DENVER – When the Colorado Avalanche scouting staff started preparing for the draft in January, the team was in the chase for first in the Northwest Division and a high playoff spot.
So they started evaluating prospects expected to go late in the first round.
The strategy changed when the team went into free fall after the new year.
“In our meetings we were planning 18 to 22,” said Rick Pracey, the Avalanche director of amateur scouting. “When things went the other way, we couldn’t go from 20 to two, so our first move was 12. Two weeks later we had to get in on the big guys.”
The Avalanche’s disappointing season had a silver lining. They landed the No. 2 pick in the draft, and an in-season trade with St. Louis gave them the No. 11 overall pick.
They drafted forward Gabriel Landeskog and defenceman Duncan Siemens, two players the organization feels are capable of being major cogs in the future.
The team introduced Landeskog and Siemens on Tuesday.
In the fourth through seventh rounds they picked two forwards—Joachim Nermark in the fourth round and Garrett Meurs in the fifth—and two defencemen—Gabriel Beaupre in the sixth round and Dillon Donnelly in the seventh.
“It’s not only a successful draft in terms of the way we planned, but to get two hockey players that are core players, front line players, and service our needs, it helps our build,” Pracey said. “These are two players that we clearly targeted and we’re ecstatic to get.”
Pracey said the Avalanche stuck to their philosophy of taking the best players available, but were fortunate to also add to their depth.
The 18-year-old Landeskog was a highly touted prospect playing for Kitchener in the Ontario Hockey League and a player they expected to be available at No. 2.
They weren’t sure Siemens would still be around at No. 11, and when he was still on the board they snapped him up.
“He’s a top four defenceman capable of playing 20 to 25 minutes,” Pracey said.
Landeskog, at six foot one, 207 pounds, is considered capable of making the team out of training camp in September while the other five picks likely need more time.
All will take part in the team’s developmental camp starting July 11.
The Avalanche’s roster is one of the youngest in the NHL, in large part because of a pair of 20-year-olds in Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly.
Both made the team at age 18, right after they went No. 3 and 33, respectively, in the 2009 draft.
Landeskog knows Colorado has a history of plugging in young players right away.
“I’ve heard those stories about Matt Duchene and other players but at the same time I don’t want to get ahead of myself too much,” he said. “There’s still a lot of work to do, I still need to get better at some things, but obviously my goal is to make the roster next year. I’m not going to sweat it too much.”
Siemens won’t turn 18 until Sept. 7 so he’s prepared to wait at least another year for his chance.
In the meantime he is going to add weight and strength to his 6-3, 197-pound body while honing his toughness.
“I describe myself as the type of player who is willing to go to battle for one of my teammates,” he said. “Sometimes that requires getting in there and scrapping. That comes from being a hard, physical guy and some guys on other teams take exception to that. There are times you have to answer the bell and it’s something I’m not afraid to do.”
That was a big draw for the Avalanche.
“He’s confrontational on every scale every time he’s on the ice and makes things nasty out there,” Pracey said. “But he can play hockey.”
For the Avalanche to get back to the elite of the NHL, they’ll need Landeskog and Siemens to live up to their potential.
If they develop as hoped, and if the other four picks contribute to the organization, then the past weekend will match Pracey’s assessment of the draft.
“This is a rare circumstance where it all came together,” he said.