Avalanche junior prospects update

By Glen Erickson

The group of Colorado Avalanche prospects playing in the CHL provides a mix of forwards and defensemen who bring offensive skill and a physical presence to the system.

Among the six prospects, four were drafted in the second round of their respective NHL Entry Drafts while one is a first rounder. The high-end talent provides stability and a bright future within Colorado’s talent pool.

Codey Burki, C

6’, 190 lbs. DOB: Nov. 17, 1987 – Winnipeg, Maintoba
Acquired: 2nd Round, 59th Overall 2006

Codey Burki of the Brandon Wheat Kings finds himself filling an important leadership role on a veteran-laden WHL team this the season. Burki, agrees his experience at Avalanche training camp has had an impact on his approach to the game this season and he better understands the challenges associated with taking the next step.

“There certainly is a quicker pace there and it seems the pucks are always right on the tape,” Burki said of his experience. “When I came back to the WHL, [I found] it’s certainly a bit easier to play and I have more confidence. That’s the biggest thing so far this season. I’m playing with more confidence.”

Through 20 games this season, Burki has scored 14 goals and 15 assists. Linemates Mark Derlago and Juraj Simek (VAN) are also among the top six leading scorers in the WHL. The Wheat Kings led the East Division with a 10-8-0-2 record.

“Colorado wants me to keep producing offensively here. That’s probably the main part of my game. They’ve asked me to be good defensively, too. They really just want me to become a well-rounded player. I think that’s pretty much what any team wants out of any player.”

Burki will play for Team WHL in the ADT Canada/Russia Challenge at the end of November and is a solid candidate for a spot on the Canadian entry at the 2007 WJC.

Chris Durand, C

6’1, 185 lbs. DOB: Jan. 21, 1987 – Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Acquired: 2nd Round, 52nd Overall 2005

Chris Durand was chosen by the Avs in what might prove to be the most productive round the organization has ever had at the NHL Entry Draft. Along with Durand, the club chose Ryan Stoa, Paul Stastny and Tom Fritsche. The foursome is currently among Colorado’s top eight prospects according to Hockey’s Future.

The key for Durand is to establish and maintain offensive consistency with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. As a rookie, he collected 43 points in 60 games. The next season, his production increased to 53 points in 66 games. Last year, in a career-high 71 games, his production fell to 34 points. However, he shared the team lead in scoring in the playoffs, collecting five goals and three assists as the T-Birds dropped a first-round series to the Portland Winter Hawks in seven games. Now in his fourth season with the Thunderbirds, Durand is off to a slow start with two goals and one assist in 16 games.

Durand adds depth and experience in Seattle, along with fellow prospects Scott Jackson (STL), Bud Holloway (LA) and Bretton Stamler (DET).

Ray Macias, D

6’2,180 lbs. DOB: Sep. 18, 1986 – Long Beach, California
Acquired: 4th Round, 124th Overall 2005

An offensive-minded defenseman, Ray Macias had his best year statistically during the 2004-05 season when he collected 47 points in 69 games for the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. To date, he has played a total of 239 games in a Blazers uniform.

Through 20 games this season, the Blazers have been perhaps the biggest surprise in the WHL, posting a 14-4-1-1 record. Macias’ role on the club is twofold, as his skating ability and versatility enables head coach Dean Clark to play him on defense and on right wing. He’s scored eight goals and 15 assists, while his plus-16 ranking suggests he is outworking his opponents on a consistent basis. Among his teammates in Kamloops is flashy import Jusso Puustinen (CGY).

Macias played in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in 2005, but has been passed over by USA Hockey when national junior team tryouts have taken place.

Victor Oreskovich, RW

6’2, 216 lbs. DOB: Aug. 15, 1986 – Whitby, Ontario
Acquired: 2nd Round, 55th Overall 2004

In November of 2005, Victor Orsekovich left the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey program and entered the OHL. Over two NCAA seasons, he scored three goals and three assists in 46 games.

Last season in Kitchener, Orsekovich was unable to avoid the injury bug, playing in only 19 games after the move from Notre Dame.

As a 20-year-old, the obvious key will be to remain healthy enough to provide consistent production at the junior level. So far this season, Orsekovich has collected six goals and 11 assists through 21 games. Listed at center by the Rangers, Orsekovich also has the size to play a physical role along the boards. Among his teammates in Kitchener is highly-touted prospect, Jakub Kindl (DET).

Chris Stewart, RW

6’1, 230 lbs. DOB: Oct. 30, 1987 – Scarborough, Ontario
Acquired: 1st Round, 18th Overall 2006

Throughout most of his junior career, Stewart played somewhat of a supporting role with the Kingston Frontenacs, as his older brother Anthony Stewart (FLA) earned accolades for his solid play in the OHL. However, following Anthony’s departure to pursue a NHL career, Chris began to flourish. Last July, the Avs made him their first round pick at the NHL Entry Draft.

In Kingston this season, Stewart is third in team scoring with 10 goals and eight assists in 15 games for a struggling Frontenacs team. The effort to date has been frustrating for the team captain, although he is on pace to exceed the total of 37 goals he scored last season.

“He’s fighting the puck right now,” head coach Bruce Cassidy told The Kingston Whig-Standard in late October. “It seems the puck is on his stick and it’s gone. He is working hard. He is trying to lead by example, but it’s something new for him.”

Stewart, who played in the 2006 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, has been named to Team OHL and will play in the ADT Canada/Russia Challenge in late November. The opportunity could result in an invitation to the national junior team training camp for the WJC, where he again could follow in his older brother’s footsteps.

Nigel Williams, D

6’4, 230 lbs. DOB: Apr. 18, 1988 – Montgomery, Illinois
Acquired: 2nd Round, 51st Overall 2006

Nigel Williams has not played much hockey yet this season as he has elected to leave the University of Wisconsin for the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL.

Williams’ departure from the Badgers program comes amid reports there were ice time concerns. Willliams found himself as a No. 7 or 8 defenseman at Wisconsin as a rookie. Badgers head coach Mike Eaves is recognized in hockey circles as a stickler for work ethic, who tends to ease rookies into the lineup. Earlier in the season, when fellow defenseman Kyle Klubertanz (ANA) went down with a thigh injury, Williams was unable to take advantage of the opportunity to impress the coaching staff and move up the depth chart.

Williams has experience with the USA National Team Development Program. As a member of the U-18 team during the 2005-06 season, he collected six goals and nine assists in 48 games. With the move to the OHL, Williams returns to the team that drafted him as a bantam. He may prove to be a good fit as he brings big league size to the Spirit, providing valuable depth and skill on a roster with an already solid defensive corps. Saginaw is off to a 15-5-1 start and leads the West Division in the Western Conference.

Leslie Treff contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.