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A first round pick in the 2012 WHL Draft, Conner Bleackley had a very strong sophomore season for the Red Deer Rebels, after putting up just 18 points in 66 games as a WHL rookie. He is becoming a true two-way power forward prospect with 29 goals and 68 points in 71 games this season. He also showed leadership for a young Rebels team and was given the captaincy as a result. The High River, Alberta native was also part of Canada’s team at the Under-18 World Championships, where he was an Alternate captain. Bleackley had two points in the seven game tournament, helping Canada to a bronze medal after a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Czech Republic in the semi-finals.
Center — shoots Right
Born Feb 7 1996 — High River, ALTA
Height 6.1 — Weight 196 [185 cm/89 kg]
Conner Bleackley is learning to use his size and speed this season to get in quickly on the forecheck and play a more physical game. Bleackley has a very good wrist shot and a quick release. He shows the ability to drive hard to the net, and has good balance and strength on his skates to fight through checks and battle in the dirty areas of the ice, in front of the net and in the corners. Its not always pretty, but it is effective. He’s as likely to bull rush through a defenceman to get to the net, as he is to go around them. He excels in getting to the dirty areas of the ice, and playing a high contact, gritty style of game. He has the quick hands to pounce on rebounds and put them in the back of the net in tight, or to make a quick move on the goaltender as he cuts to the net. He is very good in the cycle game, and his hockey IQ helps him to make quick, smart passes and wait for openings. Understands that a shift can be effective if his line controls the puck down low, even if they don’t get a goal or scoring chance, especially when playing against the other team’s best.
Bleackley is a decent skater. His top end speed is average, and he could stand to improve his acceleration and quickness going forward. Lengthening and strengthening his stride would make a huge difference in his game. However he has very good agility, and excellent balance. He’s very hard to knock off the puck, and that really helps him to play the gritty style that he favours.
Bleackley is well developped defensively for an 18-year old. He’s good in the face-off circle, and while the WHL doesn’t keep stats, seems to win a good number of his draws. He also backchecks hard, and is willing to do whatever it takes to help his team win, whether it be block shots, or play against the other teams’s top lines, and kill penalties. He understands the game at a high level and his ability to read the play and anticipate what others will do helps him to create turnovers in all three ends of the ice. Bleackley plays a high energy style and he never stops moving his feet. He’s even been known to drop the gloves on occassion, but this isn’t the focus of his game.
Conner Bleackley’s style is reminiscent of David Bolland of the Toronto Maple Leafs. This isn’t necessarily a talent comparison, but one based on style. In terms of potential, Bleackley, if he reaches his ceiling can put up more offence than Bolland has been able to in the NHL, as he could be a two-way second line centre. However, Bleackley is one of the safer picks at this point in the draft as even if he doesn’t quite reach his ceiling offensively, he should be able to use his grit and two way play to carve out an NHL career on the bottom lines.
Here are some highlights of Conner Bleackley in action.
Check back tomorrow for my number 29 ranked prospect.
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