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Avalanche Idol: The Final Cuts

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The pre-season schedule is complete, and now coach Tony Granato is faced with the difficult task of cutting the Colorado Avalanche roster down to 23 players by the start of the regular season on Thursday.  As of this posting, the roster stands at 27, so four players will have to go.

The goalies are already chosen.  Peter Budaj will start, with Andrew Raycroft backing him up on a hopefully limited basis.

The defense is largely determined, with Adam Foote, Scott Hannan, Jordan Leopold, John-Michael Liles, Brett Clark and Ruslan Salei comprising the top six.  Young speed demon Kyle Cumiskey and formerly-exiled veteran Daniel Tjarnqvist are competing for the (possibly) final seventh spot.  Both d-men played in three pre-season games each, with Tjarnqvist getting more ice time overall and also more time on the penalty kill, albeit not much overall.  Both guys saw the most ice time in the very first pre-season game, against Los Angeles on September 25th, than in any of their other appearances.  Tjarnqvist played 24:32 with 5:48 on the PK and 2:59 on the PP.  He finished the game at +2 with an assist.  Cumiskey played 19:37 with 3:38 on the PP but only 28 seconds on the PK.  He finished even with no points or penalties. 

If I had to choose one, I'd say Tjarnqvist had the better overall showing in the pre-season, and his veteran experience will probably put him above Cumiskey in the pecking order.  But don't discount Cumiskey's incredible speed and increased body strength.  If Granato is serious about taking the team in a more aggressive, attacking direction, Cumiskey could easily fit into that plan.

But Tjarnqvist will probably get the seventh spot on the blueline, I assume.  That's nine spots filled, 14 more to go.

UPDATE: Sure enough, Cumiskey got sent down today.

As for the offense, that's trickier.  The guaranteed starters are Joe Sakic, Paul Stastny, Marek Svatos, Milan Hejduk, Ryan Smyth, Wojtek Wolski, Ian Laperriere, Darcy Tucker, Ben Guite and Tyler Arnason, for sure.  Yes, that's right, Tyler Arnason.  I'll talk more about him below.

That leaves the remaining four spots open to the following players: TJ Hensick, David Jones, Cody McLeod, Cody McCormick, Per Ledin, Brian Willsie and Scott Parker.  Of those seven, only Parker and Willsie would have to clear waivers to be sent to the AHL Lake Erie Monsters.  Parker had a roster spot all last season but spent most of the year in the press box.  While he's by far the team's heavyweight fighter, McCormick has shown that he is pretty good at throwin' down, much better than the other Cody.  I'm unsure which  Cody Granato favors (Q preferred McLeod), but I'd rather see McCormick on the team than McLeod. 

Willsie has two goals in the pre-season, and he's a winger, which helps his case tremendously.  But he's definitely been out-shined by fellow right winger David Jones, the rookie who finally figured out how to score goals in the NHL.  He's got three in the pre-season, and has played with non-stop intensity since training camp.

Per Ledin has also played well, bringing the same intensity to the Avalanche that he brought while playing in the Swedish pro league.  But his role---primarily that of a pest---means that he's in direct competition with the two Codys.  Ledin is the only one of those three with a point in the pre-season (one assist), so that might help his cause.

Finally, there's the curious case of TJ Hensick.  The rookie who fell short of expectations last season looks ready and able to improve this year.  In four pre-season games, he's got five points (2 goals, 3 assists) and a shootout game-winner.  It's clear that he's got speed, skill and a love of the game, but lacks experience and size in a bad way. 

Though he looks promising, he's got to overcome the apparent stranglehold of Tyler Arnason on the third line center position.  How it's even possible that a center with five points in four games would be at a disadvantage to a center with just one point in four games (an assist on an empty-netter, no joke) is way beyond me.  But sure enough, Hensick is on the outside looking in:

Avs center Tyler Arnason went scoreless in four preseason games, with one assist and a minus-3. His name pops up in the occasional trade rumor, but coach Tony Granato indicated recently that Arnason's role with the team won't diminish.

"Arnie is one of those guys who is pretty steady. He plays the same game consistently," Granato said. "He's been a big part of our organization the last couple years. He's got to be a solid two-way player and he's got to understand his role, but he's very capable of being a very solid player for us."

I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed sometimes, but saying that Arnason "plays the same game consistently" cannot possibly be a compliment.  The game he plays consistently is lazy, dull and lacks heart.  He's not good on defense, too jumpy on offense and isn't even that great of a passer.  Hensick is a better player in every way but defense, and that, no doubt, can be improved upon.  Arnason is 29 and likely set in his ways.  Hensick is 23 and getting better every day.

But he'll probably just have to get better in Lake Erie, unfortunately.

I foresee the final four spots on the offense going to Ledin, Willsie, Parker and McLeod.  Hopefully I'm wrong and both Jones and Hensick get a shot (with Ledin and McCormick).  We'll know by Wednesday, October 8th, the deadline for making the final cuts.

[A similar version of this post can also be found at TheHockeyNews.com.]