Conner Bleackley is the epitome of a workhorse. The Red Deer Rebels captain stands at 6'1", 195 lbs, and he knows how to use his size to his advantage.
His assets are numerous, including playing a 200 foot game, endless effort on the ice, a quick release and top notch vision. He has quick hands and can find space in tight areas.
His defensive game has always been his strong point, as Bleackley knows how to disrupt puck carriers, and does a great job getting into the shooting lanes. He's definitely not the best skater in the draft, however his stride has improved every year, and he tested as the top athlete in terms of leg strength and jumping at the Top Prospect game.
According to most scouts, the High River, Alberta native oozes character, so you know that both Timmins and Bergevin have taken notice of his breakout season.
"As Rebel’s Captain, Bleackley is a diligent attentive forward capable of contributing in all three zones. His strong character, trust-worthy defensive acumen and non-stop motor earn him plenty of opportunities. Producing at over a point-per-game pace, Bleackley has shown sound offensive skills but he’s fairly average in that department and his skating could stand to gain another gear. Bleackley projects as a versatile energy forward with admirable intangibles capable of playing in a top-six role." - Brendan Ross (Dobber Sports)
"He deserves every point he has with his strong work ethic and decent size. He hustles every shift, and is not afraid to get in on the forecheck " - NHL Central Scouting
"I’m a big fan of his. I really enjoyed my talk with him at the NHL Combine and NHL scouts I spoke to raved about his combine interviews with them as well. I see him as a great third line NHL contributor and I suspect he will become one of the leaders on his NHL team down the road." – Mark Edwards (Hockey Prospect)
From the horse's mouth:
"I try to be a gritty forward. I try to play like a power-forward. I take care of things in my own end and am good on the draw. I want to be a guy that can be used in every situation on the ice.I like how David Krejci plays. He’s good on the draw and plays well at both ends. He’s someone I’d like to play like." - Conner Bleackley
Hockey Prospect: 22
McKeen's Hockey: 32
Craig Button: 30
Average Ranking: 26
There are decent odds that Bleackley is still around when the Habs take to the podium, and I have no doubt that Timmins would make the pick for the 17 year old center.
My only worry is that Bleackley has really only shown one year of offensive prowess in the WHL. Bleackley didn't exactly light the world on fire at the U-18 either. I think he has the potential to establish himself as a very solid third liner, but I sincerely doubt he will develop into a top 6 forward.
However, picking a very reliable potential third line center with the 26th overall pick would be fantastic coup, and one that I would fully endorse.
Pending who's left on the draft board, Bleackley may end up being the smartest choice, and possibly the safest.