Mountain men appeal to Duchene

LANCE HORNBY

, Last Updated: 8:16 AM ET

If the National Hockey League draft unfolds the way many are projecting, Matt Duchene will be on a Rocky Mountain high.

The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning hold the first and second picks respectively, with John Tavares and Victor Hedman slated 1-2, but coming on strong late in the winter was Duchene, the 79-point centre from the Brampton Battalion, who grew up a Colorado Avalanche fan and draws comparisons to Joe Sakic. The No. 3 position happens to belong to the restructuring Avs.

"When I was younger I was a Patrick Roy-Sakic-Peter Forsberg fanatic," Duchene said at the NHL scouting combine this weekend at a Toronto airport hotel. "I used to paint my goaltender mask in road hockey like Roy's. That would be pretty cool to play there, but at the same time I just want to play.

"I'm prepared for anything, To be mentioned among (Tavares and Hedman) is an honour."

Getting a true read on the Avs is tough as they go through management and coaching upheaval. The Islanders and Lightning both like what the 6-foot-6 Hedman can do as a Chris Pronger-type to police the crease, but the majority of long-suffering Islanders fans long for a dynamic scorer after they eked out just 201 goals this past season and 194 in 2007-08.

BROTHER ACT?

After Colorado, the next four picks belong, in order, to Atlanta, Los Angeles, Phoenix and the Maple Leafs. Toronto could have designs on uniting the Schenn brothers, Luke, their star rookie defenceman, and two-way centre Brayden, who could go anywhere after Duchene.

There are some mystery players in the mix, too, including 6-foot-5 defenceman Jared Cowan from Spokane of the Western Hockey League, who suffered a severe right ACL injury in a game on Jan. 30 and dropped slightly to the top 10 from the top five.

Both Toronto general manager Brian Burke and Dave Morrison, his director of amateur scouting, doubt that their No. 7 pick, whoever it is, will jump right into the NHL. But many of last year's top 10, such as Steve Stamkos and Luke Schenn, did play significant roles.

"The top 10 this year are very good and everyone will get a good player in the first round," predicted Dan Marr, director of amateur scouting for the Thrashers. "You put a rough list together prior to the combine and as you look at this year's time and time again, it's deeper than I first thought. Any team with extra second or third-round picks will get some fine prospects."

There were 104 players invited to the combine to be put through a battery of physical endurance tests, team interviews and of course, psychological assessments.

"Sometimes the questions are more personalized towards a player's situation, but kids do come up with new answers that are pretty impressive," Marr said.

"You can tell if it's him or if he's been coached (by an agent)."

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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