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MHH Mailbag: Colorado Avalanche depth and tempering expectations

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We answer your questions about everything from the Colorado Eagles to potential trade targets

NHL: Nashville Predators at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the bulk of the work is done for the offseason, we thought we’d open up the mailbag and answer your questions about the Colorado Avalanche. Every week, we will take questions from the community in the hopes of opening up conversation about the team.

This week, myself and voodoo queen Cat Silverman will be replyingto the questions, but as the summer goes on, we will have other members of the MHH staff help out. If you’re not on twitter and want to contribute to the mailbag, feel free to drop of a question in the comment section, or send us an email.

Tom: My bet is that we are going to see Dominic Toninato sent down at camp, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we see both Colin Wilson, and Mark Alt on waivers before the season starts. I could see Anton Lindholm being sent down to the Eagles as well. He seems to have fallen out of favor.

Of the AHL guys that might surprise, I would think Nicolas Meloche has the best chance of doing that. He is incredibly talented, and showed how good he could be when finally given top-pairing minutes with the Rampage at the end of last season. He has the talent to be an NHLer soon. If Meloche broke camp as the third RD in the lineup, I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

Cat: Given the direction his stats trended last year - and how well he’s done in a starter role when healthy in the past - there’s very little reason to believe that the Avalanche will relegate Varlamov to a backup role this year.

What makes much more sense is to play them in a 1A/1B role, giving Varlamov about a 50-game mark as his threshold and giving the remainder of the games to Grubauer. It’s not a true tandem split, but will help ease Grubauer onto the team while giving Varlamov enough of a rest. It both makes sense from a usage standpoint - it prevents problems if Grubauer is immediately given a starter role and struggles - and from the standpoint of how the team viewed the two goaltenders at the trade.

During the draft, GM Joe Sakic told Mile High Hockey during media availability that the modern game doesn’t support goaltenders playing more than 60 or 65 games tops, so they went out and got another NHL-quality young backup to keep in their system. At best, Grubauer will have a seamless transition to the Avalanche and will make things far less painful if Varlamov is gone at the end of his contract... but for now, Varlamov has earned the right to remain the starter. I’d expect to see them play games at a 2:1 ratio, and there’s little reason to believe that won’t work well for the team or the two goaltenders.

Tom: This is a good one. People are starting to put a lot of expectations on the 2017 second round pick. Conor Timmins is a really good prospect and a kid that is likely going to carve out a very long career as a second pairing NHL defender. With that said, he’s absolutely not ready for the NHL.

Timmins had a breakout performance in the World Junior Championship last winter and showed that he might be one of the most fundamentally sound defense prospects in all of hockey. Unfortunately, shortly after the WJC, Timmins suffered a high-ankle sprain that cost him a large chunk of his final OHL season. He returned for the playoffs, but the ankle wasn’t 100%. Then in game 5 of the OHL Final, Timmins took a huge hit that ended his season. He sat out game 6 and hasn’t been on the ice for organized hockey activities since.

Timmins was held out of on-ice workouts during development camp, and it was wrongfully reported by some that it was due to the concussion. He was resting his ankle more than anything else and everyone involved believes he should be ready for the main camp at the end of August.

“Conor just needs a lot of rest”, is what a member of the Soo Greyhounds staff told me last week when Timmins was held out from development camp.

As things sit right now, there’s no reason to be worried, Timmins is just taking time to completely heal up before he begins what he hopes to be a very long professional career.

With our without the injuries, the best course for Conor’s development was going to be a full season in the AHL, playing big minutes with the Eagles and getting ready to challenge for an NHL spot in 2019.

Cat: This is an incredibly tough one to answer!

From an on-ice standpoint, any NHL general manager that doesn’t explore the possibility of adding Panarin is doing his job wrong. He’s dynamic, a hard worker, quick to please and a good listener; add in that he’s an elite-level scorer, and he automatically makes any roster he’s on better.

