The Colorado Avalanche played their final home game of the preseason against the Dallas Stars. As a matter of fact, they’ll start the year on the road and won’t return for game action until the home opener on October 19th against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Fans were treated to a star-studded lineup with the 2023-24 debut of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Artturi Lehkonen, and Devon Toews.
Oskar Olausson helped Colorado to win it in overtime, 4-3.
Together on the top-line, Jonathan Drouin, MacKinnon, and Rantanen made Dallas’ night difficult.
Jared Bednar found Drouin to be a nice fit there.
“I loved the quickness of Drouin tonight,” he said. “He showed up in a few different spots using his speed and made some great plays both five-on-five and on the powerplay. He checked hard. I’m really liking his effort and what he’s bringing right now.”
Rantanen said it was a good opportunity to talk through the reads they were making on the ice. “Practice is always different,” he said. “It’s good to get the first one out of the way, [now] we can watch some video and work on the chemistry side of it.”
It was the greatest blend of experience and skill alongside young talent we’ve seen yet, and it made a difference.
“We want to evaluate guys,” Bednar explained.
“Some guys are offensive guys and we have to put them in offensive situations and see how they do. Same thing on the defensive side of it, big penalty kill at the end, six-on-five at the end for them – we had some guys out there that aren’t our regular players. Winning the game isn’t the be-all, end-all, we want to try and evaluate these guys in all types of situations and see how they handle it.”
Players like Lehkonen played a corrective role at times, but it allowed players to showcase their talent with a little more security around them.
One player who benefitted from this was Wyatt Aamodt. Aamodt plays a shutdown role typically, but seemed to have more fun with things in the offensive zone tonight. Corey Schueneman is a more experienced defender and helped the pair to move the puck responsibly so they could step into the play with confidence. Aamodt’s shot in the first set Riley Tufte up for a tip-in goal.
On the penalty kill in the third period, Aamodt blocked a flood of shots in a display of heroics – he ended with a team-high total of seven blocked shots.
Bednar said he wanted to see players like Aamodt in a variety of situations.
“There’s some guys that have played really good for the Eagles over the last couple of years and have been highly competitive, had good starts to the training camp, guys that didn’t go to rookie camp and you want to get an extended look at them, see how much they’ve grown from last season,” Bednar explained.
“We have to fill spots for all the games coming and I don’t want to play all of our other guys, so we hand-picked some guys to put them in some tougher situations as rosters get tougher and see how they handle it and see if they might be able to help us through the course of the regular season.”
Tufte notably made noise with his third goal of the preseason and an assist on Colorado’s second powerplay goal. Jared Bednar toyed with Tufte at center but moved him to his natural position at wing in the Minnesota game and kept him there for tonight as well.
His strong performance throughout camp has presented Colorado with a difficult conversation.
How many forwards do they want to carry? How many forwards can they carry?
With Kurtis MacDermid now designated as a forward and uncertainty surrounding the health and availability of some of their defensemen – it’s important for them to carry a seventh defenseman for inevitable games off here and there.
To be clear, players like Josh Manson and Cale Makar have made forward movement. Manson has skated as a regular participant and Makar is expected to get in a final preseason game, but even as recently as this week, Bowen Byram was under the weather. Things happen.
The reality is: 82 games from every single defenseman just isn’t going to happen and they’ll need someone who can eat up eight-to-twelve minutes in a pinch. Bednar toyed with 11-and-7 last year, and it could be essential in Makar’s load management especially.
Tufte is doing everything he possibly can to make a case for himself, but the glaring need is at center, and Fredrik Olofsson has also had a compelling preseason.
“There’s obviously a spot for grabs there and this is the time for the guys to show to the coaches and the management what they can do,” Rantanen said of the roster battle. “It’s gonna be a tight tight race [to see] who’s gonna get the fourth-line center spot.”
Olofsson has centerman and penalty kill experience on his side and has looked steady in exhibition. Bednar said that penalty killing is an important factor in his decision.
“He’s been really good at center,” Bednar said of Olofsson. “He’s been really competitive on the draws. He’s a good two-way player. He’s chipping in on the offensive side of it. Responsible guy. He looks good in the middle of the ice. He played in the middle of the ice his whole life until last year.”
“He was always a great 200-foot player,” Logan O’Connor recalled of playing opposite of Olofsson in college when he was at DU and Olofsson played for the University of Nebraksa-Omaha.
“On both sides of the puck, he was very hard to play against. He got a lot of matchups against our higher-end players. [He played] a complimentary shutdown role [that] could provide offense. He’s done a great job of that throughout his career. You can see what’s given him success.”
O’Connor has also done line-rushes with Olofsson in practice (with Andrew Cogliano) and said they were “definitely starting to find some chemistry.”
One thing’s for sure, even if Andrew Cogliano is on target for opening night, a thirteenth forward is still a part of the conversation some way, somehow.
Is that Kurtis MacDermid’s spot, or can Riley Tufte unseat him? Is Tufte better off getting real minutes in Loveland?
O’Connor shared a little from his experience and perspective on vying for a roster spot. “You never know how many opportunities you’re going to get and how long you’re going to be here,” he said. “Every practice, every rep – details are crucial. Really not saving it for anything. You have to make an impact anytime you get an opportunity here.”
There’s a few players who fit that bill so far, and it’s a good problem to have. These tough conversations will force tough decisions, but Riley Tufte for one has no reason to hang his head in shame either way.
They have to cut the roster down. There will likely be reassignments tomorrow after practice and another wave of them after their game in Dallas on Tuesday. It’s starting to look a lot more like Colorado Avalanche hockey.