I have long been a Tufte detractor as someone who has been watching him since he was in high school, so I’m not coming from a place of wanting the player to be good and believing he had untapped potential or anything (as I am with Jonathan Drouin, who I’ll get to very soon). I always think it’s important to put my own biases out there when talking about this stuff.
That being said, how do you not love what Tufte did tonight? I know he has goals in the other preseason games he’s been in but the Tufte we saw in this game is the one who belongs in the roster conversation. There was no messing around with him at center and instead letting him find his way on at his more natural left wing. He was great.
Being a giant in the NHL at 6’6″, I think the expectation of physical domination from him is a big reason why people, especially the Stars, have long been disappointed in his development to this point. He’s never fully used it to his advantage and it creates a perpetual “what if?” conversation surrounding the state of his game.
I’m saying here that I loved how he used that size tonight. He was imposing, forcing pucks loose along the wall and going hard to the net on multiple occasions. That’s the kind of hard and loud game he needs to play to make it in the NHL as a role player. He isn’t skilled enough to play in a top six. He has to get by on hard work, physicality, and enough skill to justify a spot in the lineup, especially as a guy who isn’t going to help a penalty kill right now.
We saw all of that tonight. He rocked and rolled, scored a goal after creating havoc on a forecheck to shake a puck loose, and here we are. Kurtis MacDermid and Tufte are both raising their games in this competition to likely be the healthy scratch on opening night.
I told you I’d get here. This guy very likely won’t be a healthy scratch on opening night and the way his play with the puck jumped off the ice tonight will be the main reason why. Eric used the word “free” to describe the way Drouin has played since training camp opened and I think it’s the perfect word in this situation.
Drouin played with the kind of creativity that made him such a draft darling all those years ago and it had nothing to do with Nathan MacKinnon or Mikko Rantanen. The way he moved the pucks and danced around the ice isn’t going to conjure up notions of Connor McDavid or anything but it seems likely he scores more than two goals this season.
And yes, he DID have that chemistry with MacKinnon, but I think it was a lot more about the system the Avs play and the way Drouin’s natural playstyle meshes wonderfully with the attack-oriented approach of the Avalanche. The way the defensemen jump into space and how the team uses all of the offensive zone to create opportunities is a great fit for a player with such high-level vision and playmaking ability.
When it comes to Drouin, though, I AM operating from a place of confirmation bias so keep that in mind. I think Drouin will be good so when I see him being good, I’m prone to overblowing the level of success. Still, I thought he looked great tonight.
I really like Ben Meyers, but I think Olofsson locked up the 4C job tonight. To my eye, Olofsson has outplayed Meyers throughout the preseason and training camp and I think his game is much more of what Jared Bednar is looking for from the player who will drop between Andrew Cogliano and Logan O’Connor.
There’s a heaviness to Olofsson’s game and he brings that to the table pretty much every night. He’s versatile in his ability to play all three forward spots but right now he’s most valuable as a center and I do wonder how well he handles a full-time job there. At the moment, though, I think he’s done what he has needed to in order to separate from Meyers, who you can read more about below.
The versatility is always a selling point for me personally but if you look at the job Olofsson has done this preseason, you see a smart player who understands his limitations, does a good job of playing within himself, and plays a repeatable game. There may not be very much upside to his game, especially offensively, but coaches absolutely love a player whose performance is predictable on a night-to-night basis. Olofsson is precisely that.
Interesting night from Malinski. He got paired next to Sam Girard and those two…really kind of rocked together. It’s clear Malinski hasn’t found his footing at the NHL level yet and is still trying to learn when to pick his spots in attacking up the ice and when to play it safe.
We just haven’t seen very much of that up-ice aggression from Malinski as much as I thought we would but the measured approach also shows a player who is searching for his own limitations and learning. That’s an important skill for a guy who may not get a big runway to prove he can handle the NHL.
What I do love about Malinski is that you can tell he’s reading the ice really well because he makes very quick decisions with the puck. The puck is frequently on and off his stick and not because he’s panicking but rather he already knows what he wants to do when he gets it. That’s how you succeed at NHL speed and we’ve seen a bit of that already.
The defensive details are going to be a work in progress but I still liked how he handled himself tonight. Dallas didn’t send a lineup of killers or anything but it isn’t as if he will spend much time going head-to-head against Jason Robertson when the puck drops on the regular season, so seeing him do work against some NHL competition is encouraging.
I didn’t think Meyers was bad tonight but there were too many mistakes from a player who already appears to have lost ground since the start of training camp two weeks ago when he got first crack playing next to Cogliano and O’Connor.
Since then, it’s been a slow drip of a decline for Meyers, who has had some moments. Even in tonight’s game, you saw some great things from Meyers. He created wonderful opportunities for teammates, most notably on a perfect stretch pass from the defensive zone onto Artturi Lehkonen’s stick for a breakaway. Lehkonen failed to finish and another Meyers point fell by the wayside. His best moments tonight were either creating for a linemate or doing some work in the faceoff circle.
Those are good things for a fourth-line guy, but the mistakes really jumped off the ice to me, too. Icing the puck while not under any pressure and simply making a poor play up the ice, which was compounded when he lost the defensive zone faceoff and the Stars created multiple scoring chances from it. There were missed assignments, turnovers, and an offensive zone penalty with his team protecting a third-period lead.
Mental errors such as those are unacceptable for a guy pushing for one of the last roster spots. Fourth-line jobs in the NHL are regularly won and lost on the thinnest or margins and coaches are specifically looking for the players that will hurt them the least, not the ones who could help them the most. Meyers put the Avalanche in too many compromising situations tonight and it puts him behind the eight ball in the roster race.
Those are the kinds of mistakes that might fly in Chicago or San Jose where teams aren’t worried about winning and are willing to take the lumps of young players trying to find their way in the league, but in Colorado, it has been shown time and time again that fringey roster guys have to play smart hockey to make this club. There’s not been an appetite for a ton of learning on the fly for role players.
I just didn’t think he played very well tonight. Not a major concern or anything moving forward, I just didn’t like his game. That’s all.
All this talk about guys in contention for roster spots and somehow a recent first-round pick has never really been in the conversation here. What I have loved, however, is that it looks like he’s turning a page and starting to figure out that he’s not going to be a guy that plays in Colorado’s top six. He isn’t getting a bunch of power play time with the big guns and he’s not playing 17 minutes per night to get the puck touches and shifts to be an active decider of games.
Instead, he’s learning he has to find ways to be smart and efficient in how he impacts games. His shot is always going to be a viable weapon, but it’s learning to play the rest of the game that needs to happen. Tomas Tatar and Andre Burakovsky are guys who succeeded early in their careers by learning to be smart defensive players without being overly physical and letting their natural shooting gifts find their way in limited opportunities.
Those are the types of players that Olausson should aspire to emulate. We saw a bit of that tonight as he was an effective, albeit mostly quiet, player throughout the evening and then when he got a little bit of space (great job by Drouin to drive the net and create it for him, by the way), we saw that beauty of a shot win the game tonight.
Weird to call the guy who scored the game-winning goal in overtime an “unsung hero” but here we are.