It's beginning to look like the Colorado Avalanche could have a couple of teen-age phenoms on the roster for its Oct. 1 season opener against San Jose.
First-round pick Matt Duchene, 18, should be a lock to start the year in Denver, even if new head coach Joe Sacco is reluctant to say as much. The final 23-man roster, he's said, won't be determined until after the Avalanche plays its final three exhibition games.
Matt Duchene (left) and Ryan O'Reilly have been impressive in Avalanche camp.
"I think he's made some progress every day, and that's what you're looking for," Sacco said of Duchene, who was taken third overall in the 2009 NHL entry draft after collecting 31 goals and 48 assists in 57 games last season for the Brampton Battalion in the Ontario Hockey League.
"It takes a little bit of time to get comfortable with the surroundings, your new teammates, your new league, playing against better competition," Sacco said. "I'm pleased with the way he's developing."
But perhaps the biggest Avalanche surprise is that O'Reilly, also 18 and the first of Colorado's two second-round selections (33rd overall), has already signed a three-year, entry-level contract, is still in camp and apparently has a good chance to make the opening-night roster.
"He's had a solid camp and we're very excited about his future," general manager Greg Sherman said of O'Reilly, who had 16 goals and 50 assists in 68 games last season with the Erie Otters in the OHL.
Remember when the Avalanche made a habit of trading draft picks and prospects for marquee names in an attempt to make a run at the Stanley Cup?
Those days are over following last year's nightmare season, when the Avalanche fell into the Western Conference basement and missed the playoffs for the second year in a row.
"Now you have to look at it as a new positive beginning where you have to be excited about our youth," said Adam Foote, who has replaced the retired Joe Sakic as team captain. "That's what we're going to do."