Player: Conner Bleackley
Drafted By: Colorado Avalanche (23rd overall)
Final Central Scouting Ranking: No. 35 North American skater
Height/Weight: 5'11'', 195 lbs
DOB: February 7, 1996 (18 years old)
Most Recent Affiliation: WHL, Red Deer Rebels
After having a strong career at the AAA midget and AAA bantam levels, Conner Bleackley was selected by the Red Deer Rebels with the 21st overall pick in the 2011 WHL Bantam draft. He appeared in 16 contests with the club as a 15-year-old but spent a majority of the 2011-12 campaign with the UFA Bisons midget AAA team.
By the 2012-13 season, Bleackley was able to work his way into a full-time role with the Rebels. He skated in 66 games that year, putting up 18 points across 66 contests. The High River, Alberta, native drastically improved during the 2013-14 campaign, more than tripling his offensive output, while leading the Rebels in scoring.
Full Scouting Report
Bleackley is considered a strong two-way center, and he's comfortable in all three zones regardless of puck possession. Brendan Ross of DobberProspects.com sees him as a potential team leader at the NHL level.
As per Ross' scouting report:
As Rebel’s Captain, Bleackley is a diligent attentive forward capable of contributing in all three zones. His strong character, trust-worthy defensive acumen and non-stop motor earn him plenty of opportunities. Producing at over a point-per-game pace, Bleackley has shown sound offensive skills but he’s fairly average in that department and his skating could stand to gain another gear. Bleackley projects as a versatile energy forward with admirable intangibles capable of playing in a top-six role.
While he may not have high-end skill, Bleackley's final CSS ranking indicates just how valuable of a player he could evolve into as a pro. He loves being hard to play against and molds his game after David Krejci, according to Kelly Friesen of Yahoo Sports.
"Conner is a determined, competitive player who doesn't take any shortcuts. He’s smart, gets to the right areas and is a catalyst for positive plays all over the ice. He doesn’t allow himself to be denied."
As a pick that falls out of the top 10 or 15 players available, Bleackley is still a quality prospect who could be comfortable in any number of roles in the NHL.
NHL Player Comparison
Bleackley might mold his game after Krejci, but he projects to be a bit more defensively sound than the current Boston Bruins forward. This is a high-character player who might fit more into the mold of a Ryan Callahan—willing to do whatever it takes to win, while contributing as a mid-range top-six forward.
Defense-first centers are typically more NHL-ready than forwards who need to use their bodies to get to the net or to beat defenders one-on-one. That said, it isn't like Bleackley crushed all comers at the junior level, and he could benefit from at least another year of seasoning before moving on to the next stage of his career.
Look for Bleackley to make the jump for the 2015-16 season at the earliest.
At his absolute best, Bleackley could be a Ryan Kesler-like presence for his team. He might not have the offensive instincts needed to reach that level, but he has shown rapid improvement in his game before. At worst, he projects cleanly as a responsible third-line center who can pitch in on offense from time to time.