The Colorado Avalanche won their second game of the preseason against the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2.
Compared to Sunday’s game, tonight’s lineup featured a lot of youth from players like Maros Jedlicka, Jeremy Hanzel, Ivan Ivan, Oskar Olausson, Matt Stienburg, Jason Polin, and Gianni Fairbrother.
At the top, Ryan Johansen and Jonathan Drouin made their Avalanche debut. Bowen Byram received top-pair responsibility and quarterbacked PP1.
Ryan Johansen injected life into the group. He embodied the selfless attitude of a team-first guy, quick to set guys up, and his dominance in the faceoff dot allowed Colorado to handily win the faceoff battle. Ben Meyers came up huge there as well, but more on that in a second.
Returning Avs Logan O’Connor and Byram wore “A’s”, but it was apparent why Johansen was an alternate as well when he was quick to confront Nic Hague after he needlessly pulled Jason Polin down to the ice after the whistle.
Johansen said he wore the letter largely due to his experience. “From being around a long time, guys know who I am and know how much I care – not only about the game – but (about) the guys,” he explained. “For me, I said right away in the first interview, I was excited today to have fun and (I wanted) that to bleed off to the kids. (For) a lot of them it’s their first game, mom and dad are watching at home or here and it’s a huge accomplishment to play, so just go enjoy it and have fun. Really, that’s why we started playing this game. I just try and bring that kind of attitude.”
On the powerplay, he played in the bumper spot and rovered around. His willingness to simply take the shot rewarded Colorado with the tying goal in the first period.
“It’s not the flashiest position where you can do special things – that’s where you got Makar or Rantanen or MacKinnon on the half-wall,” Johansen said of playing bumper. “There’s a lot of little things that go into it that I’ve learned to embrace and figure out ways to help make the powerplay click and do those little things to recover pucks, faceoffs, chips, rebounds, all those sorts of things and then find those pockets like I did today on the goal where Drouin set me up. I’ve learned that it can be a really important position, so I’m just going to earn the opportunities to get there hopefully and make a difference.”
Jared Bednar liked Johansen in the bumper spot as well. “He’s patient with the puck. He seems to always know where he’s going to go with it before he gets it,” he said. “That’s what he did for Nashville too. He’s got experience there. He’s a good draw guy, so he can help the powerplay start in the offensive zone without skating the length of the ice and. He distributes a puck well in there and we saw it tonight. He has a pretty good shot from in there as well.”
Jonathan Drouin was an additional bright spot and flashed his top-six upside throughout.
His setup to Johansen on the powerplay helped to tie the game early, and Johansen gushed about playing with him postgame, “I think he’s just special: it’s his vision and his hockey IQ,” he started. “That really comes up when he’s attacking the game and just from practicing with him a bit, I want to keep encouraging him to keep attacking the game. The way he can slow it down and find guys, he was exceptional on the power play today. Every time he was on his stick, he was doing something nice. Keep patting him on the back. We love to see him have success.”
Bednar affirmed Johansen’s analysis. “That’s the strength of [Drouin’s] game: he’s a great passer, great playmaker. As the games go on the pace is gonna pick up, but he has an innate ability to pass the puck and make plays that create scoring chances.”
The final standouts of the night could be found on the second line made up of Oskar Olausson, Ben Meyers, and Logan O’Connor.
Logan O’Connor created an opportunity in the first period and Ben Meyers made the passing play to a streaking Oskar Olausson. Olausson not only crashed the net, but managed a smooth backhand-forehand between Logan Thompson’s five-hole.
Olausson had other flashes. He picked a pass in the second and generated several shot attempts. His line played with the most polish and had the best possession game.
Bednar took notice of Olausson’s improvements from the last time he played in Ball Arena in his debut last November.
“He was great tonight. The first thing I noticed when we got to the main camp was the explosiveness – he’s just bigger, stronger, faster,” Bednar said. “He’s a smart hockey player, obviously has some offensive upside still coming into his game. His explosiveness and his skating this year is much improved. The edge that he’s playing with, he’s trying to be more physical and using his size, strength, and quick bursts to create some offense, and he was good on both sides of the puck tonight.”
Playing with Logan O’Connor can have that effect. Playing alongside O’Connor (and Andrew Cogliano) at points has certainly helped Ben Meyers to find his footing.
“They’re both guys that really like to skate and get up and down the ice and that’s the way I want to model my game after too,” Meyers said. “It’s fun to be able to watch those guys and learn from them while playing with them.”
Meyers is in an interesting position. For him, tonight holds added significance. After Bednar said that there was a hole down the middle in yesterday’s postgame, Meyers’ roster spot at 4C appeared in jeopardy.
This summer, Meyers focused on his speed and skill after what he described as a year with “probably too many” learning lessons to really pick just one.
“I felt like I already have the strength to play out here, so I was definitely trying to add another step and then (focused on) being smarter and making better plays with my stick as well.”
He emphasized the challenges of adapting to the intense schedule as well.
When asked about the challenges that came with a revolving door of linemates due to a mountain of injuries last year, he acknowledged the difficulty but swiftly asserted that it’s part of the job, “You’re expected to be able to handle that as a professional.”
Ultimately, Meyers got in 39 NHL games last year with 6 additional games in the Seattle playoff series.
To Jared Bednar, his assessment of Meyers as the fourth line center is “just beginning.”
“I liked his game tonight though. He’s in the mix, no question. There’s a handful of those guys that are in the mix. I thought he had a good night tonight. Things will get more difficult as exhibition goes on and we’ll see how that fight takes place.”
Meyers had a great showing in camp and a solid preseason game tonight.
It’s his job to lose.
Perhaps Bednar wanted to light a fire under him with a strategic dose of healthy competition.
He dominated the faceoff dot winning 82% of his draws, dished hits, took shots, and his setup on Olausson’s goal made things possible. He made a lot of noise at both ends, but he’ll need to continue to demand Bednar’s attention.
Finally, Alexandar Georgiev finished the night at the halfway point and by every account looked steady. He stopped eight of nine shots among several high-danger chances and made some athletic saves – including an impressive rebound kick save – early in the first to keep Colorado in it.
Jared Bednar said the first round of reassignments will come tomorrow, “We’ll have to have some discussions and see who is earning the next few exhibition games.”