The Colorado Avalanche held their only rookie camp training session on Friday. It was busy, loud, and full of energy. Many of the exercises created interesting storylines that can be seen in the upcoming Anaheim Ducks rookie tournament. Here is a breakdown of what is happening at the camp, as well as some ideas on what to look for in the tournament.
If you expected to see all of the avalanche prospects, be prepared for disappointment. Not all players who participated in the development camp will participate in the rookie tournament. There are some interesting inclusions and exclusions to rosters.
Firstly, if you were hoping to see Avalanche Cale Makar on the first round at one of the rookie festivities, you will be sadly disappointed. Makar has apparently completed a full-time NHLer after his outstanding playoff performance. Not only is he not on the rookie list, but he is also the face of the Avalanche the NHL media junket.
College players will also not participate in the tournament due to a variety of NCAA restrictions and the preseason of their own schools. The rookie camp usually includes players who are still juniors or who play for the ECHL or AHL teams.
The Avalanche rookie list has 29 players, but not all of them were created by the team. Eight participating players have amateur tryout contracts (ATOs). Five other players have signed AHL contracts.
Important takeaways from the camp
The biggest news from the rookie camp bodes well for the season as a whole. Conor Timmins – the talented defender who missed all of last season to recover from concussion symptoms – was a full contestant and was cleared to play. Better yet, he looked sharp on the ice. There was no telling that he had missed an entire year of hockey.
Camp divided the players into different colored jerseys. The nine defenders wore black shirts. The five striker ATOs wore the orange / pumpkin jerseys. The remaining strikers were divided into four groups of three, with each three wearing a different color – burgundy, blue, gray and white.
The forward corps
None of the strikers looked bad. Most of them were in good shape for the intense training sessions. Speed and intensity were there for all players. But some stood out more than others.
The most impressive trio was in Burgundy. Shane Bowers centered the line with Martin Kaut (last year’s first round draft pick) and Nick Henry. They were all out on business, moving the puck well and making crisp passes. The three of them worked well together, especially on the three-on-three and five-on-five exercises. Bowers should theoretically be aiming for an NHL shot with Kaut waiting in the wings.
Martin Kaut adapted to North American ice with the Colorado Eagles last season. (Courtesy of the Colorado Eagles by Nick Monaghan)
The gray group was the next best trio. Brandon Saigeon focused on Logan O’Connor and Ty Lewis. O’Connor and Lewis played alongside the Colorado Eagles (the Avalanche’s AHL daughter) last year, so you’d expect there to be some chemistry. However, upstart Saigeon cannot be overlooked and shows a solid performance with his future Eagles teammates.
Surprisingly, the white group also did well. With two newbies fresh from this year’s design, it was an unexpected treat to see the Luka Burzan Center Sasha Mutala and Travis Barron and see how they mesh together. Especially since Burzan and Mutala played against each other in the WHL.
The blue group – made up of center Igor Shvyrev and wings Josh Dickinson and Alex Beaucage – tried hard to work together. Regardless of whether it’s skills, language barriers, or style, they played as individuals rather than as a line, which makes them difficult to evaluate.
The ATOs were somewhat disadvantaged in that they had to rotate combinations of lines. But the exciting part of their debut was that there wasn’t a huge drop in performance between them and the top lines. That was not the case a few years ago. Only a player or two from an ATO could compete with the best prospects. Not this time. There wasn’t a single player that made you wonder what they were doing in camp. Someone in the front office really improved their game and it showed.
The men in black – defenders
The best news in terms of defense, other than Timmins being a full contestant, was the quality of the competition. Only two players skated at Camp last year – Kevin Davis and Josh Anderson. This season three of the defenders have competed as ATOs and three more have AHL contracts. Anderson, Timmins and Bowen Byram are the only potential NHL competitors.
Conor Timmins finally gets a chance to play professional hockey after missing a year recovering from a concussion. (Photo by Kevin Hoffman / Getty Images)
Timmins did well on the exercises, seemed comfortable on the ice, and showed no rust. Given the amount of time he missed, that’s remarkable. He could very well give Byram a quality contest.
Byram stood out on the scrimmages as he made quick adjustments, held his head up, and positioned himself well even when he was puckless.
Anderson looked better than the last camp, but he’s not as fast as Timmins or Byram.
The Avalanche invited three goalkeepers to camp – Adam Werner, Hunter Miska and Trent Miner. Werner is said to be the Eagles’ first goalkeeper this season. He is four inches taller than either of the other two goalkeepers. Miska was a late invite to camp so his gear was on the way.
It is extremely difficult to evaluate goalkeepers in this type of exercise. Your best test will be the tournament.
Key questions for the rookie tournament
The rookies flew to California right after camp. The tournament celebrations begin on Saturday, September 7th and last through Tuesday, September 10th.
Byram and Timmins are two important prospects for the future avalanche blue line. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see if the Avalanche Byram and Timmins play together. If so, how will they compare? Do they complement each other? Can any of them earn a spot on the Avalanche’s opening list?
Bowen Byram wants to earn a role on the Avalanche roster. (Chris Relke / Vancouver Giants)
Bowers, Kaut, and O’Connor provide important options for avalanche forward depth. But there are questions about all of them. Does Bowers need a year in the AHL to learn the ropes after graduating from college? How did Kaut develop after a full year of preparation for the camp (last year Kaut was still recovering from heart surgery)? Can O’Connor step up his game to get another NHL shot?
Will any of the ATOs excel enough to get a contract? With Adam Werner expected to take on the role of the Eagles’ starting goalkeeper and only having four AHL games under his belt, this is a fair question.
The Eagles may well consider the next question the most important. Can the goalkeepers take on top roles in the AHL and act as NHL backups?
The Avalanche offers some fascinating opportunities for the rookie tournament. Much is at stake for the players and the organization. All of this makes it more interesting to follow these games. The Avalanche will compete in three matchups.
Here is the schedule:
- Saturday, September 7th – 2pm MST against the Vegas Golden Knights.
- Sunday, September 8th – 2pm MST against the Los Angeles Kings.
- Monday September 9th – no games, it’s a training day.
- Tuesday, September 10th – 12pm MST final against the Anaheim Ducks.
All matchups are streamed online and should be accessible to alt fans via Altitude, with Conor McGahey calling the game.
The tournament should answer a few questions and show how deep the talent goes in the organization. Either way, it’s hockey, which means you can expect some surprises on the way to opening night.
JD has followed the Colorado Avalanche since the days of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. JD is blessed to cover the team for nearly 5 seasons, 3 of them in other locations. He enjoys working with the Hockey Writers. As the proud parent of three people and two dogs, you can follow all the antics @JDKpirate.