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Prospects Impress In Avs' Win Over Sharks

Colorado opened the Rookie Showcase with a 4-1 victory

by Ron Knabenbauer @ronknab /

Rookie Showcase: Day 1 Recap

Avs TV recaps Rookie Showcase Day 1

Alexis Perry recaps the Colorado Avalanche's 4-1 Rookie Showcase victory over the San Jose Sharks

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WESTMINSTER, Colo.-The nerves were evident early on for the Colorado Avalanche prospects in the first game of the Rookie Showcase. Once those butterflies subsided, the young players found their groove.

The Avs defeated their peers from the San Jose Sharks 4-1 on Saturday afternoon at the Ice Centre at the Promenade, and the Colorado players that are expected to compete for a spot on the team's opening night roster looked impressive.

"You saw the intensity with the competition, but also players wanting to make a statement," said Avalanche assistant general manager Craig Billington after the game. "There is a new coaching staff for the most part, and they want to impress. I was pleased with the effort they gave."

Colorado's rookie roster includes prospects throughout its system, but the three young players that saw NHL time last season and the several others that signed entry-level contracts in the offseason made the most noise.

Chris Bigras, Mikko Rantanen and Nikita Zadorov all played games down the road at Pepsi Center in 2015-16 and picked up points in their first competition of the new campaign. Defensemen Bigras and Zadorov tallied goals, while Rantanen had a nice assist on AJ Greer's second period score.

JT Compher also found the back of the net and had an assist in his first game in an Avalanche uniform after three years at the University of Michigan.

The play of Bigras, Rantanen and Zadorov isn't surprising. There's a reason why the trio appeared in NHL contests. But for players like Compher and Greer to impress in their first game action with an Avalanche uniform on is a good sign heading into next week's training camp.

Greer and Compher are set to begin their first pro seasons after tremendous amateur campaigns in 2015-16. Greer helped Rouyn-Noranda to a QMJHL championship and the Memorial Cup Final while Compher captained the Wolverines' high-powered offense.

"Personally, I think I did a good job," Greer said. "There are definitely some areas in my game that I want to improve. Some little things and little details, but for a first game I was satisfied with my performance."

Compher had the same assessment of his play.

"I think I did some good things, but there are some things that I need to improve on," he said. "It's nice to get the goal at the end, and Bigras had a great shot on the power play, giving me an assist. There is a lot of room for improvement. I know there are some parts of the game where I'm going to go back and try and be better tomorrow to round my full game out."

With a full arena of Avalanche fans watching and the team's coaches and management staff observing from above, Compher tried to not worry too much about making a strong impression. On this day, he was just focused on helping the Avs beat the Sharks.

"It's not something that I can worry about. They are going to make their decisions and think what they want to think and evaluate however so," said Compher on showing off his skills to the Avs staff. "For me, it's just getting better each day and working hard to do what I do as a hockey player, compete and try to win. I think that is what I did today."

Compher helped open the game's scoring on the power play at 9:34 of the first period as he fed a cross-ice pass to Bigras at the left point, and the ensuing slap shot by the defenseman flew past Sharks goaltender Mantas Armalis, off the cross bar and into the back of the net.

Greer got on the scoresheet 35 seconds into the middle frame (and 30 seconds after a San Jose man advantage expired) as he tapped in Rantanen's pass from behind the net to give the Avs a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

"Mikko got it, quick turn and I just crashed the net," Greer recalled. "He's a great player, he just put in on my stick. That's the nice thing about playing with guys like this, playing with special players, just have your stick on the ice and they'll get it to you quick."

The first half of the game was plagued by some sloppy play on both sides. Neither team could connect on passes, and there were plenty of hits and physical play in the neutral zone as they fought for loose pucks.

"A lot is going through your head," Greer said. "I think a lot of guys were nervous here, at least I was. Just first pro game, kind of preseason. It's a special feeling wearing the Avs jersey and having all these fans here. A lot going through your head, but at the end of the day I thought everybody did great and simplified their game to what we needed to do to win."

After Greer's goal, there seemed to be more flow to the contest and the Avalanche had several other good scoring chances while adjusting to a new system and structure.

The young players are getting a head start on their veteran counterparts on what new Colorado head coach Jared Bednar will teach during training camp, and they are staring to get the hang of it after three days of being together.

