As the NHL works towards finalizing their plan to return to the ice for the 2021 season, more news leaked Wednesday afternoon. This time it was confirmation that the league intends to re-align their divisions for the year. Thanks to the quarantine laws of the Canadian Government - the same laws that forced the Toronto Raptors and Blue Jays to play their seasons in the United States - the NHL is being forced to schedule a season without having teams cross the border. In order to accomplish this, the Canadian Division will be created.
As the name suggests, the Canadian Division will be made up of the seven teams that make their home above the 49th parallel. As a part of the new division structure, the Avalanche will be moved to the Pacific Division. Despite the extra travel, this new division is a good thing for the Avalanche given how bad the California teams are expected to be this season.
Along with San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim, the Avalanche will be joined by Arizona, Vegas and former Central Division foes St. Louis and Dallas. There has been no confirmation from the league but it is believed as though teams will spend the entire season playing within their own Division. That would mean an entire season without a matchup with the rival Minnesota Wild to beat up on.
Elsewhere in the hockey world, preparation for the World Juniors took another his this morning as the Swiss Hockey Federation announced that three of their players have been pulled from camp due to a positive COVID-19 test. This on the heels of similar news from Germany and Sweden over the weekend.
With only two and a half weeks before the tournament is scheduled to begin, many are starting to worry that the tournament might have to be postponed or cancelled outright. We are nearing the tipping point as teams are scheduled to report to the bubble in Edmonton this weekend. Every player and staff member will be tested upon arrival and it will give us an indication as to whether or not the IIHF deems the bubble safe enough to carry on with their annual Under-20 World Championship.
If the tournament is able to go ahead as planned, Avalanche fans will have a lot to keep their eye on. We already know that Bo Byram is going to be a big part of Team Canada but now it looks as though the Avs will have a prospect on the top pairing for Team USA as well. Drew Helleson has been skating alongside 2020 fifth overall pick Jake Sanderson at camp. The two are expected to carry the load defensively for Team USA as their top pair.
Jake Sanderson (OTT) has been paired with Drew Helleson (COL) in the first couple days of U.S. select camp in Plymouth, Migh.— Mike Morreale (@mikemorrealeNHL) December 9, 2020
There was a lot of angst when the Avs used their 2019 second round pick on Drew Helleson. The pick was seen by some as a reach and more importantly, redundant because of the depth of defensive prospects in the organization. Eighteen months later and that pick looks to be yet another great one for Joe Sakic’s front office. Helleson is quietly becoming one of the best defensive prospects in the NCAA. His development curve has been trending steadily upward and he is already outperforming the expectations of some who criticized the pick on draft day. He’ll never be a star but Helleson is a solid all-around defender who can play as an elite second pair guy on a good team or the kind of player who perfectly compliments a star on the other side of the blue line - think Brent Seabrook in his prime.
As for Team Canada, they’re back on the ice for the first time after camp was shut down for two weeks to quarantine after a number of positive COVID tests. All three Avalanche prospects are still at camp with Alex Newhook and Justin Barron skating on Team Red while Bowen Byram is in the top pair for Team White.
Dec. 9 | Lines for tonight's intrasquad scrimmage ⚪️ pic.twitter.com/NOaleKumds— #WorldJuniors (@HC_WJC) December 9, 2020
The game finished 6-4 in favor of Team White thanks to another dominating performance from Kirby Dach and his linemates. Byram finished the game with a goal and an assist for the winning side.
Speaking of Byram, he took the time two write about his experience in the World Junior bubble so far.
We went into quarantine, and everyone has to stay in their rooms. It wasn’t what anyone had planned, but it was a part of the journey and we needed to embrace it. We stayed in touch, played some video games, worked out and there were some great guest speakers. It was a long two weeks, but are coming out of it stronger, I know it.
As for Newhook, Team Canada head coach Andre Tourigny spoke highly of him after the game and it sounds like if he’s going to make the final roster, it sounds as though Newhook won’t be expected to play an offensive role for the team. Every year, great offensive players are forced into bottom-6 roles with Team Canada - and turn into household names as a result. This year might be Newhook’s time to shine as one of the “unsung” Canadian heroes that emerge every holiday season.
coach Andre Tourigny says Avs prospect Newhook "has a lot of speed. He's strong as well, strong skater & good balance, strong in his battles. He has a really good shot. He played a two-way role with us today & he played really solid. I like a lot of things Alex can do ..."— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) December 10, 2020