Over the weekend it was announced that the Avalanche had decided to part ways with long time head of amateur scouting Rick Pracey. Some would find this news somewhat interesting as it appears on paper, that he had done quite a decent job at finding young players to turn around a bottom of the league team. But if you dive into the actual work he has done, he comes out looking like a paper tiger and the Avalanche parting ways with him isn’t as shocking as it may appear
There is no denying that Pracey and his group of scouts put together one of the best drafts, league wide, in 2009. That year he was able to grab franchise cornerstone Matt Duchene at #3 overall, Ryan O’Reilly at #33 overall, and to top it off he was also able to nab up and comer Tyson Barrie at #64, which is looking more like a steal of the draft everyday. Not to mention Pracey also picked defenseman Stefan Elliott this year, who for a long time was a highly touted prospect but has yet to put it together on the NHL level. This was a spectacular draft that started the push to get the team back to respectability.
After the 2009 draft the results were very hit and miss for Pracey and company. In 2010 Pracey decided to go “off the board” with the Avs first pick tagging Joey Hishon with their first pick. Hishon was on his way to making the NHL before a vicious hit derailed his career. Hishon is back playing but to this date has yet to play a regular season game with the team. This obliviously can’t be blamed on Pracey as he has no control over a player getting injured, but unfortunately his top pick has yet to make an impact. The rest of 2010 draft is looking weaker by the day. Pracey did manage to draft two goaltenders with promise, Calvin Pickard and Sami Aittokallio, in this draft but to this date it looks like neither will amount to anything more than backup NHL goalies.
In 2011, Pracey did land team captain, Gabe Landeskog, with the 2nd overall pick, but he also had the 11th pick in that draft, which he used on defenseman Duncan Siemens who has yet to play an NHL game. By taking Siemens, Pracey passed up players like Ryan Murphy, JT Miller, Nathan Beaulieu, and Stuart Percy all of whom have made NHL contributions. The rest of the 2011 Avs draft class was terrible, with no prospects looking like they have much of a chance to even make it to the NHL.
The 2012 draft wasn’t much better for Pracey. The Avs didn’t have a first round pick due to the Semyon Varlamov trade, so with their first pick in the 2nd round they took over ager Mitchell Heard. Heard has been the definition of bust. Heard had been playing bottom line minutes in Lake Erie of the AHL, and recently was demoted to the Fort Wayne Comets of the ECHL. Of the rest of the players drafted in 2012, forward Troy Bourke has shown some promise as has forward Colin Smith, but both are a long way away from being NHL players. Both have big time offensive skills but they are both of small stature, which makes scouts wonder if they will ever meet the physical demands of the NHL game.
Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic were around for the 2013 draft and their presence could be felt, as there was a distinct shift in what kind of players were drafted. Nathan MacKinnon was an obvious choice at # 1 overall. But after that Roy and company put their focus on drafting larger more physical players. This was a drastic departure from what Pracey had done in the past, as he always favored smaller skill players. It’s a little too early to start evaluating this draft class for quality of picks, but so far a bunch of the picks, including Chris Bigras, Mason Geertson and Will Butcher, have played very well for their junior teams and colleges.
Obviously the 2014 draft is way too young to try to evaluate, but once again the Avs went the route of larger more physical players, which is not the type of player Pracey likes to draft, and you could tell the Avs started to value his voice less and less.
Another area of concern was Pracey’s lack of focus on the international prospects. Pracey very rarely drafted international players, only five players drafted out a possible 40 draft picks since 2009. Plus Pracey never looked to bring in un-drafted international players. This was concerning considering the large amount of international players playing in the NHL. It’s as if Pracey just deliberately ignored a large group of potential players. Roy and Sakic came in and within a year had signed three players (Dennis Everberg who made the opening night roster, Borna Rendulic who was one of the last cuts in training camp and Maxim Noreau) who were playing internationally last season.
It’s pretty clear that the Avs and Rick Pracey were no longer seeing eye to eye on what kind of players should be in the system. Rick Pracey did a great job at evaluating the top end talents selected at the top ends of drafts, but if he didn’t have a high first round pick he usually swung and missed. With the new era of drafting being influenced by the type of players Roy and Sakic want, and the multiple miscues by Pracey over the past 3 years, there just was no place left for him and his firing should not be shock to anyone.
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