From an off-ice standpoint, though, it’s much tougher to gauge. All accounts I’ve heard suggest that Panarin is looking for a big city - not necessarily a big market, but a big city - where he feels at home in the community. He didn’t grow up with the same kind of experiences as other NHLers, and although he didn’t have much money it’s not about the paycheque for him. He just wants to play hockey in a place that feels like home to him - and although I don’t know much about the validity of any of the suggestions, it sounds like places like New York and LA are going to be the best fits. The Russian population in the tri-state area could have the three NYC-area teams and Philly all making bids - and while there’s going to be an ethnic community for almost anyone in the majority of major cities (Denver included), I don’t know enough to be able to say with confidence if they’re what he’s looking for.

Having Zadorov, Kamenev and Varlamov on the team certainly helps, but remember: Panarin seems to get along quite well with Sergei Bobrovsky, and Columbus still doesn’t feel quite like home to him.

Tom: Of the guys that haven't played meaningful NHL minutes, I expect big things from Vladislav Kamenev next season. He was the best offensive prospect in the Predators system when the Avs acquired him in the Matt Duchene trade, and he was ready to make the leap to the NHL. Unfortunately, he suffered that terrible arm injury. Now fully healed, I expect Kamenev to make the team out of camp and help to add some much needed secondary scoring to the team as a regular this season.

As far as the 2C goes, I would expect the team is hoping Tyson Jost can step into that role. After having a tough rookie season - he was never fully healthy through training camp - Jost will look to be the two-way center the team expected when he was signed after only one year at North Dakota. He has the talent to be an elite 2C in the NHL, and I suspect we will see him grow into that role this year.

Cat: Bednar’s kind of a quieter guy, so I don’t have anything from him specifically to confirm his “system”, per se. But from what I saw during the year, the team heavily valued positional structure; one player would get in front of the net, while the two players on the wing would work as the puck carriers and move the puck up to the net rather than trying to draw the entire play under the faceoff dots or behind the net. The team’s defense needed work, but seemed to operate as a preventative measure rather than always jumping up into the rush - and if one of the blue liners did manage to carry the puck into the offensive zone, someone else was expected to fall back into his place to maintain a scorer-puck carriers-defenders overall structure to the team’s positioning on the ice.

When it comes to what the Eagles should be expected to do to teach the system, though, I’ll refer to what I learned about optimal AHL-NHL communication when talking to then-Tucson Roadrunners head coach Mike Van Ryn this past spring.

Both the NHL and the AHL worked together to establish a singular ideal for how they wanted their teams to play. In their case, the goal was to play a system based on quick zone exits and defensive player control, taking chances on offensive attempts rather than going on the defensive and closing in on the goaltender in the defensive zone. The goaltender, obviously, was allowed to play the puck on occasion, but the preference was to have the defense retrieve the puck from their own zone and work on the breakout, rather than utilizing the goaltender to quarterback the breakout strategy. Van Ryn and Arizona head coach Rick Tocchet communicated regularly to stay up-to-date on modifications they made in the system to optimize the usage of certain players, keeping things flexible, and if one team tweaked something the other would work to incorporate the changes as well.

That kind of AHL-NHL system is truly an exclusive development system for the NHL club; when they need to recall someone from the AHL, it’s about as seamless a transition as a recall can be. If the Avalanche are smart, they’ll do something similar now that they aren’t sharing their affiliate with another club; that way, they can make sure that their prospects are learning things that will help them thrive in the NHL with their parent one day, not just how to play hockey better.

Tom: Looking at this year’s Calder Cup champion Toronto Marlies, they were able to feature high-end AHL veterans like Ben Smith, Chris Mueller, and Vincent LoVerde, while still finding ice time for Toronto’s best prospects like Timothy Liljegren, Kasperi Kapanen and Dmytro Timashov. I suspect the goal for the Eagles this season - and going forward - will be very similar to that.

Nick Henry just turned 19, so he’s going back to the WHL next season. As for the other guys, I would suspect Greer, Lewis, Shvyrev and Kaut spend significant time with the Eagles this season.

The goal of of the organization should be to develop these players and to give the ice time conducive to doing that. With that said, the Avalanche have made moves this summer that suggest they want to have a decent AHL team in Loveland. Signing guys like Scott Kosmachuk and Sheldon Dries suggests that the team wants to have a blend of young prospects and AHL regulars. There are also going to be guys like David Warsofsky and Andrew Agozzino to compliment the youngsters on the roster.

Having the KHL’s best goalie as the starter should be enough on it’s own to ensure that the Eagles are competitive in their inaugural AHL season.