Avalanche Rookies to Watch

The Colorado Avalanche hosted their sole rookie camp practice Friday. It was busy, loud and fully of energy. A lot of the drills set up interesting storylines to watch at the forthcoming rookie tournament hosted by the Anaheim Ducks. Here’s a breakdown of what happened at camp as well as some ideas on what to be looking for in the tournament.

If you were expecting to see all the Avalanche prospects, be prepared for disappointment. Not all the players who attended development camp will be playing in the rookie tournament. There are some interesting roster inclusions and exclusions so brace yourself appropriately.

First, if you were hoping to watch Avalanche first-round draft pick Cale Makar in any of the rookie festivities, you will be sadly disappointed. Makar apparently graduated to full-time NHLer after his stellar playoff performance. Not only is he not on the rookie roster, but he’s also been the face of the Avalanche at the NHL media junket.

College players also will not be competing in the tournament due to a host of NCAA restrictions and their own schools’ preseasons. Rookie camp tends to include players who are still in juniors or will play for the ECHL or AHL teams.

The Avalanche rookie roster list entails 29 players but not all of them were drafted by the team. Eight players attending are on Amateur Tryout Contracts (ATO’s). Five other players are signed to AHL contracts.

Key Takeaways from Camp

The biggest news out of rookie camp bodes well for the full season. Conor Timmins – the talented defenseman who missed all of last season recoveringfrom concussion-related symptoms – was a full participant and has been cleared to play. Even better, he looked sharp on the ice. One couldn’t tell he missed a full year of hockey.

Camp divided up the players into different colored jerseys. The nine defensemen wore black jerseys. The five forward ATO’s wore the orange/pumpkin jerseys. The remaining forwards were divided into four groups of three with each threesome wearing a different color – burgundy, blue, grey and white.

The Forward Corps

None of the forwards looked bad. Most appeared in good condition for the intense workouts. Speed and intensity were there for all the players. But some stood out more than others.

The most impressive trio was in the burgundy. Shane Bowers centered the line with Martin Kaut (last year’s first-round draft pick) and Nick Henry. They were all business, moving the puck well and making crisp passes. The three worked together nicely, especially in the three-on-three and five-on-five drills. Bowers theoretically should be striving for an NHL shot, with Kaut waiting in the wings.

Martin Kaut Eagles
Martin Kaut adapting to North American ice last season with the Colorado Eagles. (by Nick Monaghan courtesy of The Colorado Eagles)

The grey group was the next best trio, with Brandon Saigeon centering Logan O’Connor and Ty Lewis. O’Connor and Lewis played together last year with the Colorado Eagles (the Avalanche’s AHL affiliate) so one would expect there to be some chemistry. Upstart Saigeon, though, refuses to be overlookedand put forth a solid showing with his future Eagles teammates.

Surprisingly, the white group also showed well. With two rookies fresh from this year’s draft, it was an unexpected treat to see Luka Burzan center Sasha Mutala and Travis Barron and see them mesh. Especially since Burzan and Mutala played against each other in the WHL.

The blue group – made up of center Igor Shvyrev and wings Josh Dickinson and Alex Beaucage struggled to work together. Whether it’s skill sets, language barriers, or style, they played more as individuals and not as a line, making them hard to evaluate.

The ATO’s were at a bit of a disadvantage in that they had to rotate line combinations. But the exciting part of their debut was there wasn’t a big drop in performance between them and the top lines. A few years ago, that was not the case. Only one or two players on an ATO would be able to keep up with the top prospects. Not this time. There wasn’t a single player where one wondered what they were doing at camp. Someone in the front office has really upped their game and it showed.

The Men in Black – Defensemen

The best news on the defense, aside from Timmins being a full participant, was the quality of the competition. Only two players skated at last year’s camp – Kevin Davis and Josh Anderson. This season, three of the defenders attended as ATO’s and three others are on AHL contracts. Leaving Anderson, Timmins and Bowen Byram as the only potential NHL contenders.

Conor Timmins Team Canada Getty
Conor Timmins finally gets his chance to play professional hockey after missing a year recovering from a concussion. (Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)

Timmins did well in the drills, seemed comfortable on the ice, and didn’t show any rust. Considering the amount of time he missed, that’s worthy of notice. He could very well give Byram some quality competition.

Byram stood out on the scrimmages as he quickly made adjustments, kept his head up and positioned himself well, even when he was without the puck.

Anderson looked better than the last camp but he is not as quick as either Timmins or Byram.

Goaltenders Gearing up

The Avalanche invited three goaltenders to camp – Adam Werner, Hunter Miska and Trent Miner. Werner is slated to be the starting goaltender for the Eagles this season. He stands a full four inches taller than either of the other two keepers. Miska was a late invite to camp so his equipment was en route.

It’s extremely difficult to evaluate goaltenders in this kind of practice. Their best test will be the tournament.

Key Questions for the Rookie Tournament

The rookies flew out to California right after camp. Tournament festivities begin Saturday, Sept. 7 and run through Tuesday, Sept. 10.

Byram and Timmins are two key prospects for the Avalanche’s future blue line. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see if the Avalanche play Byram and Timmins together. If so, how will they compare? Do they complement each other’s style of play? Can either of them earn a spot on the Avalanche’s opening day roster?

Bowen Byram Vancouver Giants
Bowen Byram aims to earn a role on the Avalanche’s roster. (Chris Relke/Vancouver Giants)

Bowers, Kaut, and O’Connor represent important forward depth options for the Avalanche. But there are questions about all of them. Does Bowers need a year in the AHL to learn the ropes after his college experience? How has Kaut progressedafter having a full year to prepare for camp (last year Kaut was still recovering from heart surgery)? Can O’Connor elevate his game to earn another NHL shot?

Also, will any of the ATO’s distinguish themselves enough to earn a contract? With Adam Werner expected to fill the role as the Eagles’ starting goaltender, and having only four AHL games under his belt, it’s a fair question.

The Eagles may very well consider the next question the most important. Can the goaltenders handle top roles in the AHL as well as fill in as an NHL back-up?

The Avalanche face some intriguing possibilities heading into the rookie tournament. For the players and the organization, there’s a lot on the line. All of which makes these games more interesting to follow. The Avalanche will compete in three matchups.

Here’s the schedule:

  • Saturday, Sept. 7 – 2 pm MST against the Vegas Golden Knights.
  • Sunday, Sept. 8 – 2 pm MST versus the Los Angeles Kings.
  • Monday, Sept. 9  – no games, it’s a practice day.
  • Tuesday, Sept. 10 – 12 pm MST finale against the Anaheim Ducks.

All of the matchups will be streamed online and should be accessible through Altitude for in-market fans, with Conor McGahey calling the game.

The tournament should answer some lingering questions as well as reveal how deep the talent in the organization goes. Either way, it’s hockey, which means expect a few surprises on the way to opening night.