The Colorado Avalanche prospects played Game 1 of the Rookie Faceoff tonight against a group of Arizona Coyotes prospects.

The ice was tilted heavily in favor of Arizona. After all, their top line consisted of Dylan Guenther, Logan Cooley, and Josh Doan. Cooley impressed in his Coyotes debut and was exactly as advertised. He could bend the game to his will and was dangerous in the offensive zone.

Trent Miner was tested in net early and often, but he held down the fort with a calm resolve.

The Avs pulled out a 3-2 win in OT. How much can you glean after one game?

For the Colorado prospects, it was perhaps most important for a couple players looking to leave an impression, and Sam Malinski sure did.

Malinski donned the “C” and led his team on the ice tonight.

Brian Willsie, the Director of Player Development, spoke to Malinski’s leadership ahead of the showcase. 

“We have 18-year-olds here and then we have someone like [Malinski] who’s 25. The rule is under 100 games pro, and he just joined the team at the end of the year. He’ll be a leader,” Willisie explained. “He was a leader in Development Camp. His style of play and his personality is calming, so we’ll look to him to lead the whole group and help the guys out.”

Ever the unconventional prospect at 25-years-old, Malinski is fresh from college. He has the right habits, the focus, physical maturity, and an innate hockey IQ, but he lacks the reps with just 14 total pro games.

This showcase is a chance to get him in games and demand a little bit more of him.

He had a hand in every goal scored and closed out the night with the game winner.

As an older player, how can he stand out among his peers?

“I’m a pretty good skating two-way defenseman just looking to help the team out in any way I can,” said Malinski. “I’m pretty versatile and can activate offensively and that’s where I separate myself.”

Also in the showcase is 20-year-old Oskar Olausson. Many have wanted to see the Swedish winger break out. He comes equipped with a first round pedigree and an NHL caliber shot, but following his first full year pro, he’s still looking to separate.

Under the tutelage of former Eagles head coach Greg Cronin last season, Olausson was advised to be a hunter and engage in puck battles. He chipped away at this goal last season and made improvements.

This summer he found a new trainer and worked out with him every day.

“[Last season he finished the year with that competitive edge, staying on pucks, he got a lot stronger,” said Willsie. “His testing was great (the other day), so (he needs to keep) using his frame over pucks, coming up with 50/50 pucks, and making plays. He’ll be like [Malinski] this weekend where even though he’s still a young player, we will look at leadership from him this weekend and (to) show that offensive pop – we saw improvement throughout the last year. He had a great summer – went home to train and then got over here early.”

Olausson acknowledged that the work of last year needed to persist. “Keep getting stronger and faster out there and protect the puck better.”

He had ample opportunity on the top line and powerplay to make an impression tonight. Olausson was also an alternate captain and ate up a lot of minutes. He was even utilized on the penalty kill at points. Though he was physically engaged, his puck protection could be stronger.

He flexed that gold-star shot from the top of the slot, but it was stopped.

Overall, he laid a good foundation last year. Incorporating more third and fourth line habits – particularly in his play away from the puck – placed him in a better position.

But he has more to give, and depending on how the lineups shake out, he should have at least one more chance to lean into that this weekend.

Willsie summed it up like this – the showcase is for the benefit of both development staff and players.

He said he’s looking for, “a lot of compete” and to show through their skill why they’re here. “They’re all here for a reason – to learn. Our organization saw something in them.”

“From a player standpoint, having the ability to have that week before the main camp, play real games, get up to game speed, and then come in with the NHL guys – it really helps the players. It gives them a bit of an advantage.”

“And for us watching the players, we can evaluate them,” Willsie added. “The ones that make it to the NHL path (can be evaluated) amongst NHL players and (we can) see the areas of improvement.”

There are more players hoping to leave an impression this weekend. With two more games to do so before main camp next week, they will be incredibly important for everyone involved.



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