Training camp is finished and preseason games begin Sunday when the Minnesota Wild send a group to Denver to unofficially begin the new season.
As the preseason transitions from practices to games (the Avs have three games over the next five days), I wanted to do a rundown of where the roster stands right now and what guys to keep eyes on as they battle for NHL jobs.
For the lists below, I’m leaving Cale Makar and Andrew Cogliano out of the “injured” categories because both are definitely making the team and both are expected to be healthy for opening night so those aren’t actually roster spots up for contention. If those statuses change at any point, obviously the math would change for the players in the ‘Battling’ category.
Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Valeri Nichushkin, Artturi Lehkonen, Ryan Johansen, Jonathan Drouin, Tomas Tatar, Ross Colton, Miles Wood, Andrew Cogliano, Logan O’Connor
This group is pretty straightforward. These 11 guys are making the team to start the year. That leaves up to three spots left to compete for depending on if the Avs want to carry 12, 13, or 14 forwards.
Ben Meyers, Fredrik Olofsson, Kurtis MacDermid, Peter Holland (PTO), Joel Kiviranta (PTO), Brandon Kozun (PTO), Jason Polin, Oskar Olausson, Matthew Stienburg
MacDermid’s focus is solely as a forward this year and that sudden lack of positional versatility makes the certainty of him making this team a lot shakier. Meyers has the inside track for the moment as he has been skating as the center between Cogliano and O’Connor. Olofsson was Colorado’s first offseason move and plays all three forward positions, making him a very valuable piece when injuries crop up.
I haven’t seen any real separation to this point from the three PTO players and none of Polin, Olausson, and Stienburg have had the kind of flashes necessary to rise to the top of this pile so far. Cogliano has been skating in a non-contact jersey and is targeting opening night to be ready to go. If for whatever reason he isn’t, that could temporarily open another spot for one of these guys.
I will say that I would be surprised if they went the waiver wire route this preseason.
Gabe Landeskog, Ondrej Pavel, Jean-Luc Foudy, Chris Wagner, Alex Beaucage
Landeskog is done for the regular season and Beaucage was unlikely in the mix for a spot. Wagner and Pavel were well-positioned to make serious runs at the NHL roster but injuries have taken them out of that mix for the moment. Foudy probably lost his shot when Tatar signed on September 12 but he’s certainly going to be in the mix for call-up chances this season if he can get himself healthy and build off last season’s breakout.
Cale Makar, Devon Toews, Bowen Byram, Josh Manson, Sam Girard, Jack Johnson
Like the forward group, these guys are on the team. There are no question marks here.
Sam Malinski, Brad Hunt, Corey Schueneman, Keaton Middleton, Jack Ahcan
Genuinely, I’m not really sure which of these guys are truly battling for spots in the eyes of the coaching staff. Malinski should be getting a look because he plays like an Avalanche defenseman and Hunt was obviously a decent stand-in last season. The last of these guys I’m just guessing might be involved if the staff was really digging deep. You could tell me Nate Clurman and Wyatt Aamodt were in this mix, too, and I’d be with it.
More than anything, this group looks ripe for a waiver claim to me. There isn’t one guy here who you’d love as the seventh D and Jack Johnson would probably be a better fit for that job at this stage of his career.
Georgiev is healthy and set to be Colorado’s number one goaltender this season. He made his case for an enormous amount of trust this season and the team could lean heavily on him early this year as Pavel Francouz is battling injury.
Justus Annunen, Arvid Holm
Jared Bednar said during training camp that if he had to rank his goaltenders, Annunen would be his number two behind Georgiev right now. That leaves Holm as the likely starting goaltender for the Colorado Eagles when the AHL season opens up and Trent Miner finally gets out of the ECHL and into the backup job behind Holm.
Annunen getting an extended look to prove himself could kickstart the permanent changing of the guard from Francouz to Annunen sooner rather than later if things go well.
The other option is that Colorado scours the waiver wire during the preseason and finds a veteran backup with experience that they’re comfortable giving a look to and letting Annunen marinate in Loveland a little bit more. If that were to happen, it would put Miner back in Utah and Holm into what he hopes is at least a platoon-level split with Annunen for the Eagles.
Francouz being hurt again complicates things for the Avalanche as they currently do not have a timeline for his return. If this continues to be the case, at some point Colorado should be putting Francouz on LTIR and getting the additional $2M in salary cap space to add a player along the way.
Now, Annunen or Holm would each take $775K of that space but it could open the rest of that space to keep a full 23-skater roster if they wanted to, which has been a rarity in recent years.