There was a different feel at Avalanche practice today. With the recent cuts putting the roster down to 37, the Avs separated into two distinct groups, with the veterans taking the ice first, and the youngsters afterward.

The difference in pace was noticeable.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had a group like that together and practiced that hard,” veteran Matt Nieto said after practice. “That was a real good practice for us. We don’t get many of those days right now in camp having two groups.”

The first group that hit the ice today could very well be the opening night 23-man roster when the season starts. There are still two preseason games left to determine a few final spots on the roster, but there is no shortage of depth in the organization at this moment.

Nieto thinks it’s easily the deepest the team has been since he was acquired.

“We’re four-deep upfront,” the winger said. “We’ve got a lot of depth on defense too, which is huge. You definitely need that depth when you want to be a team that goes far. There’s going to be injuries and stuff like that, so to be able to have guys that are going to be able to step in and have an impact is huge.”

Having just acquired Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare to center the fourth line, the Avs don’t feel like there will be any drop off in the lineup. That is not a luxury they had last season.

“We could have our fourth line out there in a situation where it might be against the opposing team’s first lines, and I think us as players and coaches would be comfortable with that.”

NEWS AND NOTES FROM PRACTICE

  • Erik Johnson and Nikita Zadorov returned to practice as full participants, and appear set to start the season as a pair, with Samuel Girard and Cale Makar filling out the rest of the top 4 on defense.
  • Colin Wilson skated hard before practice but did not join the rest of the team for the full practice. His status is still up in the air for the season opener.
  • Coach Jared Bednar said that journeyman Jayson Megna, who skated with Bellemare and Matt Calvert on the fourth line today, has “separated himself” upfront in terms of earning a spot. Coach also said Nichushkin’s game has picked up since his first few days in Denver.
  • Coach Bednar flipped wingers in the top 6, putting Joonas Donskoi with MacKinnon and Landeskog, and Andre Burakovsky with Nazem Kadri and Tyson Jost. That situation may be fluid until Mikko Rantanen comes back.
  • Conor Timmins found himself in the veteran group, perhaps signaling he’s moved ahead of a few others defensemen on the depth chart, but Bednar said nothing has been determined yet and the final two preseason games will play a big role in figuring out who starts where.
  • Tyson Jost has spent all camp playing wing but played Center in his two preseason appearances, and what position he plays will be a fluid situation all year. Bednar liked how he looked at Center to end last season, but Jost wants a shot in the top 6 and the only way to earn that right now is at wing.
  • It will be a mostly younger group playing in Vegas tomorrow, with a few veterans sprinkled in, with most of the NHL group playing in the final preseason game on Saturday in Dallas.
  • I watched Bowers in SoCal at rookies tournament. He showed a boatload of skill and promise. But, I think he needs a full year with Eagles to get physically stronger (plus more experience) to handle the physicality of the NHL full season grind. There is no question he will be in the top 9 next season.

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