The 2009 NHL Draft produced core pieces for the Colorado Avalanche

By Chau Vo

Matt Duchene - Colorado Avalanche

Photo: Drafted third overall in 2009, Avalanche center Matt Duchene has developed into one of the most electric offensive players in the NHL (courtesy of Russell Lansford/Icon SMI)

It is safe to say that the 2008-09 season was a season Colorado Avalanche fans would much rather forget. Not only did their 32-45-5 record leave them in last place in the Western Conference, but 27th overall in the NHL as well.

Armed with a total of seven picks in the draft, including two second round picks, the Avalanche would look to fill organizational needs at all positions. Luckily, the 27th place finish resulted with a third overall pick in the lottery, which the Avalanche used to select their current top line center, Matt Duchene. In addition to Duchene, three other drafted players have seen NHL action and six players still remain with the organization.

The conclusion of the season also saw the farewell of long time Avalanche captain, Joe Sakic. On July 9th, 2009, Sakic officially announced his retirement. Due to injuries, Sakic only appeared in 15 games his last season. His retirement left the door open for new players to become the faces of the franchise.

Matt Duchene, C, Brampton Battalion (OHL) – 1st round, 3rd overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 311

For Matt Duchene, being drafted by the Avalanche was a dream come true. Growing up in Haliburton, Ontario, Duchene idolized Avalanche stars Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic. Now, with fate on his side, Duchene would get the opportunity to play under the tutelage of the two Hall of Famers.

Duchene had a stellar rookie season that saw him finish third in Calder Trophy voting. His 24 goals and 31 assists led all rookies in scoring and a tie for first in goals. His 16 penalty minutes that year also showed he was able to play disciplined despite his young age. In addition to his accomplishments on the score sheet, Duchene played an important role in the Avalanche’s surprising playoff berth. On April 6th, 2010, Duchene notched the game winning shootout goal against Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks that would propel the Avalanche to a first round matchup with the San Jose Sharks. In six playoff games, Duchene assisted on three goals.

The following season, Duchene would brush aside any mention of a sophomore slump and quickly establish himself as one of the league’s best young dynamic players. With 27 goals and 40 assists, Duchene led the Avalanche in team scoring and went down in franchise record books as the youngest player to do so. His play in the 2010-11 season also earned him a chance to participate in the 2011 NHL All-Star Game held at the RBC Center in Raleigh, NC.

Duchene’s third season got off to a quick start and on November 4th, Duchene scored his first NHL hat trick. However, there would not be many high points for Duchene that season as he found himself sidelined for a total of 24 games throughout the year. At the end of the season, Duchene confirmed that he was not playing at 100-percent for the majority of the year.

Due to the NHL lockout, Duchene traveled to Europe to play hockey at the start of the 2012-13 season. While with Frolunda HC of the SHL, Duchene scored 14 points in 19 games in his two-month tenure in Sweden. After his contract ran out with Frolunda, Duchene signed a one-month deal with HC Ambri-Piotta, a Swiss team playing in the National League A. In four games for Ambri, Duchene scored five points.

Upon returning to North America at the conclusion of the lockout, Duchene quickly rebounded from his poor third season. With 43 points in 47 games, he tied linemate P.A. Parenteau for the team lead in scoring. However, the two top scorers for the Avalanche were unable to help the team compete with the other Western Conference teams and the Avalanche ended the season 29th overall in the league.

With a rejuvenated franchise and Duchene once again in the spotlight as one of the league’s brightest young stars, the Avalanche got off to a hot start under new head coach Patrick Roy. Over the summer, it was decided that Duchene would be the Avalanche’s top line center going forward and he would get a new winger, Ryan O’Reilly. Together, the two provide the Avalanche with a top line that is not only difficult to contain in the offensive zone but also capable of handling difficult matchups against the top lines in the league. With the season a few games over the halfway mark, Duchene leads the team in scoring with 41 points in 45 games. His play has also earned him a selection to Team Canada’s Olympic team.

Ryan O’Reilly, C, Erie Otters (OHL) – 2nd round, 33rd overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 311

If the 2009 draft were to be redone today, it is safe to assume that all 30 NHL teams would have had Ryan O’Reilly ranked in their top 10. O’Reilly surprised many people when he made the Avalanche opening night roster shortly after being drafted. His defense-first mindset and elite shutdown abilities provide the Avalanche with a key commodity.

