The Avalanche have made it through training camp and the Burgundy/White Game, tonight’s debut vs the Vegas Knights begins 5 pre-season games in 7 days, including a 3-in-3 over the weekend. By this time next week the roster will be pared down to all but the final cuts and Rampage Camp will be ready to begin.
We’ve asked our trusty staff to come up with some storylines they’re looking for and battles to monitor over the next week and a half. Here’s what we came up with:
What open spot or battle in camp you are most looking forward to watching?
Oak: I’m most intrigued by that 5-6-7 defensive spot. EJ, Barrie and Zadorov are all locks. Mironov probably is. Barberio should be, however I don’t think we’ve seen him yet due to injury. With how many young defensemen are showing well in camp, that’s the type of job that you can unfortunately lose to injury if he doesn’t get some ice time quick. Bigras, Siemens and Lindholm are all sniffing those bottom two spots, but if all three play well enough, it could mean the AHL for Barberio.
Vlad: My focus is on the battle between the pipes. With the loss of Calvin Pickard to the Vegas Golden Knights this summer, the Avs signed Jonathan Bernier to a one-year contract. Despite having a rough season in Toronto, his play picked up after the Maple Leafs dealt him to Anaheim, winning as many games for the Ducks as he lost for the Leafs (21). Semyon Varlamov is coming back to the Avs after being shelved in January for hip surgery, and no doubt is out to prove that he can return to the style of play that made him a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2013-2014. Both men are entering this season with a chip on their respective shoulders, and that’s exactly what I want to see. It was smart on the part of management to sign a goaltender capable of handling a starter’s workload in the event that Varlamov’s injury issues return. Both men are capable of handling a starter’s workload, and they will push each other for time in the crease in a way that Pickard never pushed Varlamov.
SeaMill: I am most excited for the forward TOI battle. With so many players going out and so many young guys gunning for the NHL squad, it’s going to be a constant fight for playing time. There are guys like Compher and Jost who are locks for the team but will compete for top 6 time. And there are also guys like Greer who don’t have locks but could steal a roster spot away from someone like Comeau. It will be very interesting if Greer shows up and process he’s better than Comeau if the front office will keep him up and get rid of Comeau or send him to SAR.
Yelle: For me it has to be the defensive battle for spots 4 through 7 or 8. With EJ, Barrie, and Zads, I think you have 3 of your top 4 locked in. The early front runner for the other top 4 spot Barberio is a lock to make the team, but I do find him susceptible to starting on the 3rd pair. After that you’ve got 4 guys (Lindholm, Mironov, Siemens, and Bigras) fighting for two playing time spots and either one or two spots on nachos. A great camp could see any one of those guys playing in a Top 4 D pair to start the year. Adding intrigue here is the presence of Nicholas Meloche. Early indication is that he is a breakout star of camps. I don’t think he breaks with the team, but I hope he’s given plenty of minutes in the preseason to see just what he can do.
Sandie: For me it’s definitely the defense. The defenseman position is a weakness in the Colorado Avalanche game and has been for the past few season. Because of this there is so much wiggle room for a new player to make a spot for himself. I love watching hungry players make the team make hard choices. Plus, it can give fans hope that the season will be better when you see a strong defensive core and players making names for themselves in camp.
earl: While the defensive spot battle might be the most wide open, I’m looking at the forwards. If the Avs really want to go for some skill so they don’t average 2 goals per game again they are going to need some players to bounce back from last year and add from within. Alex Kerfoot looked great against prospects, now he has a few games to show he can handle NHL speed and defensive responsibilities and put an underperforming vet on the bench. AJ Greer has been a terror on the ice so far. Despite many fans concerns about gooning it up, he seems to be doing something the Avs need badly, getting opponents off their games. So far I think a roster spot is extremely close yet just out of reach for these two but that can change with solid performances.
Other than the Duchene trade, what unknown do you think is the most important to sort out in the next couple of weeks?
Oak: I think chemistry is the most important thing to sort out in the top 9. So many new faces either to the team (Wilson, Yakupov, Toninato, Kerfoot) or to the league (Jost, Compher, Greer, Bigras, Siemens, Lindholm) means that there is a lot of unfamiliarity with either the team, the league or both. Chemistry and getting to know the system will be key if the Avalanche want to be successful at the beginning of the season. They need to figure out which of these rookies will make the team, and then who they work well with.
Vlad: I’ll take a slightly different spin on what the Professor mentioned regarding chemistry. Chemistry on the ice is important, but it will take the chemistry behind the bench to set the tone for how that chemistry will be built on the ice. Jared Bednar tried to make chicken salad out of chicken droppings last season with a support staff–Nolan Pratt being the lone exception–that didn’t mesh well with his coaching style. Now that has had a full offseason to evaluate his roster with a supporting cast better aligned with his coaching vision, he and his staff can provide more guidance and structure to a roster that desperately needs unified coaching leadership. Providing that structure can only benefit the squad as it attempts to rebound from the nuclear winter it experienced last season..
