MacKinnon Shines Bright at Avalanche Training Camp

The defending Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche took to the ice for a two-day training camp at Family Sports Center in Centennial, Colorado, this week. The sessions were open to the public, and this report focuses on the second day of camp, Friday, Sept. 23.

Skaters were divided into two groups at the camp, with most of the team’s starters in Group 1, and most of the rookies/minor league players in Group 2

MacKinnon in Mid-Season Form

Group 1, which took the ice first, was divided into four forward lines:

Sweater ColorLeftCenterRight
Dark BlueArtturi LehkonnNathan MacKinnonMikko Rantanen
MaroonAlex GalchenyukAlex NewhookEvan Rodrigues
GrayBen MeyersJ.T. CompherLogan O’Connor
WhiteAndrew CoglianoLukas SedlakAnton Blindh

With three notable absences from the forward corps — Darren Helm (lower-body injury), team captain Gabriel Landeskog (lower body), and Valeri Nichushkin (lower body) — the lines reflect the current thinking of the coaching staff. Head coach Jared Bednar whistled the players to center ice and explained the first drill, a complicated scheme designed to work on offensive zone entry.

While several players looked sharp, there was one who towered above the rest. Superstar center Nathan MacKinnon, who just signed an eight-year contract extension with Colorado that will make him the highest-paid player in the league when the 2023-24 season begins, was electric each time the dark blue line was called to action.

Nathan MacKinnon Colorado Avalanche
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Any thought that MacKinnon, with both the new contract and his first Stanley Cup in the rearview mirror, might rest on his laurels went immediately out the window. No one at the practice skated with more purpose and aggression. The 27-year-old native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, was sharp and crisp on his edges, executing one ankle-breaking turn after another and contesting every loose puck like it was Game 7 of the Western Conference Final. He outclassed both of his linemates and any player unfortunate enough to draw the assignment of defending him. At one point, MacKinnon’s intensity bubbled over as he hurled his stick over the boards onto the bench. He followed the stick off the ice, leaning forward over the boards to watch his teammates practice.

Other Group 1 forwards that impressed included the entire fourth line (white), with center Lukas Sedlak as the standout. He won more than his share of loose puck battles and looked like a man with something to prove. On one shift in a mini-scrimmage against the gray line, the three white skaters dominated puck control and movement.

Logan O’Connor looked hungry, as he did through most of last season, and Rantanen and Lehkonen were very effective in practicing deflections in front of the net.

Makar, Johnson, and Goaltenders Impressive

The Group 1 defense, all wearing black sweaters, was divided into four pairings:

Left DRight D
Devon ToewsCale Makar
Samuel GirardErik Johnson
Bowen ByramKurtis MacDermid
Ben HuntJacob MacDonald

The standouts from this group were Cale Makar, Erik Johnson, and Samuel Girard, all three of whom seemed ready for live competition. During a mini-scrimmage, Johnson scored on a bomb from the blue line, and Makar executed a perfect spin move in front of the crease to sneak one past Pavel Francouz, one of the group’s three goaltenders. Defender Josh Manson was a healthy scratch from the practice.

The club’s number one and number two netminders, Alex Georgiev and Francouz, respectively, looked calm, cool, and collected throughout the practice. Very few shots found their way past either goaltender. The third goalie in the first group, Ivan Zhigalov, saw fewer shots but played commendably.

Alexandar Georgiev New York Rangers
Alexandar Georgiev with the New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Sometimes it’s the small moments at training camp that provide the most entertainment to the fans who turn out to watch. Case in point: Cale Makar flipped a puck onto the blade of his stick, tossed it straight up (nearly to the rafters), caught it on his blade on its return fall, bounced it in the air, used his skate to kick it back up, and caught it again with his stick. It was a small display of not only immense talent but of a love for the game.

Group 2 Rife With Future Talent

After Group 1 finished its practice and the Zamboni cleaned the sheet of ice, Group 2 emerged from the locker room. With the Avalanche having committed to $12.6 million per year to MacKinnon, with sizable contracts already on the books for Rantanen ($9.25 million), Makar ($9 million), and Landeskog ($7 million), and with other key players needing new contracts in the next 24 months, depth in the Avalanche farm system is more important to the club now than ever.

Related: Colorado Avalanche Top 5 Prospects for the 2022-23 Season

The Group 2 forwards looked a cut below Group 1 but still had a solid showing during their practice. These were the five forward lines:

Sweater ColorLeftCenterRight
Dark BlueCharles HudonMikhail MaltsevOskar Olausson
MaroonJean-Luc FoudyJayson MegnaMartin Kaut
GraySampo RantaShane BowersSpencer Smallman
WhiteBen TardifJustin ScottAlex Beaucage
Light BlueDalton SmithRyan WagnerCallahan Burke

One of the most closely watched, and one of the most impressive, Group 2 skaters was Oskar Olausson. The native of Stockholm, Sweden, is lean with a long stride and a very quick first step. Only 19 years old, Olausson, a former first-round draft pick (28th overall in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft), tailed five points in seven games for Team Sweden at the World Junior Championship this past summer and will likely start the season with the Avalanche’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Colorado Eagles. Alex Beaucage and Shane Bowers each looked like a man on a mission, though either one making the NHL club seems like a longshot.

There were fewer standouts among the Group 2 defenders, though Keaton Middleton, at 6-foot-6, towered over everyone on the ice and was a remarkably smooth skater for a big man.

Notes and Up Next

While Darren Helm and Valeri Nichushkin did not participate in the full-team practice due to injury, each did skating drills with a conditioning coach on a separate sheet of ice. Both wore red no-contact sweaters.

Colorado’s first pre-season game is this Sunday when the team will travel to Minnesota to take on the Wild.


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