The Colorado Avalanche played their first preseason game in Ball Arena this afternoon. After three days of training camp, the squad entered game-action for the first time. They lost in a close 4-3 final, but there were still several storylines to follow.
It was a blend of NHL players and hopefuls including the debut of the probable-third-line made up of Miles Wood, Ross Colton, and Tomas Tatar.
Miles Wood is Mr. Fix-It. His crash-bang style of hockey served a valuable purpose, and it teased at the role he can play on any given line.
He can recover puck possession a number of different ways. In the offensive zone he’s heavy on the forecheck challenging skaters along the boards. If Colton or Tatar get worked off the puck or have their lane blocked, he’ll use his body to force his way to the front row of the play and reset.
That’s not to say Colton and Tatar often lost possession, but Miles Wood was a solid contingency plan. In his own end, Wood punished skaters behind the net and forced players to make rushed passing decisions and bullied guys between the dots (at both ends). He was pure energy.
On the penalty kill, Wood’s aggression challenged Minnesota’s powerplay and led to a transition which resulted in Colton drawing a penalty at their netfront to neutralize the kill.
“I like the intensity that [Wood] played with right out the gate,” said Jared Bednar. “I like the speed he played with, he’s a good forechecker. In all areas of the ice he can get on top of you quickly, create some turnovers, and he took pucks to the net hard. He was playing to his identity which is exactly what we need him to do.”
The Wood-Colton-Tatar line started to flesh out some of the details. Passes were connecting especially from Colton to Tatar. Plus, Tatar’s shot was as advertised and will pose a problem for opposition this year.
Colton effectively got under the skin of the entire Minnesota Wild team through his style of play as well.
“I liked all three of those guys,” said Bednar. “There’s some physicality to their game. They were able to produce scoring chances.”
Justus Annunen looked solid too. He earned the start and played for the first part of the game. He was tested a bit on the kill for over six minutes in total and stopped 14 of 15 shots before newcomer Arvid Holm entered the game in the second period.
“We got a schedule to get 2.5 to 3 games out of [Annunen] and Georgiev,” Bednar explained. “We wanted to get another half game for someone else. It’s tough to just jump in – three hard days of practice and then play a full game. I did like what I saw of [Annunen]. I thought he was great. He gets the one that sneaks through him on the powerplay. It’s a nice play by them. We’re killing back to back penalties – there were lots of penalties in the game. He got to see all different situations, but I thought he had a good night.”
A final standout storyline involved a trio of players who came over from the Dallas Stars organization: Riley Tufte, Fredrik Olofsson, and Joel Kiviranta.
“I thought those guys had a really good night as well,” said Bednar. “You can tell they’re just a little bit more seasoned than some of the other guys. They played with a physical edge to their game. They’re competitive on pucks. They were a pretty connected group.”
Kiviranta opened the scoring with a smooth pass from Oloffson.
Olofsson grew up in Broomfield and said it was pretty special to get a chance to play in an Avs jersey in Ball Arena.
He’s an intriguing forward option who earned the trust of the Dallas Stars organization last year. He made his NHL debut, appeared in 28 games, and was the next man up in the playoffs after Jamie Benn was suspended.
There are a few reasons Olofsson earned that level of trust that also aligns with Colorado’s needs.
First, is his style of play.
“I can play with pace, but I can also play with a cool head and still make plays and not throw pucks away or run around and not really know where I am out there,” Olofsson explained. “Combining that pace with my smarts and also my playmaking ability I think really helps. I can set guys up, so if I play with a shooter – which Colorado has a ton of – we’ll score goals this year. Hopefully I get a chance to do that, but I’m gonna keep working on my game.”
Second, is his positional versatility.
“Middle is fun. I think faceoffs went good tonight. I wanna work on taking draws against some of the guys on our team and even (more) guys around the league just to get more of a feel,” Olofsson explained. “I can play both. It’s whatever gets me out onto the ice. That’s kind of my motto because I think I can make the team better if I’m at center or wing. Probably not goalie. But everything else, I think I can help out.”
He understands Colorado’s identity: “Play fast and if someone gives you a little bit, you take. Take as much as you can and try to make people pay. In practice we’ve been going hard. It’s been getting us in good shape and getting us ready. It’s a privilege to get to learn from those guys and (it) makes me better too.”
“There’s a standard in the culture here set by the guys. I don’t need to name them, but they know who they are – they’re the best players in the world, best players in the league. Their work ethic that they come in and show day in and day out is what you piggyback off of.”
Tufte also toyed with his versatility. He played on wing and situationally took faceoffs today. After playing between Val Nichushkin and Artturi Lehkonen in camp, the natural winger’s usage in the middle was worth noting.
“We really like the steps [Tufte] took last year,” Bednar explained. “He’s a guy knocking on the door. He’s a winger, but we have a hole at center so we’re gonna try him there. We like him. We’re gonna try him there and see how he does and see if he can handle it. He’s a smart player. He’s got all kinds of tools, great size. Right now in the faceoff circle, especially on his strong side, he’s snapping pucks back so that part’s taken care of. I love the size and reach to be able to play down low. As long as he can figure out the positioning, he’s going to give himself a chance there.”
Overall, Olofsson’s line was the best possession line of all. They were physical and forechecked hard with Olofsson in particular leading the charge and driving play.
With some injuries to Colorado up front, there are a couple forward spots up for grabs. Through just one game it appears the competition could boil down to “The Dallas Three.”
Sam Malinski’s night: Sam Malinski had a complicated game. A door of opportunity was opened for him with top-pair minutes alongside Jack Johnson, a chance to quarterback the powerplay, and looks on the penalty kill. Guys rotated in and out on special teams, so it wasn’t his opportunity alone. He had a secondary assist on Riley Tufte’s buzzer-beater late in the third period.
At one point in the offensive zone, Malinski was confronted by two Minnesota skaters and kept the puck on his stick, handling his way away from both with poise and ease.
He’s not going to destroy guys along the wall and often opts to make the stick play. His approach to the defensive details can appear quiet at times.
He undoubtedly had a penalty problem today too – not a tenet of his usual game for what it’s worth. Malinski usually plays a calm game and he’s not one to make impulsive decisions.
Sometimes he looked like he floated a bit – processing the events around him where he could have otherwise engaged.
Without asking him to be something he’s not, some more physicality – within reason – could take his game to another level.
“I think he can use his feet more in certain areas to get more involved in the play offensively, but a great passer,” said Bednar. “He’s kind of a pass-first guy, good on the offensive zone blue line looking to find open men and keep plays alive. Obviously a tough finish when you take three-straight penalties in a tie game, but I thought that for the most part he had a pretty good night.”
The reality is he’ll have to show more to separate from Corey Schueneman, Brad Hunt, and Jack Ahcan – who looked good in training camp.
His confidence looked a bit shaken, but not in such a way he can’t come back from. Malinski can be a steady, stable player. The penalties were overzealous and point to a need to simplify his approach and trust in himself.
He was a quick-study in the AHL. It is preseason after all, so hopefully he’s taking all the learning in and absorbing it like a sponge.