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As news broke this morning that Colorado Avalanche defenseman Conor Timmins was unable to participate in this morning’s rookie camp or upcoming tournament in Las Vegas, eyes turned towards the top defensive prospect actually in attendance.
Nicolas Meloche has toiled away in the background his entire career despite being a high second-round draft pick in 2015, first behind draft classmate Mikko Rantanen, then former top prospect Chris Bigras, and now behind Timmins and Cale Makar.
With Meloche now suddenly sitting front and center, he’s prepared to take on the challenges that lie ahead as he enters his second season of pro hockey. What has changed for him between years one and two?
“I’m one of the old guys I’m sorry to say,” Meloche said. “More confidence, I’d say, more prepared, I know what’s coming and what to expect. For me, it’s just being more confident. If you’re being more confident, your game is going to come more easy.”
The French-Canadian defenseman faced a frustrating first season as he began with the San Antonio Rampage but didn’t play very well before being sent to the Colorado Eagles, then of the ECHL. From there, Meloche regained his confidence and found his way back to the Rampage and finished the regular season on a high note. He then joined the Eagles for their Kelly Cup title defense.
“For me, it was never let down and always play hard,” Meloche explained. “When I started in the AHL, I didn’t play like myself when I was drafted, like playing physical. I was more shy. When they sent me down, I was playing pretty well in the AHL. It was just to get me more luggage for the season. With winning, it was really fun.”
Meloche went out of his way to praise the fans in Loveland and said he was very excited about playing in front of them again. He was excited enough he even began to wax nostalgic about memories created just months ago.
“We had so much fun over there with those fans, always sold out, bringing us the energy,” he said. “I remember game seven against Fort Wayne, we were down 3-1 and the crowd was just so into that we came back. It was pretty fun.”
With a second consecutive Kelly Cup in the books, both Meloche and the Eagles are looking ahead to the new challenges of the AHL. For the rugged defenseman, though, the Eagles is what he hopes is a temporary stop on his path to the NHL. The Avalanche boast a deep and talented blue line in the NHL so he has his work cut out for him.
“I think it’s always the same every year,” Meloche said. “You want to get your spot, earn it, just work hard. For me, it’s play my game, show them what I can do, not worry about the other guys as much. When I was younger, I was always asking too many questions instead of playing. So for now, play my game and have fun and just be competitive. If I do that, I’ll get a spot somewhere and hopefully at least a couple games in the NHL this year. That’s my goal. It’s going to be a good year for me because having a good D corps is competition every day so we get better every day as well.”
While the numbers game may not favor Meloche, especially right now when the majority of the roster is healthy, he recognizes it’s really a simple formula that will see him get to the level he’s been dreaming of his entire life.
“It’s the same for every guy,” Meloche said nonchalantly. “If you have a good camp, they’ll keep you. It’s hockey, you have to earn your spot.”
As the team transitions from fast-paced practices together to game situations against other teams, Meloche said he and his teammates are looking forward to having other players to knock around for a few days.
“For sure,” Meloche said when asked about being excited to hit some people. “Even today in practice, sometimes the guys were bumping each other and I think the guys are excited to go to Vegas.”
Fellow defender Sergei Boikov engaged in plenty of the “bumping” Meloche was referring to, something he says is no accident as the Russian defenseman lives for the rough stuff.
“I think that’s his favorite part of hockey, just hitting guys, and he’s so good at it too,” Meloche said of Boikov. “It’s gonna be fun in Vegas.”
When asked what his favorite part of hockey was, Meloche couldn’t help but resort to leaning on some classic cliches.
“I think it’s being with the guys, having that competition every game,” Meloche said. “Be the best you can. I think that’s my favorite part.”
Unsatisfied with his cut and paste answer, I pressed for something a little more genuine.
“Scoring goals,” he finally said through laughter. “But I don’t score that much so I would say that if I was a goal scorer!”
Whether or not he’s much of a goal scorer won’t play too much of a role in him accomplishing his lofty goals for this season. How he keeps other guys from being the goal scorer, however, will have everything to do with how brightly his star shines this season.
For the quiet kid from Quebec, it’s time to start making some serious noise.