Day One at Avalanche training camp was a bit of a subdued affair. Maybe it was from emotional exhaustion from the Matt Duchene and Nikita Zadorov media day situations the day before or the previous season creating a hangover on the start of a new season. Perhaps it’s just the very basic nature of the structure type drills that head coach Jared Bednar and his staff, including Rampage coach Eric Veilleux, ran on the day which put the crowd into a lull. Camp comes off as more of a glimpse into practice than an all-encompassing showcase for evaluation. There were some 2v3 and 3v3 plus breakouts and that was it for the day as far as practice and then the dreaded mountains conditioning skate proceeded at the very end of the session.
Camp was split into two groups who were on the ice for about an hour each with a half hour intermission between. Colin Wilson skated on his own during that break and the situation became clearer of a possible injury when he didn’t participate in either of the group sessions. Other notable absences were Joe Colborne, Mark Barberio, Shawn St-Amant and Julien Nantel. Defensemen and forwards wore different colors and those forwards in blue were of particular interest as the top forwards who were all grouped together as lines that seem will show up in a game in the near future. Folks will be happy to hear the Andrighetto-MacKinnon-Rantanen line made an appearance as well as Kerfoot-Duchene-Yakupov and Nieto-Soderberg-Comeau seemed deliberate too. The others were mixed around more but Siemens-Barrie seemed to be something the staff had in mind as well.
Day Two was a lot more of the same with a bit more corner work in the 2v2 drills. The same players were absent from the day prior with Tysons Jost and Barrie joining the list plus Josh Anderson. Mark Barberio was spotted doing the non-contact skate with Wilson this day. JC Beaudin switched groups to take the center spot on one of the blue lines vacated by Jost. He looked comfortable with the increased responsibility and maybe a touch of chemistry with Landeskog. A random line in white jerseys appeared in the second group, maybe the staff felt it was confusing as I did watching nine mostly non-NHL guys in burgundy the previous day. Defense was really the standouts of the day as Meloche, Siemens and Bigras had good showings. There wasn’t much for forwards to really showcase so it was an average day for them. The skating tests were taking full rink laps and the players were again pretty spent by the end.
The two day official camp is only a small part of the puzzle completed combined with the rookie segment. Now moving into the game portion but there will be plenty more practice sessions going forward that will look a lot like camp but will just won’t officially have that title. Right now there’s only a small snapshot to go on but there are a few things to ponder.
There is no resolution at the defensive position openings right now and that’s ok because the games haven’t occurred yet but if one wants to look for a defender who has giving himself a leg up its Nicolas Meloche. All the same standard caveats apply that he’s going to need development and all the minutes in the minors and thinking about putting him on the team isn’t what’s best for him. But if you ask a guy to go out in camp and earn a spot he’s the one making a case for it. Plus the only way you end up with a Brandon Carlo type success story is to play the guy. It’s probably still a long shot but isn’t completely crazy to think about. Meloche has shown poise and nice puck moving ability under pressure, it’s those aspects of a pro ready game which are shining through. Duncan Siemens, Chris Bigras and Anton Lindholm have all shown well at various times too over the last week and should give the staff plenty of options.
Has Ty Lewis done enough to earn a contract is another common question. It’s not that he’s stood out head and shoulders above top prospects but he’s done just about everything one could realistically ask an invite to do. Lewis could be a nice addition to the prospect portfolio which is light on wingers. Waiting until after the season when Lewis might have options might not be the best course if the interest from the Avalanche is there. Thomas Greogire is another who has shown enough game to at least enter the conversation about as adding to the organization as a prospect. He’s shown good puck moving ability plus held his own in defending top NHL guys such as Duchene. Are the invites ever in consideration for deals or are they just to fill holes as camp bodies? We shall see.
The underlying story of camp is the organization’s focus on conditioning and the ongoing results of such. There’s several ways to look at the idea and implementation. As a returning 48 point team with a lot of key players still remaining there has to be a focus on something and an effort to make changes. Holding players to a higher standard and accountability with the hope for a better competitive environment is a good thing. Bringing the prospects together to train all summer could also pay dividends years down the road. Having a better physical condition and endurance is never a bad thing either. However pushing players to their limit has consequences of injuries such as a couple at the present moment and could contribute to more in the future. The preseason is going to come fast and furious with six games in ten days and then the long marathon of a season begins. There are still plenty of other issues regarding on ice performance in which a better overall conditioning level won’t address so there’s still plenty of work to be done. Hopefully this is just one area of the marked improvement this Avalanche team will see.