In little more than a month training camp will begin for the Colorado Avalanche. The organization will be looking for a better season than last year, and that will mean putting on the ice a group of players that can get Colorado back to the playoffs. There will be new faces at this year’s camp, along with some big names looking to become even bigger in Denver. While it’s safe to say players like Jarome Iginla, Matt Duchene, Seymon Varlamov and Erik Johnson don’t have to worry too much about their place in the team; there are some that need to have a good camp to show their ready for full-time NHL action. Here are five players to watch at this year’s training camp.
1. Chris Bigras
If there is one player Avalanche fans are hoping turns into a reliable NHL defenseman, it’s Chris Bigras. The 2013 second round draft pick came close to making the team straight out of his first training camp. He was sent back down to his OHL team in Owen Sound eventually. Two years later, Bigras is done with the OHL and is expected to start the new season in San Antonio. Bigras goal in camp, however, will be to make that decision very difficult for head coach Patrick Roy. Bigras is an outstanding skater, and with some adjustment to the professional game, he could make an impact with the Avalanche as soon as this season. At camp Bigras will have to show he’s capable of making quick and correct decisions in his own end. He’s going to need to do more than just skate well. Colorado’s defensive frailties in the past few years should give Bigras a window into the NHL, if his game has shown enough development then that decision to send him down will be very hard indeed.
2. Mikko Rantanen
Colorado’s brass must have felt lucky to have the highly rated Mikko Rantanen fall to them in the draft. Colorado fans should feel excited about the prospect of seeing the young Finn in the NHL as early as next season. Going into camp Rantanen is going to have to prove that he’s ready for the NHL. He’s already been playing with grown men in Finland, but the NHL is an even bigger step up. Rantanen is going to have to prove he can play a big game at camp. If he shows he can score at this level then it’s possible he could be in the NHL next season. Rantanen has an advantage though, the departure of players like Jamie McGinn and Danny Briere means there are more spots among Colorado’s forwards to fight for. If Rantanen is not quite ready to apply his trade with the big club then that leaves Colorado with an important decision. Rantanen is eligible to play in the AHL this season. If Colorado feel he’s close to being ready for the NHL he could be sent to San Antonio to be called up when he’s ready. If he’s still a year away, then he’ll go back to Finland.
3. Calvin Pickard
One of last season’s pleasent surprises was the play of Calvin Pickard during one of Seymon Varlamov’s injury spells. Very few Colorado faithful would argue that last season’s primary backup, Reto Berra, is a better goalie than the young Pickard. However, the situation for the Avalanche is a little more complicated than who is the better goalie. Pickard is younger, and still developing, so he needs playing time. Berra is also on a one-way contract which makes it harder to send him down. Going into training camp Pickard is going to have to show he’s physically and mentally ready to be a backup. Varlamov isn’t going to be replaced as the starter, unless something drastic happens. Pickard needs to show that he’s developed enough that he can handle fewer minutes. Colorado need a better option to back-up Varlamov, and Pickard is a better option. Whether or not he’s ready to be that option will be seen at training camp.
4. Mason Geertsen
Mason Geertsen was a relatively unheralded fourth-round draft pick back in 2013. Colorado had flashier picks that year like Nathan MacKinnon and Bigras. But Geertsen has steadily improved the last two seasons. He’s described as a solid wall in his own end. He’s also a left-handed defender, a position Colorado have been sorely lacking. He’s almost guaranteed to start the season in the AHL, which is where he finished last year. But if he has a good camp, and shows responsibility in his zone he could put himself on the fast track to a call up. His last two years with the Vancouver Giants, he’s steadily improved his offensive game as well. The more defenseman that Colorado have that can move the puck, the better off they will be.
5. Mikhail Grigorenko
The centerpiece back to Colorado in the Ryan O’Reilly deal was Nikita Zadarov, so Mikhail Grigorenko comes to Denver with little expectation. The center never had much of a chance to show what he could do in Buffalo, and he’s surely looking forward to playing for Roy once again. He’s the only player on this list that is surely going to be on the opening night roster. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t has any question marks attached to his game coming into camp. The big question is basically, what kind of player is Colorado getting? Going into camp Grigorenko will need to show why he was drafted so highly back in 2012. He’s already familiar with coach Roy, who was his boss playing for the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL. There is some hope that Roy can get the best out of him. Training camp will hopefully show Avalanche fans if he’s up for it, or if he’s not the player scouts once thouhgt he was.
Colorado’s training camp will be held in mid-September, but no official date has been announced as of yet.
Born and raised in Denver, I’m a writer covering the Colorado Avalanche. I have a degree in Journalism from Northern Illinois University.