As the Avalanche turn the page to the preseason portion of the ramp up to the season, now seems like a good point to pause and take stock of what we’ve seen thus far.
A big focus in camp is always the position battles and who is on track to make the opening night roster on October 15th. Here are a few of the key battles in anticipation of the preseason slate beginning Tuesday evening in Minnesota.
Key Players: Nikita Zadorov, Chris Bigras, Eric Gelinas, Patrick Wiercioch
Dark Horses: None
The most important decision the Avs have on their hands is how they are going construct their defensive roster. If they decide to keep eight, then this is a fairly easy decision as I do not see anyone else challenging to take one of the spots from the aforementioned. Duncan Siemens would be a name others might mention, but he has not outplayed the others to this point. A strong start to the season in San Antonio where Siemens can continue to work on his puck skills would go a long way toward getting a call-up.
If the Avs prefer to carry seven defensemen, then this becomes a really tough call. Sending one of Zadorov or Bigras down would be tough, but so would placing one of their one-way contracts like Gelinas or Wiercioch on waivers before giving them an extended look. The prevailing thought is Bigras as the least experienced would fall victim to a numbers game, but with the way he has looked—confident and dynamic—through the first part of camp, I have a hard time seeing the coaching staff resisting the temptation to keep him on the roster. Zadorov has been steadier in the tougher practices and games, but his two-way contract and waiver exempt status doesn’t has to be considered. Gelinas and Wiercioch have seen limited game action but both have been competent in the system with a couple ups and downs. Gelinas’ more aggressive nature and booming shot give him the slight edge over Wiercioch’s more passive game in Bednar’s system for the time being.
Prediction: 8 defensemen are kept
Key Players: Gabriel Bourque, Rene Bourque, Andreas Martinsen, Ben Smith, Rocco Grimaldi, JT Compher
Dark Horses: Sam Henley, Julien Nantel
Perhaps not the most important battle, but probably the most interesting, is which of the offseason depth acquisitions are going to make the roster. Both Gabriel and Rene Bourque has shown their experience and determination in camp. Gabriel in particular is high energy and feisty; however, his absence at Monday’s practice might be a bad sign. Martinsen showed well in the Burgundy/White game using his size and quickness on the puck. Smith has been steady but not a standout. Same with Compher aside from his exceptional Rookie Showcase game against the Sharks. Grimaldi has shown great puck skill and offensive drive but his defensive play might hold him back. It will be tough for Henley to beat all those names in front of him, but he has enjoyed a very nice camp. After getting an extended look on a line with Joe Colborne at the Burgundy/White game, he definitely did not appear out of place. If the Avs want a versatile big-body “defensive” forward on the fourth line, they won’t find a better fit than Henley. Nantel has stood out the most of the younger players with little or no pro experience. An extreme long shot to make the roster, but we’ve seen surprise roster additions after great camps before. Nantel is holding up his end of the bargain, and if the coaching staff wants to inject some youth and speed into the bottom line, it’s a route they could take.
Prediction: Avs keep 13 forwards and sign both Bourques. If one of them is cut, then Martinsen enters the picture.
Key Players: Ryan Stanton, Duncan Siemens, Anton Lindholm, Sergei Boikov
Dark Horses: Mason Geertsen
Defensive pairings are tough to predict at the AHL level, but the pecking order out in San Antonio will go a long way toward visualizing the organizational depth chart. Stanton has been the steady defensive veteran presence that the Avs have had a tough time finding in the past. It is easy to see him get heavy minutes in San Antonio. The bigger question is who would join Stanton playing those big minutes? If the Avs keep seven defenseman and send someone like Bigras down, then that’s the easy answer. If not, then someone like Siemens is probably the most likely candidate. Word is the organization is high on both Lindholm and Boikov, who each could easily get big minutes in preparation for a callup at some point. Both have looked good thus far with Lindholm showing off his pro experience, moving the puck and asserting himself with physical play. Boikov has been a very steady presence, with an effective shot from the point and smart defensive play. Mason Geertsen could also play his way into the conversation for increased minutes in San Antonio with a good showing in preseason.
Prediction: Siemens gets the job next to Stanton, as they were a pair in the Burgundy/White game as well. If not, Lindholm seems poised for a long look.
Key Players: Spencer Martin, Jeremy Smith
Dark Horses: Nathan Lieuwen, Kent Simpson
Tough to evaluate goalies with so little game action to watch and so little practice with true shots against them. Martin seems to get a lot of attention from the media and coaching staff, and Allaire has kept a close watch on Smith. Lieuwen and Simpson were both solid in the Burgundy/White Game, pitching shutouts in each period they were in the net, but haven’t entered the main competition yet. Smith held up his end for a shutout in the game as well. Martin let in the only goal in the game but it was a pretty heavy breakdown in front of him and the coaching staff has praised his work in net thus far. There is still the possibility that Martin is sent to the Colorado Eagles in the ECHL so he sees a full-time workload; but up to this point he has not played himself out of the competition with Smith for the starting job in San Antonio. Preseason usage of the goalies will tell us a lot moving forward.
Prediction: Smith and Martin make the roster and split starts in San Antonio.