Top draft choice aims to make Avs this year |

Top draft choice aims to make Avs this year

Colorado Avalanche number one pick in the NHL Draft, Matt Duchene, who was the third overall selection, jokes with reporters during a news conference in the team's locker room in Denver on Tuesday, June 30, 2009. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER – Matt Duchene has never set the bar low for himself. The first-round draft choice of the Colorado Avalanche and third overall pick in last weekend’s NHL Entry Draft indicated that he would continue to keep the bar high.

“I really want to make the team this year and I think I’m real close,” said Duchene, Colorado’s highest draft pick 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,” Duchene said during a tour of the Avalanche facility on Tuesday. “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,” Pracey said.

Duchene is in impressive company in being taken high up in the draft. The last time the Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques franchise selected a player in the top three was 1991, when they chose Eric Lindros No. 1 overall.

They also selected Curtis Leschyshyn with the third pick in 1988, Mats Sundin, 1989, and Owen Nolan, 1990, as their team’s top overall picks in those drafts.

“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, producing 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 (14-12-26) and tied for first with six power-play goals.

Duchene, who lists Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic and former Avalanche 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.”

Second-round selections – center 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 University in 2010

All told, Colorado chose two centers, three defenseman and two goaltenders during the two-day draft.

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