With the rookie tournament now behind us the focus for the Colorado Avalanche shifts to training camp with the whole squad and then quickly into preseason. The rookies earned a respectable 2-1 record over the weekend and look to carry the momentum with them while the veterans and fresh faces hope to make an immediate impact as well. Much will be learned over the next couple of weeks in one of the most interesting times of the year for the organization.
Who are you most excited to see (or hear about) in main camp?
Hardev: Honestly, the most interesting topic for me this camp is Nathan MacKinnon attempting to convince everyone he's fun and chill. The story over the summer felt like Zadorov was just upset about his whole situation in Colorado and he just didn't get along with MacKinnon. He probably did try to get more healthy options at the team, but I think that's about as far as it really went. He really really wants to win a Cup and if that has him pushing for internal improvements within the team, then those are improvements! That should be a good thing.
Jackie: The dawn of training camp always reveals a bit of what Jared Bednar is thinking in regards to line combinations and defensive pairs. I am curious to see if there’s any new ideas, how thin center depth will be addressed plus any hints at where rookies Bowen Byram and Alex Newhook fit into the lineup. Camp and preseason is the appropriate time to experiment and I expect some shuffling but Bednar is pretty purposeful with how camp sets up.
Evan: I’m just excited for the return of hockey! Outside of that, I’m interested to see what mindset the Avs players will have coming into camp and preseason games in a few days time. Of course we remember when MacKinnon said last year “we’re the favorites or whatever” for the Stanley Cup. Will they come in with the same mindset this year, or step back and look to just make it past the second round, or somewhere in-between? Time will tell just how players will bounce back from a disappointing end of last season.
Tom: For me it’s the Condor. I am really interested to see how Erik Johnson looks after nearly an entire season without hockey. Now in his mid-30s, and the unquestioned veteran leader on the blue line, EJ will be asked to play less of a role than he has in the past and that’s probably a good thing. He’ll no longer be leading the team in ice time so the impact of an NHL season might be a little better on his body. There are a lot of question marks as to whether or not he can play a second pair, shut down role or if it’s time for the former first overall pick to settle into the bottom-pair “short but tough” minutes role. The team must feel confident that he can make a big impact as they didn’t bring in anyone else to fill in the PK minutes that will need to be filled after the Ryan Graves trade. I suspect a lot of people have forgotten what a big part of the team Johnson is and he’s going to spend the next few months reminding them.
Luke: I’m pretty excited to see Ryan Murray in camp. The former 2nd overall pick by Columbus (MacFarland connection) is looking to put a solid, healthy year under is belt as he will be a key piece for one of the top defenses in the league. He comes in as an improvement over Ryan Graves and Conor Timmins, who were moved out this offseason. I think he will surprise people on how good he is and his presence should lift the bottom-6 forward group as well.
Which member from rookie camp will have the greatest impact with the main camp group?
Jackie: The one rookie who feels truly on the bubble is Sampo Ranta. After making his NHL debut, in the second round of the playoffs no less, it seems like the organization has interest in him but it’s not a guarantee they will make plans to graduate Ranta either. As someone who showed up to rookie camp with all the size, strength and ability in the world but didn’t dominate the rookie tournament like some had hoped Ranta now needs to make an impression at main camp with the big boys to keep his momentum going. It’s unlikely the Avalanche will have room for Ranta when they break camp but he needs to remain at the forefront of whichever callups are made to have a chance at sticking long term.
Evan: Obviously the big names of Bo Byram and Alex Newhook will have the greatest impact on the main camp group. Byram and Newhook will look to solidify their place in the lineup every night. I’d look at someone like Shane Bowers to try and flirt with a roster spot. Bowers put on weight this summer, and had a good performance at the rookie tournament. He could flirt with a fourth-line spot in the lineup, and look for him to continue his form from the rookie tournament and bring it to camp.
Tom: It’s got to be Bo Byram. He looked like a man among boys during the rookie camp/tournament and looks like he’s absolutely ready to carry a full time load in the NHL this season. Alex Newhook is in the same category but Byram looks like he doesn’t need any kids gloves as the season starts. He’s going to play a big role and it’s going to come pretty quickly. A sleeper is Andres Wingerli - don’t be surprised if he’s in the lineup on opening night.
