Avalanche Rookies & Veterans Eager to Start

The Colorado Avalanche season is gearing up and the athletes are coming with something to prove. Players are starting informal practices and rookie camp nears. Even the full training camp schedule was released last week. Wonders never cease! So what can one expect?

Informal Avs Practices

Some players are already practicing at Family Sports Center, where the Avalanche hold their regular practices. It will also be the site of the one Colorado rookie practice as well as the lion’s share of regular training camp.

Some familiar names and some fresh faces already started skating in preparation for the new season. Defenseman Erik Johnson looks to be working on his knees and legs after two injuries sidelined him for part of last year. Missing the chance to play in the postseason after getting injured appeared to hurt more than the injury itself. Johnson, a man on a mission last season, looks to be kicking it up a notch. Again.

Erik Johnson and Semyon Varlamov
Erik Johnson and Semyon Varlamov want to play in the playoffs this season. (Timothy T. Ludwig-US PRESSWIRE)

Semyon Varlamov appears to be testing his recovery in net after an injury forced him to miss the playoffs. The signing of Philipp Grubauer and the acquisition of Pavel Francouz apparently stoked the competitive fire within Varlamov as he normally doesn’t come to Colorado this early. The goaltender competition could be highly provocative and one of the more interesting stories in training camp.

New number one draft pick Martin Kaut (recovering from heart surgery) and rookie defenseman Conor Timmins also practiced skating, passing and shooting drills along with defenseman Josh Anderson and center Igor Shvyrev. Last week saw as many as seven players on the ice in preparation for the season’s start. The informal practices also allow the players to get to know each other.

This week, a few more players trickled in to the informal skates. Returning wings Sven Andrighetto and Gabriel Bourque hit the ice along with two newly acquired additions – forward Matt Calvert (formerly of the Columbus Blue Jackets) and Czech goaltender Francouz (KHL). Apparently, now that the Avalanche have a taste for the postseason, the new players want to be well-prepared and the returning players are eager to pursue a deeper push into the playoffs. It’s good to see, and another promising piece from head coach Jared Bednar’s regime.

Avalanche Rookie Camp

The rookie camp commences Sept. 7 at Family Sports Center. While the Avalanche are a young team as a whole, this season’s rookie crew are not all that young. Only four of the 29 players are currently 18-years-old while five are 23 or older. Unfortunately, Friday’s practice will be the only opportunity to watch the young guys live in Colorado. The group will be heading to Las Vegas the following day for the Vegas Rookie Faceoff tournament.

The Avs are scheduled to square off against the Vegas Golden Knights, Anaheim Ducks and the San Jose Sharks prospects Sept. 8-11. If anyone wants a glimpse of the Colorado pipeline, these matchups are worth catching. Hopefully, there will be streaming available, but details have not yet been announced. This will be the third year the Avalanche have participated in a rookie round-robin tourney and the matchups help get a sense of how the players handle game situations, not just drills. Priceless.

Two goaltending prospects will be playing for the Avalanche – Justus Annunen and Petr Kvaca. Annunen is an 18-year-old third-round draft pick from Finland while Kvaca is a 20-year-old Czech who was picked up in the fourth round of the 2017 draft. Both players participated in the summer development camp. 29 skaters will have a chance to show the Avalanche their stuff. While some come from their junior clubs, others already played in the AHL or even made a couple of appearances with the Avalanche.

Justus Annunen Karpat
Justus Annunen will be one of the younger players at rookie camp. (courtesy Karpat)

Most of the participants are competing for their future with the franchise, which is part of what makes the rookie camp interesting. Some skaters are just trying to earn a spot on the Utah Grizzlies or the Colorado Eagles while others are aiming for the big prize – winning a role with the Avalanche.

Russian center Vladislav Kamenev, acquired from the Nashville Predators in the Matt Duchene deal, should have the best shot at making the Avalanche’s starting roster. He was injured four minutes into his first game in an Avalanche sweater and missed a bunch of the season. During his brief stint in the AHL last year, he racked up 16 points in 17 games.

Vladislav Kamenev
Vladislav Kamenev should compete for a starting spot on the Avalanche. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Another return from substantial injury is defenseman Sergei Boikov, who was wounded in last year’s preseason and wasn’t seen or heard from since. Boikov showed up this week for the informal skates so he must be fully recovered. How will missing an entire year affect his play? The rookie camp should be key to answering that question.

If you are wondering about the whereabouts of Cale Makar, Shane Bowers, or Sampo Ranta, they won’t be attending rookie camp. College athletes are generally already working with their college teams and there are some NCAA restrictions that make participation in rookie camp problematic. Generally, college players only participate in summer development camp.

Training Camp

But wait, there’s more. Yes, real hockey is right around the corner and one should keep their eyes out for veteran players showing up at Family Sports Center for informal practices. Veterans officially report for medical testing on Thursday, Sept. 13 and will commence skating on Friday, Sept. 14.

Unofficially, look for the veterans to be showing up next week for the informal captain’s skates. Last year, 22 veterans hit up Family Sports Center to get a jump start on training camp. Noticeably, foreshadowing the drama to come, Duchene skipped the voluntary practices and defenseman Nikita Zadorov still hadn’t signed a contract. Since everyone is signed this year, hopefully there will be a smoother start to preseason training.

The Avalanche released a schedule showing the team practicing at Family Sports Center from Sept. 14-17. The club will be splitting the players into two groups. Each group will be practicing on the rink for an hour and a half. Camp will run from 8:45 A.M. to 12:30 P.M. with a half-hour break at the midway point.

There is a lot of young talent this year vying for a spot on the Avalanche roster as well as guys hoping to move up the lineup. Players like Dominic Toninato and Alexander Kerfoot should come in looking to push the newly-acquired Calvert along with returning veterans Bourque and Colin Wilson down the forward lineup. The competition for a defensive slot should be stiff as well, with prospects like Conor Timmins and Nicolas Meloche hoping for a spot over returning blueliners Mark Alt and David Warsofsky, among others.

Conor Timmins Team Canada Getty
Conor Timmins aims to start his pro career competing for a solid role on the blueline. (Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)

The Avalanche will be playing their first preseason game on home ice the following day, Sept. 18, at 7:00 P.M. at the Pepsi Center. They will be facing off against the Vegas Golden Knights in their first of two preseason head-to-head matchups.

Both the rookie camp and the regular training camp are open and free to the public. It’s a great opportunity to get a glimpse of the players, the systems, and the camaraderie in a competitive yet casual setting.  For those who can’t wait any longer, training camp is nigh and hockey is on the horizon. The players are already preparing for the season to start, eager to prove last year was the real deal. The Avalanche have a chance to lay the foundation for years of success and to propel the franchise from a position of respect to a team to be feared. One week to the launch of rookie camp – a chance to propel the Avalanche forward to a bright future. Fasten your seatbelts.