Monsters rookies linked to Avs future

by Doug Plagens || AHL On The Beat Archive

For the Colorado Avalanche, the 2009 NHL Entry Draft has the makings of a franchise nucleus-forming one-stop shop.

Draft day was already a success by the time the Avalanche were off the clock early in the second round: after all, centers Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly were theirs, and both would make the big club out of training camp at the age of 18 without spending a day in the AHL.

But finding defensemen Stefan Elliott and Tyson Barrie is what may put the Avs’ 2009 draft day over the top.

With the 49th pick – a spot on the board that had previously belonged to both the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames – Colorado chose Elliott from the Western Hockey League’s Saskatoon Blades. Fifteen picks later, the club plucked Barrie, another British Columbia native who had been playing for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets.

Now, the two blueliners are honing their skills with the Avalanche’s top affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters.

“They are right at the top,” said Lake Erie head coach David Quinn. “I don’t think we’ve had better prospects since I’ve been here. You’re talking about two guys who have shown, in a short period of time, that they can be good, dominant offensive defensemen at this level.”

The draft positioning and lofty prospect status undoubtedly follow the youthful pair of defenseman, but Barrie knows it comes with the territory.

“With O’Reilly and Duchene and what they’ve already been able to do, that kind of leaves me and [Elliott] as the next two guys, and hopefully we can follow what they’ve done,” he said. “That’s the goal: it would be awesome if we could all play [for Colorado]. You want those expectations, because if the expectations are gone, you’re doing something wrong.”

As if the similarities between the two point-producing defenders weren’t already plentiful, the two kids who had played against one another throughout their youth hockey careers were awarded Defenseman of the Year honors in the Western League in consecutive seasons. Barrie won the award in 2009-10 and Elliott in 2010-11. When Elliott got the honor, Barrie was the runner-up.

“We’ve pretty much followed each other around everywhere,” Elliott said. “We’re both from B.C., played against each other in minor hockey growing up, played against each other in the WHL, and then were drafted by the same team. Having him on my team now is definitely a plus.”

“He’s a great guy, and we’re good friends,” Barrie said. “Hopefully we can both play really well down here, and get the chance to play with the big club.”

Their backgrounds and goals are similar, and so are their styles of play.

“They’re both very elusive, they have the ability to beat people one-on-one, and they both need to work on their defense like any other 20- or 21-year-old defenseman,” Quinn says. “But there’s certainly a level of confidence that allows them to play the way they do. They’re great prospects.”

The only real difference in their games, according to Elliott, actually helps each one complement the other.

“[Barrie] is more of a pass guy first, and I’m more of a shoot-first guy,” Elliott claims.

“They’re both such great kids that you’d never know they’re as highly touted as they are,” Quinn says. “They handle it with a lot of humility. They understand what’s ahead of them. If they work hard, and do the things we’re talking about doing, they’ll have long careers ahead of them.”