"I think they did really well. Listening and watching them, even not on the ice, I thought they were working well together and communicating to understand the way to play," Billington said. "The coaches did a good job with them, communicating and showing them. It's a good start."

San Jose's Jeremy Roy ended the Avalanche's shutout at 13:52 of the third period, but Compher scored 1:58 later and Zadorov sealed the game with an empty-net tally with 3:12 left to play.

The Avalanche will have a quick turnaround as the team faces the Anaheim Ducks in its second and final game of the Rookie Showcase at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

Anaheim will be coming in rested and will boast a squad that is a little older, with several players that played in the NHL and helped the AHL's San Diego Gulls to the Western Conference semifinals last year.

"It's going to be a good challenge," Compher said. "They have some good young guys, a couple first rounders, as most teams do. They're going to be a little fresher, so we have to be sure to come ready to play."



Goaltender Spencer Martin only played half of Saturday's contest against the Sharks, but he is set to play the entire outing on Sunday against the Ducks.

Martin stopped all 12 pucks he faced before giving way to amateur tryout Chase Marchand at 11:16 of the second period. Marchand made 23 saves on 24 shots.

"When it comes to goaltending, it's pretty simple: if they keep it out of the net, you like them. When they don't, not so much," said Billington, a former NHL netminder himself. "They both did a very nice job today."

Playing games in consecutive days is nothing new for Martin, who consistently played back-to-backs or three games in three days during his time with the Mississauga Steelheads of the Ontario Hockey League.

"I thrive on the back-to-back games and three-in-threes and stuff like that," Martin said. "I just feel more in the game, and I don't have like a week off in-between or something like that. It's good for me."



There was good news and bad news for the Avs in the special teams department.

The good news is that they scored on the power play and killed off seven Sharks man advantages. The problem is that they gave the Sharks those seven power-play opportunities.

"Anytime you play a hockey game and take a lot of penalties, you can get burned," Compher said. "We're going to want to take care of that. Our PK did a good job today, as well as our power play. When you have good special teams, you're going to win, but you also have to make sure that you're a little more smart in all areas of the zone."

Zadorov and forward Troy Bourke led the Avs' crew to the sin bin with two penalties each.



The Anaheim Ducks bring an experienced roster that includes Nick Ritchie and Shea Theodore, who played significant time in the NHL last season.

The Ducks' 2016 first-round picks Max Jones (No. 24 overall) and Sam Steel (No. 30 overall) are also expected to play.

On Colorado's side, Billington said that all 25 players on the team's rookie camp roster will play "at some point," so expect Saturday's scratches Cody Corbett, Mason Geertsen, Jackson Houck, Gustav Olhaver and Jeffrey Truchon-Viel to dress.

The game is set for 1 p.m. MT, and will again be free and open to the public. However, seating is limited and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.



"I thought there was good intensity in the game. The players were working on the system and structure that the coaching staff put into place. Anytime you can be evaluated in your peer group is excellent for us. That's what we got this afternoon." - Avalanche assistant general manager Craig Billington on what he thought of the game

"We have only been together for two or three days so it's really tough to come in. You have new linemates, new systems, but as a group I thought we recollected ourselves as a unit, stuck to the gameplan." - Avalanche forward AJ Greer on the team's game

"I think everybody involved in the game had a little extra nerves, me included. This rink didn't have a trapezoid, so I was able to play the puck early before they were able to get a couple of shots. I felt pretty comfortable." - Colorado goaltender Spencer Martin on the start of the game

"It was really exciting. I think to see the real jerseys in the locker room, it was exciting for everybody. We had a lot of guys step up today and play really well, and it was nice to get the win." - Forward JT Compher on wearing the Avs jersey

"College hockey is physical, but once you get into a training camp format where guys are fighting for jobs, guys are fighting for jobs on our team, we knew it was going to be intense. Whatever you can do to showcase your talents is going to make a good impression and that is what guys tried to do." - Compher on the game's physical play



AJ Greer-Mikko Rantanen-JC Beaudin
Troy Bourke-JT Compher-Shawn St-Amant
Samuel Henley-Filip Karlsson-Cole Sanford
Travis Barron-Julien Nantel-Brogan O'Brien

Chris Bigras-Nicolas Meloche
Nikita Zadorov-Anton Lindholm
Sergei Boikov-Josh Anderson

Spencer Martin
Chase Marchand

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