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Another 1st-rounder responds to Brent Sutter’s ‘he’s not ready’ assertion

Jul 8, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT

Brent Sutter

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.”

  1. lowenni - Jul 8, 2014 at 11:24 PM

    I don’t know how I feel about this. On one hand, he’s just saying it like it is. On another, it’s not a great vote of confidence from their coach and probably leads to some awkward feelings from the players. I think there’s a better way of putting it, such as simply “I think it wouldn’t hurt for him to develop another season or two in junior” instead of going into detail about their limits and potential. If I was one of these players it would bother me. The replies from the skaters show it bothers them too. This one: “There is a reason he went (23rd) and not in the top 10″ is particularlly bad in my opinion.

    • 19to77 - Jul 8, 2014 at 11:42 PM

      Yeah. He’s hardly blasting the kids, but that’s a pretty rough review to hear given by your own damn coach, you know? I mean, his observations are probably right on the money, but the comment about draft position seems pretty pointless. Just say “Eh, he’s not there yet, but he’s got these skills and he’ll keep improving.” Like, come on. The kid went in the first round of the NHL draft. Don’t snipe him for “only” going 23rd. That’s a hell of an achievement in itself.

    • avscup - Jul 8, 2014 at 11:44 PM

      Not so bad! They are going to hear all kinds of things. Sutter may not be wrong. Obviously you weren’t a player with a comment like “it would bother me.” I dont mean to be disrespectful but if anyone is that thin skinned their days are numbered.

      Not many 17 year olds are ready for the NHL. Not many 22 year olds are. It a reality.

      • avscup - Jul 8, 2014 at 11:50 PM

        His comment was pretty positive I thought. There is growth in his game he said. The rest of the interview was pretty complimentary. Great attitude, work ethic, leadership. He was the capitain at 17. Sutter approved of that. Also, big difference between the top 10 and the rest. There is a reason he was not picked sooner, but that doesn’t mean he won’t get there soon. He’s gonna have a tough time cracking the Avs lineup this season anyway which means back to Red Deer.

      • lowenni - Jul 9, 2014 at 12:22 AM

        I actually am a hockey player and if my coach told me “there’s a reason you’re just a fourth liner” if I was it would annoy me. I would use it as motivation to do better, however, as I hope Bleackley does. A coach should be honest but also a supporter of ones efforts–here, Sutter is a detractor. He is setting limits for Bleackley. Your comment “big difference between the top 10 and the rest” is so ignorant. Following your logic Datsyuk should’ve never been an NHLer. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf should’ve just been “power guys” like Sutter says Blecakley will be. The coach should be saying, “Kids got a hell of a future in front of him, good for him getting drafted in the 1st, he needs another season or two but I’m gonna help him be the best he can be”. And for all we know the best he can be is BETTER than a fourth line forward. To say a young kid like that just got drafted in the 1st has a future as a fourth liner is a really harsh and limiting assessment, even if humbling. Your comment is ignorant of draft status and potential and as a hockey player I do know what I’m talking about regarding this coaches’ comments.

      • avscup - Jul 9, 2014 at 9:30 AM

        Now don’t go putting words in my mouth. I wasn’t drafted either, and played a lot of hockey after college. You sound like a politically correct modern day puss. Go read Sutter’s interview and get back to me with what was really said. He is a huge supporter of Bleakly. He was being hones and fair. There is a huge difference in this years top ten and the rest.

        She’s. So sensitive! Connor Bleakly is not ready for the NHL and the Avs didn’t pick him for this year! He is the future, get it?

      • avscup - Jul 9, 2014 at 9:35 AM

        Here’s the interview.

        “No, he’s not ready for NHL hockey,” Sutter said. “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.”

        Sutter added that Bleackley is a shooter, not a playmaker, and if his vision at major-junior needs work he will be overwhelmed at the speed of the NHL. But in terms of competition level, toughness, leadership and other such intangibles outside of skill, Bleackley is a special player.

        “He’s a pretty mature kid,” Sutter said when asked about named Bleackley captain at 17. “Bleacks, he was our No. 1 centerman and more important, he comes to play every night, he’s a worker, he’s more of a power forward. He has more to do to improve his game but there is so much upside with him. He’s strong and his character and makeup (are exceptional). As a person, he comes from a great family and he is a great kid.”

