On ice activities begin this morning for the beloved Avalanche and so begins the season. Three weeks from now we’ll be breaking down the opening match of the year and many questions will be answered in the meantime. I asked our trusty staff to pick a player they want to follow in camp/pre-season and why. Here’s what we came up with:
Mike – Philipp Grubauer
Any time a new goalie joins a team it’s a fun watch party in my opinion. How will his work ethic in practice mesh with his team? How will his personality on the ice affect practices and games? How will his workload be dictated? How will he learn the tendencies of his defense corp.? How will he incorporate any puck-handling skills into the team’s breakout and back-checking philosophies? Those are pretty stock questions for any goalie. With Grubauer and the Avs, there’s some added drama: How will Bednar split the workload? Will it be a shift toward trusting a backup with Grubauer’s pedigree (more than he did with Bernier and the scrubs from last year) and having a legit goalie rotation in order to not overwork Varly? Will he allow a true battle between the heir apparent and the soon-to-be FA starter? Will he defer to the devil he knows and only use Grubauer in B2B’s? Will we see a true 1A/1B tandem? If we reach late November and he’s only played a handful of games in B2B situations, it better be because of a hot hand in Varly and not because the staff and team don’t trust him. That would not bode well for a player supposedly ready to take a full-time gig.
The usage question may be somewhat beyond P-Grub’s control. However, there are things I’d like to see from him as the season gets started; number one is a calming presence similar to Varly where he doesn’t get rattled. I’d like to see guys give him props on big saves and apologies on boneheaded mistakes in front of him that end up in the net. That lets us know that he’s being incorporated into the team’s culture and they’re all pulling on the same rope. Will the team of young guys trust Grubauer out of the gate or will there be stylistic/unconscious tendencies that creep into the team’s game when #1 isn’t in net? I hope not. I want to see the trust in a guy that they believe can win them games just like the do with Varly. Grubauer has a great pedigree and at 26 should be entering his prime with all the tools to be a full-time starter. That’s why he’s here. We need to see steady, starter-like play. Not streaky, inconsistent swings, and temper tantrums/blame games. The Avs have invested in Grubuaer as a significant part of this team’s future with his new 3-year deal. He’s out of the shadow of Holtby now and can put his stamp on the league.
SeaMill – Igor Shvyrev
Igor is one of those Russian draftees who fell through the cracks for being just that, Russian. His skills were solid and his hockey IQ is nothing to scoff at. There were reports that if he were not from Russia he likely would have gone in the second round. Instead, we got him in the 5th. Pretty drastic change all things considered. Igor has played for the KHL and the MHL. His MHL numbers are outstanding. In the last two years (age 18-19) he was over a point per game and had 70 points in 40 games two years ago and 17 points in 10 games last year. His KHL team brought him up and he had consistent dressed games at 32 games in a season. That is very impressive for someone at his age in the KHL. However, for some reason his coach wouldn’t play him. There were games where he would get one thirty second shift for the whole night. Igor understandably got frustrated with that so he decided to sign his entry level contract with the Avs. He is expected to play for the Eagles this year likely on the top line with the likes of Greer, Kamenev, Toninato, Beaudin, etc. Looking at MHL numbers of other Russian players, Shvyrev has similarities to Pavel Buchnevich and Vladislav Namestnikov. Those are quality NHLers, both of whom currently play for the New York Rangers. That likely would be his expected potential. However, he also had similar U19 numbers to Artemi Panarin so his ceiling could be as high as someone like that. Igor has a lot of highly skilled tools in his belt and he has the chops to be a big player for the Avs in the coming future.
The biggest questions for Shvyrev right now is his ability to translate his game to North American ice. In theory it just takes time but there are players that struggle with it. We got a glimpse of Shvyrev at the rookie showcase in Vegas this past weekend and he looked great a lot of the time. He had some pretty apparent chemistry with Kamenev (which is understandable given their nationalities). If Kamenev does not immediately make the NHL roster this year, expect Shvyrev and he to put up big numbers in an Eagles sweater. Igor also needs to work defensively. He was passable at the showcase but these games were against other prospects. The AHL is even a big jump in skill overall than the showcase, let alone the NHL. He looked great in the faceoff dot but there is a lot more to being a player than winning faceoffs and shooting pucks. What Igor needs to do in camp is really learn from the likes of MacKinnon and Soderberg as well as get used to the speed. He did play in the KHL and has shown that he can keep up, but he needs to be vigilant because the NHL is even faster than the KHL. However, don’t be surprised if Shvyrev makes a big push for an NHL spot right away. I would also put money on Shvyrev being a callup for an injury in the top 6 and make it really hard for the front office to send him down. He may even end the season with the team.
