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Sundays at the Rink: Bo looking ready to go

Jesse Montano Avatar
February 5, 2023

This is always such a funny week for hockey. You are smack dab in the middle of the dog days of the season, everything just feels like it’s on autopilot, and everyone is ready for a break. 

That said, what waits on the other side of the All-Star break is an all-out sprint to the end of the season. The standings tighten up, games become more and more important, oh and the Trade Deadline is in there somewhere. 

So we truly are sitting right in the middle of the calm before the storm. This will likely be the last quiet week until the end of the season. That means, this really will be a much shorter installation than most ATR pieces, but I promise that will not be a problem starting next week. 

Jesse’s Observations

Bowen Byram

The Colorado Avalanche had several guys this week who opted to stay in Denver and do some work on the ice themselves. It was most the injured guys, Bowen Byram, Val Nichushkin, and Josh Manson. Kurtis MacDermid also hit the ice a few times this week, another example of just how hard he works and his level of dedication. I said it last year in the postseason when he was one of the first on and last off for every morning skate, despite not getting into a single playoff game, MacDermid was the Avs’ most improved player last year, and it wasn’t close. 

Anyway, we have known for a while that Manson and Nichushkin were working towards a return to the lineup, Bednar told us as much last week. I’m not ready to say both of those guys will be 100% ready to go by Tuesday, but if not then, soon. 

Byram is the player who has had one of the biggest question marks floating around him since he was sidelined back in November while the team was in Finland. Progress has been moving slowly, with the real strides towards being fully healthy really coming within the last month or so, and now it finally sounds like we are staring down a return to the lineup for Byram. 

A source that I trust told me to expect to see Byram at 100% coming out of the All-Star break for the Avs. Injury timelines are always fluid, so I’m never going to stamp something like this in concrete until I see him in the lineup, but as I write this on Saturday afternoon, I feel pretty good about him being able to make the trip. 

He’s been skating all week and looks fully ready to go, so all of this tracks.

Avs are back at practice Sunday morning, which means we’ll have a better idea after that. 

Tear it down and start over

Look, I’m a huge proponent of “people are allowed to like things”, and I try not to pile on things that aren’t popular just for the sake of piling on. 

In the past, I’ve really felt like a lot of the All-Star Game just isn’t for me, but people out there like it, so what do I care? 

This year was different. At least in terms of the Skills Competition, which I feel is the main event everyone tunes in for. 

It was a disaster. Borderline unwatchable. The pacing of the event was terrible, the events were all watered down, and it all just felt like jokes. Not to mention, the building was half empty. You just cannot have that for a marquee event like this.

We’ve talked about this both in past iterations of this article, and several times on the podcast, but after this weekend it is officially time for the NHL to completely reimagine the ASG. It just has to be done if they want this to continue to draw any meaningful audience. 

The NFL stripped down the Pro Bowl and started over this year. We’ll see how it goes, but I appreciate that they recognized the issues with it, and is trying something new. The NHL needs to follow suit ASAP.  

Deadline Season

Starting a week from now, this article is pretty much going to turn into my TDL speculation blog, so for this week I’m just going to give you my top picks for players I think the Avs should be pursuing at this year’s deadline. 

While I do think a 2C, or a player capable of that role, is ultimately what they would prefer, I’m not going to say they are in center-or-bust mode. I think ultimately they want to add some scoring punch to that middle-six, however they can. 

Here’s my list of names to keep an eye on. 

Jonathan Toews

Jesse Pulijuarvi

Max Domi

Ryan O’Reilly

Timo Meier

Jack Johnson

Luke Schenn

Vlad Tarasenko

Patrick Kane

We’ll be getting into these names a lot more in depth in the coming week to two weeks, but that’s MY list, in order. 

Who could be moving out of Denver?

With the talk of the Avs bringing guys in, that means that you may be talking about players be moved out. Again, selfishly I don’t want to get too far into these names right now, because that’s what I’m going to spend the next three weeks talking about almost exclusively as we barrel towards the March 3rd deadline, but these are the assets I could se the Avalanche parting ways with. 

2023 Draft Picks (Picks in Round 1/5/6/7)

Sampo Ranta

Oscar Olausson

Sean Behrens

J.L. Foudy

Darren Helm

Brad Hunt

Three of those names I’m going to expand on right now real quick. 

Behrens first. I believe the Avs would really, really like to be able to hold on the Behrens, as their last real high-end defensive prospect after giving up Justin Barron and Drew Helleson at last year’s deadline. That said, if Behrens is the piece they HAVE to move to get a deal done that they feel really moves the needle for them, I think they would do it. 

Darren Helm, this is mostly just looking at his injury status. If it’s clear they’re going to need to shut him down for the season, or if it’s up in the air come TDL, I could see Chris McFarland and company moving him and his cap hit to a team *like* the Arizona Coyotes or something like that to clear the cap space. Maybe they send him the other way in a deal to make the money work. 

I haven’t heard this anywhere, but I’m just looking at a team that is up against the cap and needing to make space. Especially after the acquisition of Matt Nieto, that 4th line is already looking really solid. 

Lastly, I want to talk about Brad Hunt. This isn’t a knock on him. The opposite. 

I think he’s played too well to pass back through waivers. Especially in the last two-ish weeks, there are plenty of teams that would love his services in the bottom half of their NHL lineup. Again, I’m looking at him as a potential throw-in in a deal with a team like Chicago. A tiny sweetener to get a deal across the line. He’s a totally serviceable NHL d-man, and when you’re trying to make a deal with deadline sellers, they can use a guy like that. 

