, as well as sporting a minus-13 rating. He came back from missing time for an upper body injury in November with a vengeance, having tallied four goals and nine assists in his last 14 games, showing that his persistence and hard work is starting to pay off.

His minus rating is cause for concern, however, as Bourke tends to be needlessly aggressive at times, chasing the puck while on defense as opposed to letting it come to him. That being said, that aggressive play can open up the ice for him when he is on the attack – it is just a matter of him being able to put the puck in the net when he has the opportunity, which is something that he has struggled with this season.

Colin Smith, C, Kamloops Blazers
Acquired: 7th Round (192nd Overall) in 2012

If there has been one prospect this season that has completely exceeded all expectations, it has been Smith, who leads the WHL with 68 points in 43 games.

Smith has been on an absolute tear this season thanks, in large part, to an October that saw him tally an incredible 32 points in 13 games. He has benefited greatly from centering the WHL’s most productive line with J.C. Lipon and Tim Bozon (MTL), and the three have helped the Blazers to the third spot in the Western Conference.

Smith was inexplicably left off of Team Canada’s World Junior roster and has played with quite the chip on his shoulder since then, tallying two goals and four assists in the first three games back with Kamloops. Not only that, but he is making the Avs staff look like geniuses for snatching the undersized center up with the 192nd overall pick after he was passed over by all teams in 2011.

OHL

Mitchell Heard, LW/C, Plymouth Whalers
Acquired: 2nd Round (41st overall) in 2012

After starting the season with the Avs’ AHL affiliate Lake Erie Monsters, Mitchell Heard was sent back to the OHL after struggling to a goal and four points in 23 games as a pro in limited ice time.

Heard made his season debut for the Plymouth Whalers on January 2nd and has played four games in the OHL since then, racking up two goals and five points during that time. Despite the impressive showing since returning to the OHL, Heard is going to have to work both on getting his confidence back and showing that he has the type of talent that will translate to the next level.

Garret Meurs, C, Plymouth Whalers
Acquired: 5th Round (123rd overall) in 2011

After storming out of the gates early for the Whalers with 22 points in his first 26 games for Plymouth, Meurs now has 33 points in 40 games – his 18 goals helping lead the Whalers’ balanced attack.

While Meurs has been hot as of late, he has seven points in his last six games, he has struggled to find consistency on the score sheet. He followed up a spectacular October that saw him tally seven goals, with a November that saw him pot just three. He followed that up with six in December and the hope is that he can continue that production.

His work ethic has allowed him to keep growing in his fourth year in the OHL, and he is on pace for his best season yet for the Whalers. That being said, his consistency should be a large concern for the Avs and he will need to prove that he can be consistently productive in order to have any sort of appreciable impact at the next level.

Joseph Blandisi, C, Ottawa 67’s
Acquired: 6th Round (162nd overall) in 2012

Blandisi played the bulk of this season with the Owen Sound Attack before being sent to the cellar-dwelling Ottawa 67’s on January 7th in a trade that saw defensive standout Cody Ceci (OTT) sent to the Attack in exchange for Blandisi and 17-year-old defenseman Jacob Middleton.

Blandisi’s arrival in Ottawa immediately figures him as one of the team’s key offensive cogs as it immediately places him behind only Sean Monahan (47) and Dante Salituro (29) in points, with 25. What it will do, also, is put Blandisi in a position to showcase his offensive skills – something that he did not necessarily do with the Attack.

While being moved to Ottawa may have taken Blandisi out of a playoff race, it has certainly moved him into a situation where he has the opportunity to show what he can do offensively.

Michael Clarke, C, Peterborough Petes
Acquired: 5th Round (132nd overall) in 2012

Clarke was slowly but surely carving out a solid, if unspectacular, campaign for himself in his second full season with the Windsor Spitfires before he was traded to Peterborough at the OHL trade deadline. Clarke, along with a couple draft picks, went to the Petes in exchange for 2012 NHL first-round defenseman Slater Koekkoek (TBL).

Given his role on the Spits, he was not expected to put up spectacular, high-end numbers, and his 19 points in 34 games was right along expectation. He needs to become more consistent, he has scored just two goals since October, and he needs to improve his skating ability in order to be able to make an impact in every game for the Petes.

QMJHL

Dillon Donnelly, D, Quebec Ramparts
Acquired: 7th Round (183rd overall) in 2011

The Avs’ lone representative in the QMJHL has played just 16 games all season between the Shawinigan Cataractes and the Quebec Ramparts after injuring his hand in an Oct. 6 game against the PEI Rocket and re-aggravating the injury on Oct. 12 against the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. In those 16 games this season, Donnelly has racked up an impressive 36 penalty minutes, though he has not dropped the gloves since re-injuring his hand. Ideally, the Avs would probably like to see Donnelly get more ice time, as he has played just 10 games since returning from his injury in December.

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