Luke: While I think Newhook and Byram are locks for the roster, I think Bowers came in a did what he needed to do. But I believe new comer, Andres Wingerli will make his presence known. Wingerli has played pro hockey in Sweden for a number of years, and succeeded at that, despite his small frame (5’8”) He is fast, does a bit of everything and looked solid killing penalties, something a 4th line guy has to do. I think he will come to camp and make life hard for the coaching staff not to consider him over LOC and Helm. He should be in the mix for a spot.
What can and should the Avalanche take out of preseason?
Hardev: Stay healthy, focus on building the team throughout the season to be playoff ready (going at full speed from the start will probably exhaust them). Don't overdo it, this is a good team. Try to find good chemistry and make sure you have backup options for flexibility.
Jackie: Health of course is a must (knock on wood) and with the bulk of the team returning chemistry should come back together quickly. I’d like to see some experimentation with both depth players and rookies plus also some new wrinkles added to their offensive process which may come in handy down the line.
Evan: Similar to my other contributors above, the Avs need to stay healthy and build their chemistry. They have a good rotation of preseason games against the Vegas Golden Knights, Dallas Stars, and Minnesota Wild. It will be good to see these three teams and how the Avs stack up against them, considering they see them plenty of times this season. If done right, the Avs should be right in their groove come opening night against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Luke: Fundamentals, good system play, health and see what the call ups have to offer. Preseason is a place where you can make mistakes and learn from them. It gives everyone a clear picture of where you are at as a player and on the depth chart. Also don’t take too much from preseason. Grigorenko lead the Avs in scoring one year, and it didn’t translate into the regular season. Playing 3 teams that will all be in the playoff picture is also a bonus and give the Avs a measuring stick of who they are as a team this coming year as well.
How can the coaching staff better prepare the squad for what hopefully is a longer playoff run?
Jackie: Many people will say they’d like to see physicality addressed but the step I’ve long wanted to see Bednar and his staff take is to become more creative and utilize the competitive advantages their unique talents provide. Bednar is fairly progressive in that he lets the top offensive players rely on their instincts in the offensive zone and in transition. But what I’d like to see is systemic creativity that breaks out of their north-south, low-high and point shot tendencies when things dry up and the game becomes more difficult. The power play had a better showing last year but still leaves points on the table just relegating Makar to point shot duty. These types of changes will help them get over the hump in the playoffs.
Evan: It’s a new year, same goal, but same issues. The Avs need to strengthen their depth scoring and bottom-two defensemen. They’ve done this with the addition of Murray (and pretty much Byram after being injured all of last year) to keep Kuemper less busy in his crease. Similar to Jackie, I love what Bednar has done with his offensive free style of play. It would be nice though to see the Avs play different styles when their offense doesn’t work. There will be games where they need to get down and dirty to get the puck in the net. If the Avs can adapt and play differing styles against different teams every night, they will be extremely dangerous come playoff time when things do get gritty and chippy. It should at least help boost morale in tough games, and push for hope to get past the second round this season.
Luke: There has been a lot of talk about being a more “physical” team in the playoffs. Having that extra guy to “push” people around. I’m just not fully buying it. It hasn’t helped Vegas, Islanders or Montreal. Outside of this past year against Vegas, I don’t think the Avs have played badly in the playoffs. Against San Jose, they were victims of a tough call and just couldn’t find that extra goal. Against Dallas, a deeper Avs team was playing its third goalie, missing six regulars and lost in overtime in game 7. This past year was different. They simply got out played, out matched, out goalied and out scored. I don’t think there is too much the coaching staff can really do, outside of playing the best possible lineup at the time. But they also needed the Avs best players to be the best players, and they need to find away to get that sooner. I would like to see them get those greasy goal, just throwing pucks to the net, crash the net and see what happens. But I do think the Avs coaching staff has done a good job of breaking down the opposition and coaching the team to exploit their weaknesses. Look at the job they did against St. Louis last year. This coaching staff, is on the clock though. You have two years of Mackinnon on his $6.3m cap hit. They need to find away of getting kids on cheap deals into the lineup and being impactful. To me that's where this coaching staff needs to improve. At some point you need to let the kids play and learn. To me that’s how the coaching staff can really improve this team for the short and long term.
Tom: What Luke said. This isn’t a team that has “choked” in the playoffs - despite what some want you to believe. Two years ago they had no business being in the second round, let alone winning it. The next year they were forced into a second round series with an AHL goalie in net and then last year they lost to the team with the most wins in the NHL - a team that they wouldn’t have even matched up with until the conference finals in any normal season. Yes the team has lost in the second round each of the last three seasons but there is absolutely no lingering pattern behind it.