The Colorado Avalanche started training camp Friday, Sept. 13 with a bang. They invited 57 players, 7 of whom are on AHL contracts and 1 on a Professional Tryout (PTO) – Colin Campbell. Campbell is a 28-year-old right wing who has spent the last six years playing in the AHL for the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Three players are recovering from injuries and were unable to practice with the full squad. Erik Johnson and Colin Wilson are recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, but should be ready near the start of the season. Defenseman Ian Cole had surgery on both hips over the summer and may not return to the lineup until December. However, both Johnson and Cole were practicing on the other rink during the first session. Recently signed forward Valeri Nichushkin apparently had visa issues that delayed his start, but is on his way.
The Avalanche split the roster into two groups, each one skating for about two hours. Within each grouping, the forwards were split into five sets of three, each in a different color jersey. All the defensemen were grouped together in black practice sweaters.
Camp is loud. Head coach Jared Bednar actively directs all the action, shouting directions during drills and blowing his whistle regularly. The players call to each other when skating. The loud shush of skates on ice fills the air. The spectators “ooh” and “aah” over the action. The air is filled with sounds of hope and effort.
Group One – Battling to Win
Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon headlined the blue forward group. With Rantanen still negotiating for a new contract, the big question was who would be their linemate. Colorado rolled the dice with new acquisition Andre Burakovsky and they looked promising together.
If anyone had doubts about whether the Avalanche were going to rest on their laurels after making the second round of the playoffs, the top trio quickly settled the question. The Landeskog-MacKinnon-Burakovsky line played swift, highly skilled hockey and set the tone for the group. Burakovsky managed to keep pace with MacKinnon on most of the drills and complemented the two other veterans.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, the 34-year-old the Avalanche picked up over the summer, appeared to be in better shape than many of his younger counterparts. He played a smoothly effective style of hockey that could prove interesting down the road, as he’s likely slated to center the fourth line.
The best moment from the first group came when blueliners Cale Makar and Samuel Girard joined the Landeskog-MacKinnon-Burakovsky trio, feeding them pucks and slickly controlling the defensive zone. An exciting peek into the team’s future, the Makar-Girard pairing lasted the entire practice and were the best defensive duo on the ice. Fellow blueliner Ryan Graves also had an impressive showing and dominated the conditioning drills.
Newly acquired defenseman Kevin Connauton participated in all the drills but wore the orange no-contact jersey and his helmet had a full cage. He apparently took a puck to the face during the voluntary captain’s skate last week and needed surgery to repair his jaw, according to A.J. Haefele of BSN Denver.
Bednar finished the practice with bag skates, where the players race in groups back and forth across the rink four-and-a-half lengths, three different times. Burakovsky looked like he hadn’t adjusted to the Denver’s altitude yet as he sprawled on the ice after his final lap, where he remained for a large portion of the remaining races.
Group 2 – New Stars Shine
New Avalanche forwards Nazem Kadri and Joonas Donskoi made their debut in the second group of players to practice. Veteran winger Tyson Jost joined the new guys. Kadri and Donskoi played well together, making clean, crisp passes. They looked like they needed some more time to integrate Jost into their play, but the line has potential.
Twice injured forward Vladislav Kamenev, who missed the majority of two seasons with crazy injuries, skated with Matt Calvert and Jayson Megna, a 29-year-old forward expected to play for the Colorado Eagles. Kamenev looked healthy and ready to compete.
Last year’s first-round pick, Martin Kaut, skated with Sheldon Dries and T.J. Tynan, a quality AHL forward who could work as an NHL call-up. Their line kept scoring, which is always a promising sign, and Kaut hustled the play and kept the pressure on net, either taking shots or corralling the puck to send to his linemates.
He did, however, struggle a bit in the bag skates and he also sprawled on the ice afterwards, as did a couple of other players.
Defenseman Conor Timmins made his first full training camp appearance after battling lingering concussion symptoms all of last year. He made a strong showing paired with Nikita Zadorov. Group 2 also paired Bowen Byram and Calle Rosen together and they generated some chemistry, shutting down the Kadri-Donskoi combination on several occasions.
Goaltender Pavel Francouz, promoted from last year’s Eagles team, was playing like a fire tested veteran by the end of practice. Adam Werner, the new likely starter for the Eagles, played a sound game in net. His 6-foot-5 frame helps fill the crease as the 22-year-old continues to hone his craft.
Training Camp Stirs Hope
The first day of training camp is always full of excitement. A good showing doesn’t always guarantee a successful season. But a bad showing frequently foreshadows a rough one. This day was promising.
The Avalanche ran camp smoothly and it was even better organized than last time. The different line combinations were more evenly matched, with smaller distance between the top players and the new prospects than any time in recent memory.
The fans anticipated a good experience and they got one. The stands were nearly full, with many having to stand for portions of the two practices. By the final set of bag skates, people were cheering on the players, inspiring them to continue.
It’s just the first day, but it was encouraging to see so many talented players competing for so few roster openings. One thing is sure, the Avalanche are a much deeper team.
J.D. has followed the Colorado Avalanche since the days of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. Blessed to cover the team for nearly 5 seasons, 3 of those at other venues, J.D. enjoys working with the Hockey Writers. Proud parent of three humans and two dogs, you can follow all the escapades @JDKpirate.