        Does this sound like Sutter is ripping the kid or being honest and looking forward to having him another year in Red Deer?

      • avscup - Jul 9, 2014 at 9:40 AM

        Loweni, here is the interview.

        “No, he’s not ready for NHL hockey,” Sutter said. “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.”

        Sutter added that Bleackley is a shooter, not a playmaker, and if his vision at major-junior needs work he will be overwhelmed at the speed of the NHL. But in terms of competition level, toughness, leadership and other such intangibles outside of skill, Bleackley is a special player.

        “He’s a pretty mature kid,” Sutter said when asked about named Bleackley captain at 17. “Bleacks, he was our No. 1 centerman and more important, he comes to play every night, he’s a worker, he’s more of a power forward. He has more to do to improve his game but there is so much upside with him. He’s strong and his character and makeup (are exceptional). As a person, he comes from a great family and he is a great kid.”

        The last three sentences don’t sound like a coach that is ripping a player.

        BTW, he never said Bleackely is a fourth line player. You did.

        So the coach was fair, honest, supportive but not politically correct for your liking! Grow a pair will ya.

      • lowenni - Jul 9, 2014 at 12:14 PM

        “But I see him more as a third- or fourth-line player in the National Hockey League, more of a power guy.” From this article. He did say it.

      • i1theinternet - Jul 9, 2014 at 1:23 PM

        lowenni, you numbskull, when Sutter said “third- or fourth-line player” he was talking about GAUNCE. learn to read, son.

  2. jernster21 - Jul 8, 2014 at 11:52 PM

    The Avs’ lineup is a lot harder to break into now than it was when Duchene and O’Reilly made the team out of camp. I’ve never seen this kid play so I can’t say one way or the other but it feels like a depth move to me. If the Avs can’t keep O’Reilly long term then they want guys to step in who can play a solid two way game. There’s a lot of skill on the team but as the Kings have shown, you aren’t going to win a Cup with all skill guys – you need a responsible bottom 6 that can contribute as well – Justin Willams has a Conn Smythe to prove it.

  3. avfanforlife - Jul 9, 2014 at 12:21 AM

    I don’t think this statement was really profound or even trying to be. Is there anybody at all who thinks that he would be on the ice for the AVs this year? No. Everything about this draft pick says Avalanche in a year. Good pick? Absolutely. Will anyone be surprised if he needs more time to grow, etc.? Of course not.

  4. cheliostwin - Jul 9, 2014 at 12:24 AM

    Why is this news? Very few teenagers are ready for the NHL, and any that are would’ve been picked earlier in the draft. The Red Wings had the highest pick they’ve had in decades, fifteenth, and their selection is nowhere near being ready for the big leagues. He will be playing for the University of Michigan (under Red Berenson) for at least a year, probably more like three, before he signs a contract and probably play in the AHL for a year or two before he makes it to the Red Wings.
    The Avalanche fans have been spoiled by having the team get the #1 or #2 pick in previous years, the draft is quite different when you pick 23rd.

    • hockey412 - Jul 9, 2014 at 11:56 AM

      Because it’s June.

      • hockey412 - Jul 9, 2014 at 11:57 AM

        Or at least it was…you know, back in June.

  5. feedmetherock - Jul 9, 2014 at 8:19 AM

    I don’t see a problem with the comments. It was an honest assessment, and it isn’t like he threw the kid under the bus. The percentage of kids in their teens, that are truly ready for the NHL is ridiculously small. On top of that, it would probably be more beneficial to him to play another year at Red Deer vs. potentially playing in a 3rd or 4th line role with limited minutes, or playing in situations that don’t play to his skill set. I have never seen the kid play, but if he is an offensive forward, then I doubt you want him out there on the PK, or playing on a checking line, where he won’t have much support offensively. Heck, Drouin was a top 3 pick last year, and even he didn’t make the Lightning out of camp. Nothing wrong with properly developing him another year or two, to prepare him for long-term success, instead of rushing him and having his growth stagnate.

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