The Colorado Avalanche opening night roster may not showcase the best players, but rather the least injured players. A handful of key injuries to players vying for a spot on the team could very well settle the roster questions. Coach Jared Bednar may not have the option of choosing his full lineup.
Conor Timmins Tops the List of Injured Defensemen
By now, pretty much everyone knows promising defensive prospect Conor Timmins has been sidelined by lingering concussion symptoms. The Avalanche are being careful to not push the 20-year-old. Currently, Timmins has progressed to the point of skating, and even made an appearance at the Avalanche Fan Fest, skating around and making a couple of passes and shots on goal — but that’s the extent of his activity. Timmins will definitely not suit up opening night, but he’s not alone.
Anton Lindholm, the Swedish defenseman who suited up in 48 Avalanche games last season, “tweaked” his shoulder in a preseason win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Sept. 24. He has been skating, but Lindholm has been wearing a “no contact” jersey. While he also participated in some light skating at the Fan Fest, he did not appear ready for game play.
David Warsofsky is also wrestling with an undisclosed injury. While he played 16 games for Colorado last year, he was a long shot to make the club due to the talent level of the competition. Warsofsky hasn’t been skating with the team yet so he’s likely to be out for awhile. Once cleared to play, he will need time to get into game shape.
With Timmins, Lindholm, and Warsofsky out and likely to be put on injured reserve, the Avalanche only have eight defensemen remaining. Two of those – Nikita Zadorov and Patrik Nemeth – only recently shook the “no-contact” jerseys themselves. While they have made preseason appearances, neither has played their best.
Erik Johnson and Sam Girard look to be the top defensive pairing, with Zadorov and Tyson Barrie playing second pairing roles. The big question remains who will skate with Ian Cole — Patrik Nemeth or Marc Barberio?
The Avalanche will certainly keep at least seven defensemen on the roster. If, however, Bednar elects to run with eight defensemen, Mark Alt would be the only healthy remaining candidate. While many considered Alt to be destined to lead the defensive core for the Colorado Eagles, the Avalanche’s AHL club, he has a reasonable shot at making the opening night roster.
Sven Andrighetto Heads up the Wounded Forwards
Andrighetto, the speedy and versatile right winger who suited up for 50 Avalanche games last year, will miss the next 2-4 weeks with a foot injury. He was hurt in Colorado’s fourth preseason game against the Dallas Stars on Sept. 26 after sliding into the boards. Andrighetto was pretty much guaranteed a roster spot off of last year’s performance alone and he showed well in camp. Losing him hurts as his versatility makes him a unique asset to the team.
However, Andrighetto isn’t the only forward injury. Rookie Vladislav Kamenev is battling a nagging hip injury that Bednar said will keep him out of the lineup for the final preseason game. Kamenev was competing for a starting spot on the Avalanche roster after missing nearly half of last season with a broken arm. He was in a tough battle with three other young players for a starting spot so the injury hurts his chances of making the team.
Avalanche Forward Competition Heats up
Three other forwards were competing with Kamenev for a roster spot – Sheldon Dries, Logan O’Connor and Dominic Toninato.
The team liked Dries enough to play him in four preseason games, during which time he racked up 11 shots and a goal. He put in an unremarkable performance in Friday’s contest against the Minnesota Wild. It was his weakest appearance, though. While he can be pesky, Dries usually plays center, so he isn’t the ideal replacement for Andrighetto.
Another favorite of Bednar, rookie Logan O’Connor, is contending for a starting role. The former DU Pioneer has played in three preseason matchups so far, lobbing six shots on net and earning an assist. Since O’Connor plays right wing, he may be a better fit to fill the hole left by Andrighetto.
Dominic Toninato rounds out the battle for a forward roster spot. A center who played 37 games with the club last season, he can handle the tough minutes on the third or fourth line. He’s not afraid to be physical and he has the added benefit of NHL experience. In his three preseason games, though, he didn’t do much to set himself apart from the crowd.
Depending on how many forwards the Avalanche elect to have on the roster, there could be two to three open spots. Prior to the injuries, Dries, O’Connor and Toninato would have been competing for one possible slot on the roster. Now, all three could make the team.
The number of hurt players are enough to change the complexion of the Avalanche’s opening night lineup. With one preseason game to go, and a handful of practices before the Oct. 4 season start against the Wild, the Avalanche may want to put their players in bubble wrap. They currently have 29 players on the roster, five of whom are wounded. The compounding injuries are limiting the team’s options as well as the coach’s preferences. With only 24 healthy players remaining, injuries could be determining the Avalanche’s final roster more than the competition.