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What to keep your eye on during Avalanche training camp

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As we draw closer to training camp in September, we take a look at the team’s biggest stories and roster scenarios.

Anaheim Ducks v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Jared Bednar

Coming to a new team is never easy and Coach Bednar will certainly have his hands full—especially the core group of guys. Look for him to try and establish some chemistry early into training camp and carry it through the preseason. Hopefully he’ll have everyone in the locker room on his side early into the regular season.

When Patrick Roy became the head coach of the Avs in the 2013-14 season, chemistry was immediately present because so many of the players knew exactly who he was. This won’t be the case with Bednar, so things could take a little longer to click. And considering the Avalanche’s strength-of-schedule in October, there isn’t any time to waste.

“I think you have to be an aggressive team. The game’s getting faster every day, and I think you have to play an up-tempo style. I think you have to attack and that’s not just offensively, but defensively as well. I think that for us should be set from Day One in training camp, the tempo and the pace we play with.”—Bednar in an interview with Denver Post's Terry Frei.

Fans can look forward to this style of play on both sides of play. Multiple times last year, it appeared the Avs were getting beat to the puck and just were not attacking the other team. The new system should increase puck possession, facilitate a faster transition game, and force turnovers from the other team. Coach Bednar realizes speed is a big element in the Avs’ game and he plans to utilizing that.

Also keep an eye on Colorado’s other new coaching addition, Nolan Pratt, working next to Bednar for this upcoming season. Pratt was a key component to the coaching staff of last year’s Calder Cup champion Cleveland Monsters. Some fans might also recognize Pratt as a defenseman from Colorado’s 2001 Stanley Cup, as well as Tampa Bay’s 2004 Stanley Cup championship team.

The Core

  • In order for the Avalanche to be successful, they must get great performances from their core out the gate. Nathan Mackinnon will be looking to take his game to a new level after signing a brand new seven-year contract extension and should have an extra jump in his step after missing the last few games of Colorado’s wildcard playoff race.
  • Matt Duchene, after putting up a number of career bests last season (30 G, 29 A, 59 pts), will be looking to top it yet again and translate his production into an Avalanche postseason. He will need help, of course, but if Duchene can light the lamp like he did last season, the Avs should be sniffing the playoffs again. Injuries will once again be a major story surrounding Duchene, as he also missed time down the final stretch.
  • Tyson Barrie, also playing with a fresh offseason contract, will be looking to improve on a career year last season. To join the ranks of elite puck-moving defensemen, he’ll need to tighten up his defensive game and reduce neutral zone turnovers. Expect Coach Bednar to use Barrie to implement a quick transition system as well.
  • In order for Erik Johnson to be successful this season, he will have to have greater success suppressing shots. He’ll also need to reduce his tendency to take nonsensical penalties a veteran has no business committing. Look for Coach Bednar to keep EJ in check this upcoming season, but also look for him to deploy Johnson less as a shutdown defenseman and more as an offensive weapon, where he can produce offensive opportunities skating pucks through the neutral zone.
  • Captain Gabriel Landeskog will need to re-establish himself as a leader with the new coaching regime after an up-and-down 2015-16 season, where he served two suspensions for stupid penalties. Look for Landeskog to put his best foot forward for the new coach, and for the rest of the team to follow the example of their leader through October and beyond.

Varlamov vs Pickard

After beating our Reto Berra for the backup position, Pickard could now be eyeing the starting spot of the Avalanche. This task might prove to be difficult, especially if we begin to see the 2013-14 Vezina finalist Semyon Varlamov appear this upcoming season. One thing is for sure though, these two keepers will be battling with each other throughout the entire season, which should prove beneficial for the organization. Both keepers have proven they can be absolutely fantastic at times, and if both are playing to their potential—in front of an improved defensive system—we could be in for quite a show.

The Young Guns

  • Mikko Rantanen. Remember this guy? Look for him to make the professional roster again out of training camp, but finally prove he belongs. Last season, the No. 10 overall pick struggled in his few games with the Avalanche and ending up being sent down to the AHL San Antonio Rampage, where the 19-year-old got some much needed seasoning and showed everyone of his offensive upside by recording 60 points (24 G, 36 A) in 52 games for the Rampage.
  • AJ Greer. After finishing runner up for the Memorial Cup, the former Rouyn-Noranda Husky now sets his sights on the Colorado Avalanche roster. The young power forward contributed 22 points (12 G, 10A) in the QMJHL playoffs and Memorial Cup tournament, before being eliminated by the London Knights. Greer brings a tenacity and attitude sorely needed in the organization, and even if he doesn’t crack the big roster, be sure to catch him for the San Antonio Rampage!
  • JT Compher. The former Michigan Wolverine captain will be trying to crack the main roster after spending the last three seasons developing in one of the best programs in the NCAA. In his college career, Compher accumulated 118 points (39 G, 79 A) in a total of 107 games with the Wolverines. Compher was acquired in the deal with the Buffalo Sabres that sent Jamie McGinn and Ryan O'Reilly to Buffalo, so many fans will be looking at Compher with high expectations.
  • As for other young guns, you can look forward to September 17th-19th as the Avalanche will host the Rookie Showcase at the Ice Center at the Promenade in Westminster, CO. The Avs rookies will take the ice on Saturday, September 17th at 2pm against the San Jose Sharks, and Sunday, September 18th at 1pm against the Anaheim Ducks.

Depth Additions

In today’s game, a team’s depth means everything. The Avs spent much of the offseason adding key bottom-six players to support the core. Starting with the forwards; Joe Colborne, Ben Smith, Gabriel Bourque (PTO).

  • Joe Colborne. Recently acquired as a free agent after playing for the Calgary Flames, Colborne is a large forward who can use his skill and strength to get to those gritty areas of the game and will definitely help out on the bottom six of the forward lines for the Avs. Hopefully, he will fill the niche Shawn Matthias stepped into after the trade deadline last season.
  • Ben Smith. Best known for being part of the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks, Smith is another sturdy bottom-six forward who will provide the Avs with a lot of depth.
  • Gabriel Bourque. The young forward is coming to the Avs from the Nashville Predators on a professional tryout (PTO). We’ve learned from close observers of last year’s Predator team that he’s quite skilled, but spent much of last season plagued with injuries.