DENVER – Matt Duchene believes he’s ready to play for the Colorado Avalanche.
“I really want to make the team this year and I think I’m real close,” said Duchene, the third overall pick in last weekend’s NHL Entry Draft and Colorado’s highest selection since the franchise moved to Colorado in 1995.
“I think my skill and my development are there right now and I will be able to handle this level,” he said Tuesday during a tour of the Avalanche facility. “Hopefully, I will be able to grab a spot.”
Avs director of amateur scouting Rick Pracey agreed with Duchene’s self analysis and wouldn’t discount the idea of Duchene gaining a roster spot this season.
“I feel he has NHL abilities,” Pracey said. “I would never say never for all our prospects (making the team). It’s whether the timing is right and whether it’s good enough for the team and for Matt as well.”
The last time the Avalanche franchise selected a player in the top three was when the Quebec Nordiques chose Eric Lindros No. 1 overall in 1991.
That was their third straight year with the top pick, after Mats Sundin in 1989 and Owen Nolan in 1990. They also selected Curtis Leschyshyn with the third pick in 1988.
“This is a player of high character, high skill and a high level of skating ability and speed and has shown a high level to compete,” Pracey said of Duchene.
Duchene showed that this year, getting six game-winning goals while directing the Brampton Battalion to the Ontario Hockey League final. He was sixth in the league playoffs with 26 points (14 goals, 12 assists) and tied for first with six power-play goals.
Duchene, who lists Avalanche captain Joe Sakic and former stars Patrick Roy and Peter Forsberg among his childhood heroes, was awe-struck during his tour of the Colorado locker room and the Pepsi Center.
He even went and sat in Sakic’s cubicle.
“It’s surreal and amazing to be here,” Duchene said. “I can’t believe it, walking in here and seeing all the pictures of all those guys I grew up watching.”
The Avalanche’s second-round selections, centre Ryan O’Reilly and defenseman Stefan Elliott, were also in town.
“There is a good chance that they will be occupying some of these locker room stalls and having an impact on our organization,” Pracey said. “We feel we drafted a group of skilled individuals and strong character players that will have an impact on our organization for years to come.”
Pracey said that defenseman Gus Young, taken in the seventh round, would return to high school this season, and possibly attend Yale in 2010.