With an average age of 25.6, the Colorado Avalanche is the youngest team in the National Hockey League. They must be young when 25-year-old Alternate Captain Paul Stastny is considered a veteran voice in the locker room. Their youth movement is powered by 2009 draft standouts Matt Duchene, who is on pace for a 30-goal season, and Ryan O’Reilly, league leader in takeaways, as well as rookie sensation Gabriel Landeskog. Landeskog may not be tops on the rookie scoring sheet, but he’s far and away the most well-rounded player making his NHL debut this season, matching up against some of the toughest competition in the league.
But there’s another youngster making a name for himself on the Avs: Stefan Elliott. Taken in the second round of the 2009 entry draft, Elliott spent the last two years honing his skills in the WHL while playing for the Saskatoon Blades. The defenseman was a stellar force for the Blades, posting an astonishing 81 points in 71 games last season and winning the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as the Western Hockey League’s Defenseman of the Year. He was among the scoring leaders on defense for his previous three seasons as well, averaging 0.76 points per game in 210 games.
20-year-old Elliott made his professional debut with Colorado’s AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters. He joined the Monsters’ 2011 playoff run and registered two assists in five games. He began the 2011-2012 season in Lake Erie, but an injury to Avs’ star defenseman, Erik Johnson, sent Elliott to NHL ice after just 18 games.
He certainly made a statement right away. Mid-way through the third period of a tied game against the Edmonton Oilers, Elliott showed poise at both ends of the ice by breaking up a 2-on-1 Edmonton rush and subsequently scoring the game-winning goal.
In what is sure to become his trademark, Elliott walked the blueline and sent a blistering wrister through traffic and past Oilers’ netminder Devan Dubnyk. His goal started a flurry of scoring by the Avs, which won the game by a final score of 5-2. “Pure joy and excitement,” said Elliott about the goal. “It’s special scoring my first goal, let alone in my first game, to get that first one out of the way.”
The young defenseman put up points in each of his next two games, including a third period goal against the New Jersey Devils that helped the Avalanche post a convincing 6-1 win.
Like many rookies do, Elliott struggled for a few games. He made defensive errors, often at key times, and lost his scoring touch. However, in last night’s win over the San Jose Sharks, Elliott put his skills back on display in this beautiful coast-to-coast effort which gave the Avalanche a 1-0 lead with only 17 seconds left in the first period:
The Avalanche would go on to win the game in a shoot out, 4-3.
Many people criticized the Avalanche organization, and GM Greg Sherman specifically, for letting Kevin Shattenkirk go in the blockbuster deal that sent the rookie defenseman to St. Louis, along with power forward Chris Stewart and a second round draft pick. Pundits claimed the return of Johnson, forward Jay McClement and the draft pick that would become Duncan Siemens made the deal significantly lopsided in the Blues’ favor. But few people stopped to consider who the Avalanche had waiting in the wings. Although Shattenkirk is destined to become a top-tier defenseman in the NHL, Stefan Elliott made him expendable. The two bring different skill sets to the blueline, but there should be little debate about how equally talented they are.
Despite what’s shaping up to be a disappointing year for many Avs fans, there is much to be excited about in Denver. The strength of the team is derived from its youth, and Stefan Elliott has solidified himself as a core part of it.
Cheryl Bradley is an Assistant Editor and Staff Writer for SBNation’s Mile High Hockey, covering the Colorado Avalanche. Cheryl also is on the Board of Directors for the Avalanche Guild, an organization that partners with the Avalanche to support local youth and adult hockey in Colorado.