SeaMill: There are so many new things on this team. Almost half of the team is completely new. Chemistry is going to be something very important to figure out as well as balancing the lines with Vets and young guns. Another thing that I’m looking forward to seeing get worked out is the coaching dynamic. Last season was a gongshow regarding the staff. Bednar now has the guys he wants and I am looking forward to seeing a fully young and innovative coaching staff work with this very potential-filled team.
Yelle: I think that the management team needs to sort out how much they want to be younger and faster. There were more than a few forwards last year who had rotten seasons. How long of a leash do guys like Colborne and Soderberg get to make an impact on the ice before we get a long look at players like AJ Greer and Alex Kerfoot? I think they give the vets a chance to prove they belong in the early part of the season. With decent rebounds, a 4th line including 2 or 3 of Colborne, Soderberg, and Comeau could give valuable stability to a young roster. However, Joe and Co. need to have these guys on a short leash. If they don’t turn out we need to go full on younger and faster a lot earlier than March 2018.
Sandie: The Matt Duchene situation will definitely play a part in this. It’s hard to move on as a team when one player has made his request to leave the team publicly. I have no doubts that Duchene wants this situation as done as everyone else, and hopefully the Colorado Avalanche and Matt Duchene can get resolution at some point soon. But the other big unknown for me: team dynamics. Last season was bad. So bad. Even if they had been amazing last season, there are so many new faces that the team would be faced with this dilemma. The team needs to bond and get their game together, together. They need to work together as a team and get that chemistry going on and off the ice. They’ll also need to do it quickly. But… no pressure, right?
earl: For me the biggest unknown is how new offensive coach Ray Bennett will affect the Avs offensive production. The goalies weren’t sharp last year and the defense was a nightmare, sure, but I think most of the problems began with an inability to score goals. This infected everything else and became an infinite negative feedback loop. The team needs to find another 60 goals at minimum to be competitive, that’s a lot. I think the capacity is there but Bennett will have his hands full wringing full production out of everyone.
Pre-season records are generally considered meaningless but we’ve seen the team struggle a few years ago then continue to struggle in the early season. We’ve also seen them go undefeated and have the worst season ever just last year. Looking purely at record and hard stats like goals scored/allowed as well as some personal stats, what would be some things you want to see the Avs accomplish in their 6-game pre-season schedule?
Oak: With how young this team is, I want them to win most of the games, and lose a couple. Let’s get the kids some confidence, while also knocking them down a peg or two. The players with the team last year were already knocked down a bunch of pegs, but it’s good to have a sense of reality and to be humble for many of the new faces. In terms of less than hard stats, I just want to watch them execute a system.
Vlad: I’d like to see the team begin to demonstrate that it can play a full sixty minutes. There were too many times last season when the team had a complete drop in execution during the latter stages of games. This is a perfect opportunity for the coaching staff to tell the young kids that preseason ice time shouldn’t be taken for granted: Coach Bednar saw enough “passengers” last season, and he probably won’t have the patience to ice players not giving their best effort. There may be six preseason games, but getting the roster in the mentality that it absolutely has to compete through the entirety of each preseason game will help build that “play a full sixty minutes” habit, which will only help to (hopefully) foster consistent effort once regular season standings are on the line.
SeaMill: the most important thing for the Avs to do is to get some wins and get players like Landy and MacK and Barrie some points. With the season that everyone had, getting confidence back up is huge. Like I mentioned above, chemistry is the next thing to focus on. Get your lines set up by the start of the season so players are comfortable, relaxed, and excited going into game 1. Confidence and chemistry are two of the biggest factors (other than actually caring about winning) that caused last season’s downfall. Get angry, get pumped, and win some games.
Yelle: I’m of the belief that results in preseason just flat out do not matter. I don’t care who scores goals or who has the best corsi. Two things I will look for this preseason are health and consistency. If you escape the preseason without injuries to your Top6/Top4/G you’re ahead of the curve. I would like to see the coaching staff zero in on what they think their opening night roster will look like sooner rather than later. Let your linemates have some time to gel during the meaningless games. If you plan on playing Andrighetto/MacK/Rantanen together to start the regular season…play them together in the preseason. If you want to see what your kids can do, play them on a line together and throw them to the wolves. I feel like last preseason we messed around too much with our line combinations. Get to the point, cut the fat early, and let your roster spot battles occur at the same time.
earl: I’m not terribly interested in the final record, wins are nice but in reality the 3rd periods of pre-season games are usually filled with grinders getting final looks for bottom spots in the lineup and questionable goaltending. What’s important for me is to see the players we’re looking at to score setting up scoring chances, hopefully burying a few, and defensive play that shows the club can compete on the forecheck, in the neutral zone and of course be strong in the d-zone. Give me 3 wins and a positive scoring differential in the first periods and I’ll be happy.
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Thanks to everyone for throwing down here. The Avs open real live pre-season games tonight at 9pm vs the VGKs. Look for the game thread about an hour before.