The Colorado Avalanche finished rookie camp on Tuesday, giving the public a sneak peak at first pick Nathan MacKinnon in pro action.
Besides for a “love tap” to the face, all went well for MacKinnon. The veterans will now get a chance to share some love with the rookies as training camp is set to start Thursday morning at the Family Sports Center in Centennial, Colo. and finish Sept. 15 with a team scrimmage at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. A total of 58 players will report to training camp Thursday, and by opening night on Oct. 2 against the Anaheim Ducks, only 23 will remain on the roster.
According to head coach Patrick Roy, the top three lines for the Avalanche are set.
Former coach Joe Sacco was a proponent of mixing the lines up throughout the season based on who was playing well, but early signs point to Roy going for a more stable approach. A change that will be worth paying attention to is Ryan O’Reilly’s switch from center to left wing to play on the top line with Matt Duchene and P.A. Parenteau.
Roy said in his season-opening press conference that he hopes O’Reilly will complement Duchene and Parenteau because of his superior defensive play. Training camp and preseason games will provide a good look at how this line will shape up. Aside from the first line, training camp will be crucial for chemistry building for each of the forward lines.
As far as open roster spots go, training camp and the preseason will be an opportunity for a few forwards to earn spots on the fourth line. These players will most likely be players in the grinder/hard-worker mold, leaving younger forwards to get more ice time in the AHL with the Avalanche affiliate Lake Erie Monsters.
Cody McLeod is an assumed lock to make the roster and will apparently be placed on the fourth line. Patrick Bordeleau is another player to likely make the roster and will serve as an enforcer that will be a healthy scratch for half the season. That leaves an open spot for a fourth line center and another winger that will fill in for Bordeleau on select nights.
The favorite to center the fourth line is John Mitchell. Mitchell was fourth on the team in goals (10) and second in +/- (+5), showing a high energy and reliability on both ends. Mark Olver and Brad Malone will also get a look for the fourth center slot, but Mitchell is the clear leader.
Young players to watch
A few young players the Avalanche hope will make an impact in camp are Michael Sgarbossa and 2010 first round pick Joey Hishon. Sgarbossa played 57 games for Lake Erie last season and had success scoring 44 points. He played six games for the Avs as well but didn’t manage to score any points. Unless Sgarbossa is an unstoppable force in this preseason, he will likely be sent back to marinate in Lake Erie again.
Hishon has had lingering concussion issues since taking an elbow to the head in the 2011 Memorial Cup, but reports indicate he is healthy and ready to play despite a groin injury that kept him out of the first day of rookie camp. At 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, the injury-prone Hishon is a crafty player with great vision and puck handling. Like Sgarbossa, Hishon will benefit with more playing time in Lake Erie than with the big club in Denver.
Here’s the complete list of forwards that will be at training camp:
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Size and scoring
The biggest problem for the Avalanche the past few years has been the defense. The Avs had frequently been caught in their own zone for long stretches, unable to pry the puck from bigger, stronger opponents. The Avs have tried to bulk up their blue line with bigger defenders like Ryan O’Byrne, Greg Zanon and Jan Hejda. Unfortunately, those additions weren’t enough to tilt the ice and the Avalanche still struggled in their own end. Extending the troubles of the back line is the fact that the defenseman barely contributed to the offense last season. Tyson Barrie led all defenseman with two goals and 13 points.
Something must change this season if the Avalanche want to play meaningful games in April and beyond. Erik Johnson, Hejda and Barrie are locks to make the opening night roster with a cluster of defenseman battling for the final three or four spots. That cluster includes Stefan Elliott, Ryan Wilson, Matt Hunwick, Duncan Siemans, Cory Sarich, and Andre Benoit. Elliott, Wilson, and Hunwick figure to be the favorites of this group, but a strong training camp from any of the other defenseman could challenge that assumption.
Young players to watch
Siemans, the 11th pick in the 2011 draft might be better off spending some time developing in Lake Erie, but the physical 6-foot-3 defender could find a spot on the roster if the Avalanche find themselves being bullied in their own zone again this season. Another dark horse to make the team is Chris Bigras, the 32nd pick in the 2013 draft. Bigras has been praised for his sound positional game and his knack for making smart decisions with the puck, but at 18 years old, the Avalanche will probably give him a few more years to prepare for the NHL.
Here’s the complete list of defenders that will be at training camp:
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Playing for the greatest
Phoenix Coyote players admitted playing for Wayne Gretzky was challenging at times due to his iconic reputation. Avalanche goalies, especially 25-year-old Semyon Varlamov, might feel the same level of intimidation playing for Roy. Nerves aside, the Avalanche know Varlamov and veteran and 2003 Conn Smythe winner J.S. Giguere are the top two goaltenders on the roster.
Last season was a a disaster for Varlamov, and his record of 11-21-3 shows that. Now, Varlamov certainly isn’t to be blamed for the Avalanche’s collapse (terrible defense, scoring droughts), and that’s why the Avalanche still have faith in the young Russian goalie. J.S. Giguere offers veteran leadership in the locker room and a steady backup that can be counted on when needed, and with Roy and new goalie coach Francois Allaire Varlamov should receive the support and tutelage he needs to have a breakout season.
Here’s the complete list of goaltenders that will be at training camp:
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