Professor Oak – Ian Cole
Ian Cole was certainly an interesting signing, one that didn’t have Avs fans too excited, and some were even upset. As with many things, once it settles in, you sometimes talk yourself into the signing. Cole is a 29 year old defenseman who isn’t quite known for offense, but will still give you about 20 points a year, give or take. I like this signing as it provides defensive depth and keeps Nemeth from getting top-4 minutes (hopefully).
As with many players, I’m interested in watching Cole at camp because he’s new and because I’m not overly familiar with him. Beyond everything else, this team was known last year for being a fairly tight knit group. Will Cole fit in? He’s certainly not young (although still under 30) but maybe he has the right personality. Will he be respected and will he be a leader? Cole has 62 games of playoff experience under his belt and two Stanley Cup rings to boot. Being part of an up and coming team will be a newer experience for him, as he’s spent his last few years in Columbus and then in Pittsburgh.
What I want to see out of Cole in camp is a strong and steady defensive presence. He shouldn’t be getting burned by some of the younger skilled prospects in camp nor do I expect him to wow me on offense. Almost importantly, I want to see him get acclimated to this group and become a vocal leader. I want him to be engaged and not treat this business as usual. It’s always hard coming in as the new guy, especially when the established leaders are mostly a few years younger than you. But the other players know where he’s been, they know what he’s accomplished. Hopefully he sees this team as a new challenge to accomplish the same goals he has in the past.
NoNeedToYelle – Tyson Jost
Aside from the obvious answer of MacK and Rants reproducing career years I think that Tyson Jost will be the linchpin in determining if the Avalanche make it back to the playoffs this season. His talent and pedigree are undeniable, so what is holding him back? Last year was (outside of a brief tryout) his first taste of NHL action and he was behind the 8 ball from the get go with multiple nagging injuries throughout training camp. For a young player coming straight from 1 year of the NCAA ranks, the speed of the NHL game is one of the biggest challenges to deal with. Jost is not a burner to begin with so having even less time on the ice to practice and learn how to cope during last years camp was not ideal. When he finally had a chance to get on the ice he had a season of ups and downs, but there was really only one stretch that would make you think “man, this guys got what it takes.”. During an 11 game stretch in February Jost put up 7 points in 11 games (roughly 50 points over a season) to show that he does have the offensive capability that caused him to be drafted so highly. To me, he seems like the logical candidate for a breakout year where he can consistently produce quality offense while still providing defensive reliability. This summer he has been working out with world renowned hockey trainer Andy O’Brien (MacK, Crosby, Marchand, etc) on his fitness and training and that can only be a good thing for young Tyson Jost. I’m very intrigued to see if the fruits of that labor and also a healthy offseason/training camp can spring him forward to the 50 point mark this season.
QueenJK – Vlad Kamenev & Nic Meloche
Aside from smiling every time Sam Girard is on the ice in front of me, I’m looking forward to watching the progress of the two prospects with upside and a realistic chance at NHL time this season. Those are Vladislav Kamenev and Nicolas Meloche, though each are very different as players and the opportunities provided to them.
Kamenev is expected to have the inside track on an opening night roster spot and should show in camp and preseason that he belongs at the NHL level with the other young forwards on the roster. Although Kamenev’s smart power center type style is subtle, I hope he flashes enough impact with his skill and dynamic qualities to keep him up in the NHL from day one. His well-rounded defensive game should also please the coaching staff. If he finds a place on one of the lines with a defined role early on then he should solidify his place on the roster.
Meloche will likely have to wait his turn as the defense core at the NHL level is pretty much set. However, camp and preseason is where Meloche can really cement his game in the eyes of the organization and coaching staff in order to place himself on the real call-up list. I’m looking for him to show the same poise and polish he did in the rookie tournament games against NHL competition. I want him to show off that professional experience he gained last year and to play his physical yet puck moving style at the next level in hopefully several preseason games.