O’Reilly got his NHL career started with an assist in his first game, a season opener against the San Jose Sharks. He became the youngest Avalanche player to appear in a regular season game as well as the league’s first non-first round pick to immediately jump to the NHL since 2003. In the month of October, O’Reilly led all rookies in scoring and had a seven-game point streak. Despite his offensive breakout, O’Reilly was relegated to third line center duties behind fellow rookie Matt Duchene and team veteran, Paul Stastny. O’Reilly would end the year with 26 points in 81 games. He would also later be credited with his first playoff goal after an inadvertent Dan Boyle own goal in an Avalanche 1-0 victory over the Sharks.

In his sophomore campaign, O’Reilly once again saw himself being depended on as a third line shutdown center. In 74 games, O’Reilly matched his rookie season points total with 26 points but topped his rookie goals total with 13 goals.

Due to injuries to Matt Duchene, O’Reilly saw his ice time increase in his third season as he was asked to take on a top six center role. With rookie winger Gabriel Landeskog as his linemate, O’Reilly was able to show his offensive upside. Together the two combined for a total of 105 points and helped Landeskog win the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie. It was also this year that O’Reilly led the league in takeaways and entered Selke discussions.

With the lockout taking place, O’Reilly decided to sign a contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL. Shortly after the end of the lockout, O’Reilly mutually terminated his KHL contract and returned to Canada to rehab an injury and await the end of his contract standoff with the Avalanche. On February 28th, it was announced that O’Reilly had signed an offer sheet with the Calgary Flames. The Avalanche quickly matched the offer sheet and O’Reilly returned to the ice as an Avalanche once more. O’Reilly showed that his third season offensive breakout was no fluke and in the already shortened NHL season, O’Reilly scored 20 points in 29 games.

With a new head coach for the 2013-14 season, O’Reilly found himself in a new role, playing wing on a line centered by Duchene. The two quickly showed they have chemistry together and O’Reilly is on pace to break his career best goals total. In 46 games, O’Reilly has 18 goals and 33 points.

Stefan Elliott, D, Saskatoon Blades (WHL) – 2nd round, 49th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 57

With an extra second round pick acquired from Montreal via Calgary, the Avalanche selected Stefan Elliott. Elliott, a smooth skating and offensively gifted defenseman coming out of the WHL, was selected in hopes of becoming the Avalanche’s future power-play quarterback.

After being drafted by the Avalanche, Elliott returned to the Saskatoon Blades for another year of junior hockey. In 72 games for the Blades, Elliott put up 26 goals and 39 assists as well as a plus-41 rating. Elliott played an important part in the Blades’ top-three finish in the WHL that year.

The Avalanche thought it would be best for Elliott’s development if he returned to the Blades for one last season of junior hockey. In his final season, he dominated the WHL and earned the Bill Hunter Trophy as the league’s best defenseman. He led the Blades with 81 points in 71 games. After his junior career ended, Elliott would suit up for the Lake Erie Monsters for five playoff games. In those five games he would assist on two goals and finish with a minus-three rating.

Elliott would make his NHL debut in the 2011-12 season and earn points in his first three games. In February, he was sent back down to the Monsters but the Avalanche quickly recalled him for another six games. In a total of 39 NHL games, Elliott scored four goals and assisted on nine others for a total of 13 points. In 30 AHL games, he finished with 14 points.

After making his NHL debut in the previous season, Elliott once again found himself in Lake Erie due to the NHL lockout. Even after NHL play resumed, Elliott was not called up to the Avalanche until February due to injuries in the lineup. During his 18 games for the Avalanche, he scored four points. His points contribution for the Monsters were five goals and eight assists in 44 games. He has spent all of 2013-14 in Lake Erie, scoring 14 points in 28 games.

Tyson Barrie, D, Kelowna Rockets (WHL) – 3rd round, 64th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 70

Tyson Barrie grew up wishing to follow in the footsteps of his father, former NHL player Len Barrie. Unlike his father however, Barrie found his talents were best suited for playing on the blue line. With great on-ice vision and the ability to find open passing lanes, Barrie gives the Avalanche another exceptional puck moving defenseman.

Not only was Barrie the leading scorer for the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL in 2009-10, but he also won the Bill Hunter Trophy, the league’s award for the best defenseman. With 19 goals and 53 assists, Barrie would prove to be deadly both at even strength and on the power play. During the playoffs, Barrie scored 11 points in 12 games for the Rockets.

