While the Devils have to wait for the 30th overall pick in the draft to make their first choice, their second round pick comes shortly after at 41st overall. This gives the team a great opportunity - they can have a long list of first draft choices and one could realistically fall to their second round pick. In today's profile, we'll be looking at a player that I think could realistically be a Devils' first or second round pic. Conner Bleackley is a hard working and reliable center who many have going in the first round, but just as many see him as a second round pick. .
Who is Conner Bleackley?
Conner Bleackley is a 6'1", 195 lbs center with leadership capabilities, hockey smarts, and offensive skills. He was the captain of the Red Deer Rebels in 2013-2014 (just his second season with the team) and he wore an "A" for the Canadian Under-18 team. He is mature for his age and is known for his great character along with his ability on the ice.
He is a solid two-way player who had a breakout season, putting him on every scout's radar. It only took him 14 games to beat his 18 points from his 66-game 2012-2013 season. Aside from stepping it up offensively, he loves being tough to play against - getting under his opponent's skin, and then contributing on the score sheet. He describes himself as a power-forward, trying to take care of his own end and being in every situation, especially special teams. Bleackley models his game off of David Krejci.
Bleackley was ranked the 31st North American skater mid-season and dropped to 35th overall at the end of the season. He has been ranked higher on some other lists, including the ISS Top 30. Part of the reason for his drop is he is still learning to use his size to his advantage, especially on the forecheck. While he has a strong shot and is strong enough to fight through checks and stay on the puck, he is still working on his speed and ability driving to the net. He is known to push through the defenseman in his way rather than skate around them. He is strong on rebounds and makes smart plays. He works to keep his line in control of the puck down low, and excels against his opponent's top line.
He isn't the strongest skater. He needs to work on his speed, acceleration, and stride, but once he gets going, he's hard to take down. While the WHL doesn't keep these stats, he is known to be strong in the faceoff circle. He always back checks and works hard defensively, including on the penalty kill. His understanding of the game is above average - he can anticipate turnovers, find open space, and make plays well.
What experts are saying about Bleackley:
Bob McKenzie created a mid-season first round mock draft. At that time, he had Bleackley going 28th and had this to say about him,
"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!"
Adam Kimelman of NHL.com has the Devils taking Bleackley at 30th in the first round. With that, he added,
"Good skater with plus shot; led team with 29 goals and 68 points. Being the captain in Red Deer at 17 shows maturity.
Steven Hoffner of NHL.com has him going 27th overall to Anaheim. He wrote,
"A good offensive-minded player who can help round out Anaheim's forward lines in season to come."
Here is a long highlight reel of Conner Bleackley from the 2013-2014 season.
Here are some more highlights and interviews from his feature with the Red Deer Rebels:
I like Bleackley a lot. He has the kind of game that the Devils appreciate and can find the back of the net. He reminds me a bit of Adam Henrique with his responsible play and leadership at a young age. I would be extremely excited if the Devils could steal him with a second round pick, but I would also be pleased if he was the choice at 30th overall.
I think Bleackley has the ability to make it to the NHL level with a bit more development, and he seems more than willing to put in the work to get there. In every profile written about Conner, there is always a note about his strong character and work ethic along with his hockey IQ and skill. I appreciate players with those characteristics and I would not mind having Bleackley in a Devils sweater this June. While he does have a few things to work on, he is built well and has proven himself capable in his short career.
What do you think of Conner Bleackley? Do you think he should be the Devils first round pick or wait until the second round and see if he's still available? What aspects of his game get you excited? Do any aspects make you hesitant on taking him? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!