The Colorado Avalanche made Conner Bleackley their first-round pick (23rd overall) at the 2014 draft, which comes with big pressure given both of the club’s last two first-round selections — Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog — jumped straight to the NHL.
One person that doesn’t think Bleackley can make the same leap this year is his current WHL Red Deer coach, Brent Sutter.
“No, he’s not ready for NHL hockey,” Sutter said, per the Denver Post. “Conner still needs to grow, especially with skating and defensive responsibilities. His vision needs to improve. I’m not Colorado, I’m not Patrick Roy, but I feel like he’s not NHL ready. There is growth in his game. There is a reason he went (23rd) and not in the top 10, but I do think he’s a great prospect for that organization.”
This isn’t a flame job by Sutter. He’s as straight a shooter as his brother Darryl — and, presumably, all the Sutter brothers — and is telling it like it is.
Just like he did with another first-rounder from two years ago.
Brendan Gaunce, the OHL product Vancouver took 26th overall at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, got a similar review after working under Sutter at a Canadian National Team junior camp. From The Province:
“He’s a big guy and he’s a ways away from being a pro player yet,” Sutter said of Gaunce.
“He’s a very defensive-oriented guy as far as understanding the game. He knows his limits offensively, but he’s a big power forward who’s a decent skater and he’s got some good skills. But I see him more as a third- or fourth-line player in the National Hockey League, more of a power guy.”
Again, nothing malicious from Sutter here — he didn’t think the kid was ready, so he said so. The only issue, it seems, is that the likes of Bleackley and Gaunce were forced to answer questions about Sutter’s comments, which is a less than comfortable situation. These kids haven’t played a day in the NHL, so they can’t fire back and certainly don’t want to question the hockey knowledge of a two-time Stanley Cup winner.
But they also want to, y’know, stick up for themselves.
“Everyone has their opinions and he is obviously an established coach for the NHL and junior levels, and he knows what he’s talking about,” Gaunce said in reply. “And if that’s his opinion, that’s his opinion, I can’t change that.
“That’s not something I should probably comment on further, because I’m not a coach and I don’t want to comment on someone else’s opinion.”
As for Bleackley?
“Obviously [Sutter] knows a lot more about pro hockey,” he said. “But at the same time, my mindset hasn’t changed. Do I think I’m going to play [in the NHL] this year? I don’t know.
“No one really knows for sure. It’s up to me and my training.”