Meghan’s Observations

Sonny Milano’s extension

Despite achieving career-high production in his final year with the Anaheim Ducks – with 14 goals and 20 assists – Sonny Milano was not offered a qualifying offer. He entered the summer a free agent and remained unsigned. He joined the Calgary Flames on a PTO to start the season, but he was released from the tryout without a contract during the preseason.

The 26-year-old was given a last-minute chance with the Washington Capitals on October 17th. He agreed to a league-minimum contract for one year and reported to the AHL after clearing waivers. After spending just five games with the Hershey Bears, he was called up to the Capitals and hasn’t looked back. He’s notched eight goals and 14 assists through 40 games.

The versatile winger has slotted in at either left or right wing in the Capitals’ bottom six and has provided much-needed flexibility. Very wisely, Washington locked up Milano for three years on a $1.9 million contract – a pay bump from his $750K salary this year. His story serves as an intriguing reminder of the stealthy ways a player can emerge as a perfect fit.

Evan Rodrigues was a late addition in Colorado’s offseason, and his 1 year x $2 million contract has extracted immense value within the Avs’ top six.

Peter Forsberg playing hockey at 49

There’s not too much to this addition beyond pure joy. At 49-years-old, two-time Stanley Cup Champion and two-time Olympic Gold medalist, Peter Forsberg continues to play hockey. His retirement in 2011 tugged at the heartstrings of many. His attempt to return to the NHL was valiant, but everyone understood why he had to walk away.

Fortunately, his door to hockey never fully closed. He’s been spotted in many charity hockey tournaments since then. As recently as the last two seasons, he has played in a senior league in Switzerland. He remains a goaltender’s worst nightmare. Apparently, he scored 20 points in just four games last year.

Foppa forever.

Taylor Makar’s improvement

There’s a feature piece dropping on Taylor Makar’s sophomore season this week. You’ll recall, the younger Makar was drafted 220nd in the seventh round of the 2021 draft. He was viewed as a longer-term project and investment.

The 21-year-old forward has been promoted from a fourth line/extra forward/scratch to a top-six winger. He’s found success alongside his linemates (and roommates) Lucas Mercuri and Ryan Lautenbach.

He had just one goal last season in 17 games. In 23 games this year, he’s scored seven goals and two assists.

After spending the summer at the Colorado Avalanche’s development camp, he’s been keenly focused to grow bigger and stronger with an emphasis on puck protection.

His line plays with grit, and it’s brought him success. There’s no rush when it comes to Taylor Makar. I’d say it’s futile to try and project his upside at the moment. So long as he continues to improve at this rate, it’s his to decide. He has pro-ambitions and will be one to watch closely at the next development camp.

Sean Behrens and Denver win Gold Pan

The NCHC dropped the above feature on Sean Behrens detailing his WJC’s, national championship, and sophomore season.

You can read more about the latest on Behrens here.

The spotlight on Behrens continues to shine as the trade deadline nears. Since we last checked, Behrens now has two goals and thirteen assists on the season. He notched a secondary assist on the powerplay during their recent victory over Colorado College.

Florida Panthers prospect, defenseman Mike Benning scored his eighth goal of the year (whom Behrens assisted on) and is now tied for the seventh most in the nation by a defenseman. He is also two goals away from tying Will Butcher for tenth place in school history for a d-man.

The Pioneers defeated CC 4-1 and secured the Gold Pan trophy on Saturday. Now at No. 4 in the country, the Pioneers remain competitive in the final stretch run with a 21-7-0 overall record on the year.

The rise of Alex Newhook

In the last five games, Newhook has notched three goals and an assist. He now has a total of 12 goals and eight assists.

The improvement is palatable ever since he’s played between Andrew Cogliano and Logan O’Connor. He’s getting to dangerous areas and his scoring chances have come about through hard work in puck battles.

He’s battling to keep possession and unafraid to skate through traffic to complete the play – a commitment from start to finish as soon as he begins a shift.

“I think he’s been outstanding for us recently,” said Bednar. “You see it again late in the game, they’re making some hard pushes, keeping pucks alive in the offensive zone, (and) he was heavy down low, getting into people, physical, (and) coming up with pucks. (He) still finds a way to get up the ice on the forecheck to disrupt things and give us some time in the offensive zone. He’s playing a real nice 200-foot game right now in the middle of the ice, which is good to see.”

Not lost in this is the way that his linemates’ style of play complements the things he is doing well. The third-fourth line habits of two grinders has had a positive, tenacious influence on him.

“They work off each other really well,” Newhook said of Cogliano and O’Connor. “They’re really hard on pucks, they come up with a lot of pucks in the zone, forechecking and everything. They’re fun to play with.”

“They play with a lot of speed and that’s a big part of my game too,” he added. “Doing that, they play hard and get pucks back, and when they do that, you get more possession. It’s good for everyone.”

Coupled with this, Newhook has resumed playing center. He has looked more confident driving play from the middle.

“I feel comfortable playing both positions, but I’ve probably played more center throughout my career,” he said. “It’s been clicking recently, my linemates are doing a great job of getting me the puck and vice versa. We just have to keep it rolling.”

Newhook said he’s built confidence from getting more touches and starting to make plays. He attributes this to skating hard. “Part of it’s my linemates,” he explained. “They’re playing well as well. When both your guys are playing well, it’s hard to be slouching a little bit.”

His improvement comes about at an important time. Hopefully Newhook can continue to trend this way into the back half of the season.


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