Jared Bednar is loving hockey right now — he wins the Calder Cup going 15-2, then comes into NHL preseason and goes undefeated. The Colorado Avalanche have flipped their script from the past three seasons, as this is a much different-looking build-up to opening night.
The past few training camps and preseason games have not gone Colorado’s way, which contributed to their awful regular season starts during that stretch. Bednar said he wants his team to win every game whether it’s preseason or not, which starts to cultivate a winning mentality within the locker room and organization as a whole.
They’ve certainly achieved that good feeling thus far, going 6-0 in Bednar’s first preseason, which ended last night at the new T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas with the final Frozen Fury game.
First of all, it is evident the Avalanche are buying into coach Bednar’s new systems, as they are really playing a much quicker, north-south hockey, with pressure and support in all three zones. Colorado also finished with a 100% record in the penalty-killing department.
A lot of forwards are getting looks in all sorts of areas. The positions in question are mostly at center, with Colorado having five or six players who would all be good options. A good problem to have for the Avalanche as the more versatile forwards you have, the better.
Speaking of one of those center options, Mikhail Grigorenko has arguably been the Avs best forward thus far, notching three highlight-reel goals in two games against the Los Angeles Kings, and is tied for the NHL lead with four. I’ve said it many times before — this kid oozes skill, it’s just a matter of time before he truly breaks out, and that’s looking likely to occur as soon as this year. He’s a very important piece to the puzzle of success for Colorado.
Another player expected to have a breakout year is Mikko Rantanen. He was injured during the Rookie Showcase but is now taking part in practices with the team. I’ve talked plenty about ‘Hot Wheels’ — he should be with Colorado the entire year and is a dark-horse (for some odd reason) to win the Calder Trophy.
The big names up front like Gabe Landeskog, Matt Duchene, and Nathan MacKinnon are rolling, which bodes well for this offensively gifted team.
The towering Russian, Nikita Zadorov, has been paired with Erik Johnson for the most part, ending a lot of speculation as to who Johnson’s partner will be to start the new season.
Francois Beauchemin has been placed next to Tyson Barrie, while Eric Gelinas, Patrick Wiercioch, Fedor Tyutin and Duncan Siemens are still being evaluated by Bednar when it comes to where they’ll slot in it seems.
Wiercioch, who was acquired as a fee agent this summer, is used to the area due to his days at Denver University and is having a very solid beginning to his Avalanche career. Last night he was paired with Tyutin, and continued his strong play as a left-handed shot on the right side.
The most important thing when it comes to their defense is the noticeable improvements to the overall depth. This Colorado team should be a much better possession team, partly because of this new-found depth on the back-end.
Not only has the number one goalie Semyon Varlamov played extremely well, but so has every other goalie behind him. Calvin Pickard, Jeremy Smith, Nathan Lieuwen, along with the up-and-coming Spencer Martin, all impressed Avalanche management during training camp, rookie showcase games, and preseason action.
Varlamov has only allowed two goals in three preseason games, looking very sharp and confident between the pipes. Pickard is playing similarly well, letting two goals by in just two games. That one-two punch of Varlamov and Pickard is huge for Colorado and their hunt for the playoffs.
Four Cuts Remain
One of the first decisions to be made is whether the Avalanche are going to carry seven or eight defenders on their roster. Currently, the Avalanche roster is at 27 players, meaning the final four cuts are coming very soon. The decision to carry seven or eight defenseman will very much determine whether Siemens (drafted 11th overall in 2011/EJ trade) is going to stick with the team or not.
Siemens has beat out top prospect Chris Bigras in one of the last roster cuts. This comes as a big surprise to many as Bigras played himself onto the team late last year and looked poised to make that next step towards full-time NHL hockey. Siemens obviously has other ideas.
This camp has been a competitive one. Colorado brought in two players on PTOs — Rene Bourque and Gabriel Bourque. Both of them are making life very difficult for management and the coaching staff when it comes down to deciding the final roster. Trent Vogelhuber, Ben Smith, Mike Sislo, and Andreas Martinsen are doing the same thing, though they have contracts and can be sent down to the AHL.
Martinsen has picked up where he left off last year and should earn a spot. Sislo, Smith, Vogelhuber and Gabriel Bourque are the players I expect to see listed when the Avalanche trim their roster one last time.
This perfect preseason shouldn’t get to their heads at all, though it will build confidence and help turn around the bad starts the Avalanche have had the past couple seasons.
?: Coach Bednar talked about everything today: current injuries, roster trimmings, Hurricane Matthew, everything.https://t.co/3rOD6Ii9Ts
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) October 7, 2016
Grigorenko with his first of two in one night:
Grigor scores a beauty……again:
Landeskog undresses Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick:
Next up is opening night against the Dallas Stars on October 15th, be there!
Sebastian Noble is currently in his third year with The Hockey Writers covering the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers. Liverpool, England, and of course Colorado Avalanche & Florida Panthers supporter. You can follow him on Twitter @SebastianHNoble