Training camp is all wrapped up for the year as the Avalanche jump right into preseason action with their first two games the next couple of days as Minnesota and Vegas come rolling into town. I’ve got my thoughts on the final day of camp all written out here for y’all so…enjoy!
Colorado’s new third line
This Wood-Colton-Tatar line looks really fun on paper and is certainly a major step forward from last year’s collection of revolving players that never quite seemed to find any kind of rhythm.
On the ice, however, it’s had kind of a…funky chemistry to it. It’s a really interesting mixture of skills so it isn’t surprising to see this trio still searching for its identity but the lack of it immediately clicking makes it one of my storylines to watch moving forward this preseason.
None of the three have previously been utilized as puck carriers from defense to offense so if these guys stick together someone is going to have to take the lead on that job on a Colorado team that is at its best when they are moving pucks through the neutral zone with speed and control.
This isn’t a major concern as they haven’t even played a single game together but it is something I’d like to watch moving forward. Colorado’s top nine forwards are such an interesting mix of players that there could be all kinds of combinations to work with but I’d love to see this group get a real chance to grow together.
I wanted to separately talk about the guy who joined the podcast today because I have some specific notes on things I saw from him today.
While Colton was an excellent fit in the Tampa Bay system where they heavily mixed a lot of physicality with enough offense to get by, Colorado’s main emphasis is on skating, skating, and more skating. Watching Colton adjust to that increased demand was one of the things I wanted to focus on and I came away impressed.
Going through video of Colton’s tenure in Tampa Bay, I was curious how he would fit into Colorado’s attack and I came away today feeling better than ever that Colton is going to slide right into the center spot here and flourish. He’s learning that everything in Colorado happens with pace and once he gets comfortable, I think we’re going to see the best version of him to date.
This guy. I tell ya. This guy. He is a treat to watch for the real hardcore hockey nerds because the things he does well aren’t flashy and won’t end up as highlights but his stickwork is immaculate.
It’s funny to put Toews, who is a top 15 defenseman in the NHL today, in a list of standouts in training camp but I just really loved his work today. He almost looked bored at times as he dominated multiple drills throughout the early session.
There isn’t a real takeaway here other than the obvious, which is that Devon Toews is really good. Who knew? But I still loved to see that he’s already locked in and ready to go in arguably the most important season of his career.
This is a very specific point of interest that stood out to me today. Last year, Byram’s big deficiency came defending the front of his own net and a lot of times it was because he lost the initial battle for the ice in his goaltender’s face.
Watching him today, I liked that he was initiating a lot of contact in front of his goaltender and using his leverage to get low and move opponents away from the net. It’s a small detail but if Byram starts to master the little things, his game will take a significant leap forward because he has all of the raw natural talent to be a special player in the NHL.
Nichushkin looked completely different today and I even liked his first couple of days! He looks huge, per usual, but after a year in which I think his skating was being held back by the ankle issues he’d been dealing with going back to the 2022 Stanley Cup run it’s great to see some of that explosiveness return.
He was still a very effective player last season but it was also clear that part of what makes his game elevate to another level is when his skating is explosive and he’s able to bring that dynamic element to everything he does. He’s so big and smart that when he gets the train going at full speed, it’s incredibly hard to stop.
I don’t typically focus much on goaltenders because most of the time in drills they’re getting lit up in situations they won’t see very much in games so the takeaways are pretty minimal.
I kept a close eye on Annunen today, however, because for the moment he is in position to be the opening night backup. He looked sharp and ready for the moment. In talking with people around the Avalanche, there is a lot of confidence that if the Avs decide to go with Annunen off the jump, he can handle it.
We are talking about a guy here that should be in line to take over that backup job for real beginning next season so if Pavel Francouz is out for a serious length of time, this is Annunen’s audition to show Colorado’s front office they don’t need to go get another guy right now.
Every year, the Avalanche have just enough injuries on the defense that they have to dig into the AHL depth and get to players they might otherwise be uncomfortable playing. Last year, we saw Andreas Englund show pretty well in the NHL and we’ve seen a handful of similar guys experience success in limited roles.
It’s a testament to the work that is being done with AHL veterans up in Loveland with the Eagles and I saw a lot I really liked from Middleton today, in particular his skating.
He’s never going to be fleet of foot or anything but I liked his edges and thought he was working with the kind of pace necessary to be successful in Colorado. I’m not going to make this anymore than it is because I don’t think Middleton should be pushing hard for the NHL roster, but if he does end up there I like the idea of a 6’7″ defenseman whose skating has come a long way the last couple of years holding his own.
I mentioned him in this space yesterday and I’m going to do it again because I personally would have Ahcan pushing hard for the seventh defenseman spot right now. His size at 5’9″ and 175 pounds is the great limiting factor for his game and his fit on the Avalanche blueline with Sam Girard currently entrenched.
It’s hard to make multiple defensemen THAT small work on the same defense but if the time comes for Ahcan to step into the NHL, his overall skill set is a wonderful fit in Colorado. His hockey IQ is his greatest strength and while his skating and offensive abilities aren’t overwhelming, he consistently makes smart decisions to get pucks out of his own zone and to key transition offense.
Because of the size challenges, Ahcan might have to wait for a Girard injury specifically to get into the lineup and get a look. For my money, he’s been more impressive than Sam Malinski to this point so if the Avs want to get Malinski more AHL seasoning than Ahcan becomes a viable alternative.