Colorado Avalanche prospect Conner Bleackley stripped of captaincy

The Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League announced yesterday they were stripping Colorado Avalanche forward prospect Conner Bleackley of his captaincy, which he has held for the previous two seasons, and making him an alternate to new captain Wyatt Johnson. Bleackley, taken by the Avalanche with the 23rd selection of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, was widely praised for his maturity and leadership qualities on draft day and in the years since. Bleackley spoke with BSN during rookie camp this past September about the difficulties of leading a team with as many changes as Red Deer incurred coming into this season.

Bleackley has not been signed by the Avalanche to his entry-level contract, allowing him to re-enter the NHL Draft next June should the Avalanche ultimately decide to pass on signing him by the May 1, 2016 deadline, and eyebrows were raised today when Red Deer Head Coach and General Manager Brent Sutter chose to remove Bleackley as the captain in favor of Johnson.

Sutter gave an interview that aired during the Red Deer Rebels broadcast on 106.7 FM The Drive in Red Deer during their game versus the Kelowna Rockets last night and addressed the change in captain at length.

"I met with 'Bleacks' today and it's something that I've been thinking about for a while now and we've certainly had discussions amongst our coaching staff and our trainers and everything like that. Wyatt has worn the 'C' for us last year when 'Bleacks' was hurt when and was out of our lineup for two months last year and then he wore the 'C' again this year when 'Bleacks' was gone to pro camp.

He (Johnson) is a real true leader and it comes very natural to him and it's just a situation at this point in time with our group where it's the right thing to do for Conner's sake. It takes some burden off of his shoulders. We gotta get Conner to the level we need him at as far as a player and what he wants to be at. There's been a lot of things weighing on him and this is certainly probably been one that, maybe he doesn't think of it that way, but you can sense it and see that it weighs on him.

I just thought it would be a good thing for Conner to take that burden off his shoulders and he can focus on just going out and being that real good hockey player that he is and get his game to the level he wants it to be and we want him to be at that will allow our team to get better.

Wyatt, it just comes natural to him. At the end of the day it's never an easy thing to do, when you do something like that. At the same time it takes more courage to move forward with it and do it. That's my responsibility as a General Manager and if I was two people here as a coach and General Manager, I'd be going down and telling my coach that this was something that has to be done."

For Avalanche fans, this certainly brings up the memories of current Avs farmhand Duncan Siemens, who was a captain for his junior team, the Saskatoon Blades, before having it taken away from him. Siemens has since gone on to experience significant struggles for the Avalanche, appearing in just one NHL game as an injury call-up in the 2014-15 regular season finale. Given Bleackley's unresolved contract situation and the disappointment of the Siemens experience so far, you can't help but be uneasy about this news. Still, just because Siemens followed one path doesn't automatically mean Bleackley is destined for future struggles at the pro level. Different guys, different situations.

BSN Denver has reached out to Bleackley's agent for comment and will update the story if and when we receive one.

Full audio of Sutter's interview, courtesy of the Red Deer Rebels broadcast on 106.7 FM The Drive, can be heard below.

[audio mp3="http://bsndenver.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Brent-Sutter-intermission.mp3"][/audio]

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