The Colorado Avalanche prospects headed to Anaheim for the rookie showcase this past weekend. Their performance raised some questions for both the Avalanche and the Colorado Eagles, making a case for NHL consideration. Here are the important takeaways.
Forwards on the Rise
Without a doubt, the best forward line combination for the Avalanche consisted of Martin Kaut, Shane Bowers, and Nick Henry. In the first game, against the Anaheim Ducks rookies, the trio combined for 5 points and 11 shots. Not a bad start. The line didn’t fare as well when reunited for the third contest, but other factors had an impact on that game.
Kaut is the only one of the three who played with the Eagles last season. He came over from the Czech Republic last summer, having been the Avalanche’s 2018 first-round draft pick. Between recovering from heart surgery, learning the language and getting used to North American ice, he had his hands full.
Rookie tournaments can be tricky things, but Kaut showed definite improvement in his play and conditioning from last season. He could be poised for a big season. He is definitely a player to watch as regular training camp gets started.
Bowers also looks ready for a promising training camp debut. Being a college athlete, this is his first rookie showcase and training camp. He played in all three rookie tournament games, proving to be swift on his skates and good in front of the net. If Bowers can keep up with the NHL vets and get more pucks in net, he could earn the first injury call-up if not an outright starting spot.
Henry is not likely vying for an NHL roster spot yet, but he proved he could earn his way down the road. He kept up with Kaut and Bowers and his slick scoring skills can’t be denied. If his linemates start the season on the Eagles roster, the coaches should definitely keep the trio together. They brought the most exciting scoring chances of any line combination.
For training camp, all three players need to show they can score.
Blueliners on the Bubble
Defenseman Bowen Byram lived up to all the hype of the 2019 fourth-overall draft pick – no easy feat – in the first matchup and showed talented flashes in the second game. His hockey IQ is off the charts and his ability to press the play as well as jump back on defense is impressive. However, he looked best when skating with Conor Timmins, another promising defensive prospect. Byram performed best when he was alongside other skilled players.
Timmins played two full games, easily one of the tournament highlights. He missed all of last season due to concussion symptoms. Yet, he showed glimpses of the talent that earned him kudos before the injury. He is still a little rusty and needs to work on his timing.
Considering he missed an entire year of hockey, he played surprisingly well. He also played his best when paired with Byram. Could they be an Avalanche defensive duo of the future? It will be interesting to see if they skate together during full training camp.
When Byram and Timmins were on the ice with Bowers, Henry and Kaut in the first game, they were electric. Something interesting happened every time and they worked well together.
The five of them represented a solid, talented and balanced combination of skills. If they start with the Eagles, the coaches would be wise to play them together as much as possible. They played fast, fun, and talented hockey. The rookies won that first game 5-2 and looked like they could have scored more with a little puck luck.
Logan O’Connor, who captained the squad at the showcase, displayed speed and skill. He definitely has a nose for the net. He played in five NHL games for the Avalanche last season, and has his work cut out for him this season if he aims to make the NHL squad.
In addition to competing with Bowers and Kaut, the Avalanche added a plethora of forwards over the summer. O’Connor is likely competing for an injury call-up opportunity, but the NHL club can be unpredictable on bubble players, so anything is possible.
Forward Luka Burzan, picked up in the sixth round of this year’s draft, showed potential. He could easily be a steal if he continues to progress. It’s a rare treat to see such a late Avalanche draft pick show so well at camp.
Goaltender Adam Werner only played in the third game but he exhibited focus and made quality saves. His defensemen turned over pucks in front of him in the first period, eventually leading to a goal. Werner didn’t let that faze him, though, as he shut out their opponents thereafter, stopping over 20 shots. The second goal came on an empty net.
Areas of Concern
Both problem areas concern coaching rather than players.
First, the rookies showed an inability to score on the power play in both the second and third games. In fact, the club failed to score in 11 straight man advantage situations. 0 for 11. Sound familiar? It should.
The Avalanche struggled with scoring on the power play down the stretch to the playoffs and especially in the second round against the San Jose Sharks. The Eagles exposed epic problems most of last season on the man advantage.
Something needs to change on the power play. The coaching staff needs to alter their strategy or add an additional coach with a different perspective. The power play problems are becoming a consistent issue, regardless of talent. Maybe they could implement a strategy where all the players actually move around on the ice. Anything is possible.
The second concern is related. The team didn’t adapt to how their opponents played. Each system has strengths and weaknesses, yet the Avalanche rookies failed to take advantage of opposing players’ lapses. Whether it was players who were out of position, or missed assignments or who lost their composure, the Avalanche didn’t adjust.
Some of the players are young and this is their first rookie tournament. Others, though, didn’t appear to see the opportunities. And that’s on the coaches, especially when there were recurring issues with their opponents’ schemes. Yes, the staff are evaluating talent, but shouldn’t part of that process include showing players how to adapt to in-game changes and observing their ability to adjust?
Training Camp Starts Friday
Full training camp starts on Friday, Sept. 13. Based on the rookie tournament performance, some of the prospects are on the cusp of making the NHL roster, whether for the season’s start or later in the year.
It’s been a while since the Avalanche had such a talented prospect pool. Whether the rookies earn a roster spot this season or next, one thing is certain; training camp should be exciting. And the Eagles should be excited.