In addition to being named the Rockets’ captain to start the 2010-11 season, Barrie was also selected to Team Canada for the 2011 WJC. Once again, Barrie led all Rockets defenseman in points with 11 goals and 47 assists in 54 games in his last season of junior hockey.

In February of 2012, Barrie made his NHL debut for the Avalanche and remained with the club for 10 games. Despite seeing over 17 minutes of ice time per game, Barrie put up no points for the Avalanche. For the Monsters, Barrie led all defensemen in points with 32 points in 49 games.

Barrie split time between the Monsters and the Avalanche during the 2012-13 season due to the NHL lockout. While with the Avalanche, he saw his ice time increase dramatically after the Avalanche experienced a string of injuries to key players. In 32 games for the Avalanche, Barrie scored 13 points with a minus 11 rating. For the Monsters, he put up 29 points in 38 games.

The 2013-14 season brought an opportunity for Barrie to start anew. He had recently taken over the top prospect spot for the Avalanche after leap frogging Monsters teammate Stefan Elliott. Barrie would open the season with the Avalanche but saw himself scratched from the lineup shortly thereafter. Head coach Patrick Roy thought it would be best for Barrie to return to Lake Erie to see playing time. After sustaining injuries to his blue line, Roy would recall Barrie where he has remained since. In 31 games so far this season, Barrie has scored five goals and eight assists.  

Kieran Millan, G, Boston University (H-East) – 5th round, 124th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

As a 19-year-old freshman for the Boston University Terriers, Kieran Millan backstopped the team to a National Championship. During the regular season, Millan started in 35 games and posted a stellar 1.94 goals against average and a save percentage of .921, good enough to earn New England Rookie of the Year honors.

His sophomore season saw him struggling to stay above .500, same as the entire BU team. In 32 games, Millan saw his numbers drop to 3.15 and .891.

For the second straight year, Millan and the Terriers would miss the playoffs in the highly contested Hockey East conference. Millan improved his record and stats from the previous year but the Terriers would once again find themselves out of the playoff picture. Millan was 16-10-8 for the season with a goals against average of 2.68 and a save percentage of .919.

Millan’s senior season was no different than the previous three as Millan was once again expected to handle the majority of the workload. For the fourth straight year, Millan appeared in over 30 games for the Terriers. However, before moving on to the professional level, Millan would help the Terriers return to the postseason. He would end the year with a goals against average of 2.60 and a save percentage of .923.

With the arrival of the Central Hockey League in Colorado, the Avalanche saw a great opportunity to have a minor league affiliate nearby and signed an affiliation agreement with the newly started Denver Cutthroats. Millan would be sent down to the Cutthroats after appearing in one game for the Monsters to start the 2012-13 season. In 38 games for the Cutthroats, Millan had a record of 15-15-4, 2.91 goals against, and .913 save percentage.

Brandon Maxwell, G, U.S. National U-18 Team – 6th round, 154th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

After playing for the USNTDP U18 team for two years, Brandon Maxwell decided to join the Kitchener Rangers. Maxwell started for the Rangers for another two years before moving on to the Sarnia Sting and Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors for the 2011-12 season. After a season for the University of Guelph, Maxwell would play professionally for the first time with the Rogle BK of the Swedish Allsvenskan.

Gus Young, D, Nobles (Mass. HS) – 7th round, 184th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

At 6’2 and 200 pounds, Gus Young provides the Avalanche prospect pool with a big bruising defenseman, which they lack. Young was drafted out of Massachusetts’ Nobles and Greenough School as a junior where he scored 34 goals in 29 games.

The following year, after committing to play for Yale starting in the 2010-11 season, Young led all prep school defenseman in scoring with 38 points in 29 games. His team reached the semifinals of the New England Prep School tournament.

As a freshman for the Yale Bulldogs, Young would only play in five games as the blue line was dominated by upperclassmen. In five games, Young had one assist and a plus-four rating.

It was during his sophomore season that Young emerged as the future of the Bulldogs defense going forward. In 35 games he had 12 points but more importantly Young established himself as a defensive mainstay on the Bulldogs’ blue line.

During Young’s junior season, the Bulldogs would win the school’s first-ever hockey National Championship. As an upperclassman, Young was given the task of mentoring the Bulldogs young defense including Bruins prospect Rob O’Gara.