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Observations from Avalanche rookie camp

AJ Haefele Avatar
September 7, 2018

The fresh sheet of ice known as the 2018-19 NHL season took its first chips today as the rookies for the Colorado Avalanche dug their skates into a literal and figurative clean slate this morning. Things began slowly with goaltender focus before picking up in intensity and pace as the morning progressed. The story of the day, unfortunately, was centered on the player who was not on the ice as top prospect Conor Timmins is still suffering from concussion symptoms and was ruled out for this weekend’s games in Las Vegas.

Outside of Timmins, however, was a hungry group of young players looking to make an impression on Avalanche coaches and staff. It was an action-packed morning on the ice so let’s just get to the observations of the day.

Defense lacking

For all the minutes I’ve spent on podcasts talking about how much I like Colorado’s NHL defense, it was clear today the depth in the system is still lacking quite a bit. While it obviously hurts when your top two defensive prospects, Cale Makar and Timmins, aren’t on the ice, there was not much high-end talent back there to pick up the slack. It was really Nicolas Meloche, Josh Anderson, and Sergei Boikov standing out from a large group of try-out players and guys on AHL contracts.

The upside of this situation is that it’s not terribly concerning because the NHL team is so filled up high-end young talent. They can definitely get by in the AHL because of the combination of present veterans (Warsofsky, Alt) and young guys. It just seemed striking to me that after talking about the new and improved Avalanche defense, the rookie camp was severely lacking in high-end talent beyond Meloche.

Welcome back, Sergei!

Following a lost season, Sergei Boikov returned to the ice and did some thorough testing of his surgically repaired shoulder. He was not shy about laying hits on players who carried pucks into areas he wasn’t comfortable with. He did some ringing of bells today and it was great to see him back on the ice and doing his thing. His skating looked as smooth as ever and I liked his aggressive mentality. He’s going to be in a dogfight for ice time this season and today was a great start for making memorable early impressions.

Stars shine bright like a diamond

Even with Timmins out, the guys who needed to look good today certainly did. Martin Kaut, Colorado’s top prospect actually participating in this camp, looked like a first round pick out there against a bunch of, well, not first round picks. Igor Shvyrev also stood out in our first extended live look at him since he came over from Russia. His shot really jumped off the ice today. Vladislav Kamenev was okay today but he’ll need to show more this weekend. Meloche and Ty Lewis also lived up to the hype they have received so far.

Tendy love

Normally I skip mentioning the goaltenders because I simply don’t feel comfortable evaluating the position but I really liked what I saw today. Recent draftee Justus Annunen already looks like he’s taking things seriously and has trimmed the baby fat he carried back at development camp. His body went through an impressive transformation over the summer.

Petr Kvaca is here for the second straight year and I spent most of my time watching him. He was impressive, moving laterally very smoothly and showed powerful push side-to-side. I liked his game from a technical standpoint but I loved his mentality. He really worked hard and battled through every drill, regardless of whatever chaos was surrounding him. I love a goalie that is unflappable in stressful situations. I’m very much looking forward to his weekend.

Camaraderie

One of the things we talked about last year at length was how close the Avalanche locker room was and how much they liked playing hockey together. That very clearly has trickled down to the young guys because in my several years covering these camps, today’s locker room was by far the most jovial I’ve worked. The Russian players were playing around and spitting their native tongue back and forth while laughing heartily along the way. Guys familiar with each other from the Eagles’ Kelly Cup run in the spring were revisiting old jokes and creating new memories.

In the past, these locker rooms have combined a bunch of players who don’t really know each other and there’s not much connection. Today’s room was seriously lacking in loners sitting in their lockers by themselves. Very different group. Colorado is building an organization full of players who really like one another. Chemistry is always the secret sauce to any great run of success so it’s interesting to see the Avalanche succeeding in that aspect before the on-ice results start coming in.

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