First order of business: the Colorado Avalanche swept their Rookie Faceoff weekend. Tonight the Avs prospects defeated the Vegas Golden Knights prospects 4-3 in OT with goals from Ryan Sandelin, Brandon Cutler, Oskar Olausson, and Saige Weinstein.
Notably absent from the lineup was Jason Polin. The 24-year-old forward impressed in Game 1 and continued to in Game 2 until he left during the second period after getting banged up. Aaron Schneekloth did not have a further update on Polin’s absence after Game 3, but he was in the stands watching his team.
In a showcase weekend with limited center depth, knowing Polin had that versatility in his tool kit made him all the more intriguing especially since centerman Ondrej Pavel also did not play.
Pavel is an interesting player that has been teased as a depth option for Colorado. At least in college, he can play down the middle and kill penalties. He’s tough to play against and works hard.
Pavel traveled with the team but did not appear in a game. After hearing murmurs of injuries to Colorado around the weekend – Pavel, Polin, and Cal Ritchie are who I assume to be dealing with some things. Ritchie, of course, is merely there to skate as part of his rehab.
These injuries to the forward group meant Aaron Schneekloth had to get creative. Development camp invite turned ECHL contract, defenseman Bryan Yoon, skated as a forward in Game 3 to ensure Colorado had enough players at every position.
The former Colorado College captain added to the growing list of captains the organization seems to be collecting.
“That was one challenge coming into this tournament with 11 defensemen,” Schneekloth affirmed. “We started with some forwards and ended up facing some adversity with some injuries, but I thought Yoon did a great job stepping up and playing forward today. These guys are just excited to get involved in this tournament and I thought we got better. I thought today was probably our best performance of the weekend.”
Also getting the night off was Sam Malinski and Matt Stienburg making for an even more depleted lineup. After two high-energy games from both, the decision to rest them did not cause any alarm.
As such, Jeremy Hanzel kept his top-pair promotion and moved to his off-side on the right. His versatility didn’t stop there. Hanzel headed up the top powerplay unit, appeared on the kill, and got ice late in the game during overtime.
He continued to show well particularly in the chaotic environment of Game 3 and earned three assists on the night.
Schneekloth was proud of his whole team’s response following a Game 2 that left him a bit wanting.
“We talked about it after each and every game, we showed them a little bit of video and then we put an emphasis on it today,” he explained. “It was their last opportunity to get evaluated here at this tournament. ‘Let’s try to go out there and play with some strong details and good habits.’ I thought they took that message very well and did a great job.”
Perhaps no one impressed more in the final game than Oskar Olausson, and he was certainly due.
“The first game, he showed a lot of confidence carrying the puck up the ice and he made some heads-up plays,” said Schneekloth. “Then the second game, he kind of took a little step back. But tonight, I thought he showed extreme work ethic – he was working every single shift. He takes a high stick, gets a little bit more motivated on that power play, scores a goal. I really liked what I saw from him today.”
Olausson’s first-round pedigree can open doors. Coupled with his pro-experience, he was a lock to wear an “A” and receive top line minutes and powerplay time. But, with that first-round sheen comes hefty expectations too.
He played physically in Game 1, but needed to win more puck battles – to engage was not enough alone. In Game 2, he got lost in the shuffle a bit.
With Polin and Stienburg out of the lineup, the spotlight shined brighter on Olausson.
He created more, distributed the puck, and better yet he took his shots. He even added a layer of deception – after deferring to his one-timer at the circle enough times – he made a passing play that led to a goal.
Colorado’s powerplay struggled this weekend, but it came as no surprise. Special teams are notoriously fickle, and new Assistant Coach Steve Konowalchuk only just got his hands on this group for the first time.
“The power play is always going to take some time, especially when you got a new group trying to figure it out,” Schneekloth explained. “‘Which combination is going to work for players to be in a good position?’ Then you’re trying to create some chemistry quickly. It took a few games, but tonight I thought they had really good movement, a lot of good chances.”
Finally, the storyline from this weekend that deserves more credit is the coaching debut of Aaron Schneekloth. Not only did he lead his team to the weekend sweep, he did so with a challenging lineup missing key players.
Greg Cronin’s influence certainly left its imprint, but Schneekloth’s ability to steady his group and encourage good habits is a credit to himself too.
“It’s honestly great to be involved in this tournament, be on the bench, being able to coach guys,” Schneekloth revealed. “It’s been a long summer, and these guys are eager to learn and that’s exciting for them to play in this tournament. I thought our staff did a really good job getting to know these players in a short period of time figuring out what their strengths are and what they’re comfortable with.”
Identifying his players’ strengths in such a short time and deploying them in situations meant to set them up for success was no easy task especially with a few injuries.
When you compare Colorado’s lineup to the Logan Cooley’s, Brendan Brisson’s, Josh Doan’s, Dylan Guenther’s, and Leo Carlsson’s of the tournament – the Avs 3-0 record from the weekend becomes more impressive.
The prospects returned to Denver immediately after the game. Main camp opens this Thursday, and you can bet several hopefuls from the showcase will want to build on the work they’ve done this weekend.