JDK – Erik Johnson
Erik Johnson has long been the key blueliner on the Avalanche and I have enjoyed watching his passion for the game. His history with the team and his interactions with his teammates have always been great to watch. I want to see how he comes back from the two injuries last year. While he’s older than a lot of the young’uns on the team, as a defenseman he should be nearing his prime. I also want to see how many minutes of ice time he’s likely to get with the addition of Ian Cole. Johnson says he plays better with more ice time so it will be interesting to see how the roles and responsibilities will be distributed. I also want to see who he ends up with as his linemate. He spent a lot of last year rotating through d-pairings as the coaching staff didn’t want to burden the young players with the same number of minutes as Johnson. I want to see Johnson be able to make the quick, deep cuts that prove his legs are healthy, who he gets paired with the most, and how many minutes he’s on the ice as well as if he’s still getting the top penalty kill time.
Ace O Dale – Ty Lewis
2017 marked the first instance of the Rookie Showcase. One Avalanche prospect that stood out at that nascent event was undrafted invitee Ty Lewis. His poise, puck control, and drive elevated him above his peers. The Avalanche staff were impressed enough to give him a camp invite as well. Although raw compared to more polished NHLers, Lewis continued to display potential. After camp he returned to his WHL team, the Brandon Wheat kings.
I was among a group of fans that thought the Avs should have at least offered this diamond-in-the-rough some form of entry level contract. When Lewis got back to Brandon, he gave a clinic from what he’d learned in Denver and scored two goals with three assists in the first game of the new season. At that point I and others were tearing our hair out in frustration that the Front Office was seemingly letting this prodigy simply walk away. Fortunately, it appears the Avalanche were working with him the whole time and his contract signing was finally made public after about two weeks.
Fast forward to the 2018 Rookie Showcase and I am interested to see how Ty had developed over the last year. He had been the leading scorer on the 2017-18 Wheat Kings with 100 points over 70 games (44 goals, 56 assists). He did not disappoint. Lewis was directly involved in the first two goals scored by the Avlets and contributed to a couple-three more throughout the tourney. He continued to drive play and made his linemates better. Again, he’ll be attending development camp with the rest of the Avalanche team. No longer just an intriguing prospect, Lewis will now be auditioning for a place in the Avalanche organization. A decent showing this next week will land him in Loveland with the Eagles.
In an organization that seems to have a surfeit of centers, it’s good to see a winger with Lewis’ skills. He’s not the most physical but he’s not afraid to battle for the puck along the boards and he’s not afraid to shoot. In my mind he looks to have the potential to be a Drury/Deadmarsh type player. For now, though, Lewis should be working on bringing his skating and skills up to the AHL/NHL level. In Brandon, he may have developed a shoot-first mentality out of necessity. With the Eagles/Avs, he’ll likely be coached to look for more passing and play-making opportunities.
I don’t expect Lewis to be among consideration for call-ups in the coming season unless he just blows everyone away at camp. There are simply several more developed players ahead of him. This season, he should help solidify the Eagles on wing and learn the Avs system. I’ll be watching Ty’s progress in the AHL and looking for him to be battling for a regular top-six position. In September of 2019, I’d expect him to be competing for a prefered call-up or NHL roster position.
earl06 – Carl Soderberg
The Avs gruff but lovable veteran center has experience and a wide variety of skills, this lets Coach Bednar use him in any situation with confidence. Last year he settled into a shutdown role that limited his offense but allowed the staff to shelter the younger players on the team somewhat. The numbers indicate that the effectiveness of using him like this was a bit overblown.
For me, Soderberg is the key the the entire forward corps outside of the top line. How the lines fall start with him, who he plays with and how they are used determine the other two. That’s a big decision and it would pay to give some thoughts about not sticking him with grinders again. Consistent depth scoring is one of the catchphrases we’ve heard all Summer. If the staff put the exact same lineup as last April out there with Calvert in Comeau’s spot and expect different results they’re going to be disappointed, as will we. It’s fine to have confidence in certain combinations but the goal is to have 4 functioning lines. Creating 2 then using whoever is leftover as a revolving and ineffective jigsaw puzzle is a flawed strategy.
The makeup of the bottom 9 outside of Soderberg is a bunch of youngsters and then a bunch of vet grinders. I’d like to see those two categories blended together a little better so their strengths can complement each other rather keeping them separate and amplifying their weaknesses. The talent and ability is there to make 3 really promising and consistent lines if the staff choose to be creative rather than risk-averse. Use Carl wisely and it will solve problems rather than create them.