CENTENNIAL, Colo.--The Colorado Avalanche's preseason finale might be a preview of what the team's lineup will look like when it opens the regular season in one week's time.
Colorado will ice a squad tonight at the Vegas Golden Knights with several players that are already etched into the club's final roster and a few others that will get one last game to showcase their skills.
Avs head coach Jared Bednar told the media after Wednesday's practice that he's been pleased with the chemistry his forward combinations have already built, and that's been evident by the little change he's made to the groups in the first two weeks of training camp.
"We like the balance that we have with all of our lines right now," Bednar said. "We think all of them have the ability to produce offensively."
That will once again be the case when Colorado faces off against Vegas at T-Mobile Arena. The Avs' top two lines include Nathan MacKinnon centering wingers Sven Andrighetto and Mikko Rantanen, and Matt Duchene leading a unit with Alexander Kerfoot and Nail Yakupov.
The Andrighetto-MacKinnon-Rantanen combo remains unchanged from the one that the Avalanche used at the end of last season. The trio was one of the more successful groupings in the league with Andrighetto finishing with 16 points (five goals and 11 assists) in 19 games after March 1, MacKinnon going on to lead the Avs in scoring with 53 points (16 goals and 37 assists) and Rantanen tallying 20 goals, the most on the team.
The early results in the preseason have been just as positive. The three skaters have already combined for seven goals in three games.
Colorado's second line has developed into a nice trio as well, with the talented Duchene and Yakupov leading the way. Kerfoot has been taken along for the ride with the combo, and it has resulted in him being second on the Avalanche in preseason scoring with four points (two goals and two assists) in three contests.
It's been a nice learning experience for the 23-year-old Avs rookie, who is looking to break into the NHL after a four-year college career at Harvard.
"They prepare themselves really well, and just watching them play in the games, they're really skilled," Kerfoot said of Duchene and Yakupov. "They know what to do on the ice. They're smart hockey players and really skilled hockey players, and I'm just trying to learn from them and get better every day."
The Avalanche's third line has Gabriel Landeskog and Colin Wilson on the wings of center J.T. Compher. The trio was put together after Wilson was cleared to practice after being out with an injury, and they played with one another in Sunday's exhibition at Minnesota.
Colorado's depth in its top-nine has forced Bednar to put rookie Tyson Jost as the fourth-line center with Matt Nieto and Carl Soderberg. Not an ideal spot for a young player, but a good problem to have for the club at this time of the year.
"I'll say this, I'm cautiously optimistic about our forward group," Bednar said. "We still haven't played a full NHL roster so how all these guys are as individuals and us as a group fare, it's tough to say. Some of these guys are young guys, they're breaking into the league, they're energetic, but the consistency of it is important. It's good to have depth.
"I think we have options with line combinations and guys we can move around and help motivate our top six forwards. There are other guys that can step in if you're not at your best and we have guys that we can place in there for you, whether that is in-game or game-by-game to help keep the production going offensively."
On defense against the Golden Knights, the Avs will pair veterans with prospects. Erik Johnson and Anton Lindholm will man the top unit, while Tyson Barrie and Chris Bigras, and Nikita Zadorov and David Warsofsky will make up the other two pairings.
Colorado's healthy defensive scratches include Mark Barberio, Andrei Mironov and Duncan Siemens. Gabriel Bourque and Carl Soderberg will sit among the forward group.
Bednar implied on Wednesday that the scratched players for the final exhibition outing doesn't mean they're on the outside track of making the opening-night roster. It is just that the Avs staff wants to get one more look at a few other players.
All of Thursday night's scratches have already played in at least three preseason outings.
"We're watching these exhibition games closely and picking back through them in video to make sure we're positive in what we're seeing with all of these guys," Bednar said. "There are some tough decisions to be made, and we have one more exhibition game to keep evaluating and then by next Tuesday we got to get down to our roster."
Goaltender Semyon Varlamov is expected to start in the crease for the Avalanche versus the Knights while Joe Cannata will serve as his backup. Jonathan Bernier is still day-to-day with a groin injury he suffered in Monday's contest at Dallas.
Joe Colborne and A.J. Greer skated on their own before the team's optional morning skate on Thursday, with both forwards wearing red, non-contact jerseys.
According to Bednar, Colborne had been skating for the past several days, but Thursday marked the first instance for Greer since he's been out of the lineup.
Greer has missed the last three preseason contests while going through the league's concussion protocol and won't play tonight in Vegas. Bednar said Greer got hurt in a fight in his lone exhibition outing on Sept. 21 against the Dallas Stars, but that the young power forward was doing better and had already begun to exercise again in the weight room.
Colborne has missed all of the team's on-ice activities during training camp with a back injury. He took part in a few non-contact drills during Thursday's practice at Family Sports Center.
AVALANCHE PROJECTED LINE COMBINATIONS
Sven Andrighetto - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Alexander Kerfoot - Matt Duchene - Nail Yakupov
Gabriel Landeskog - J.T. Compher - Colin Wilson
Matt Nieto - Tyson Jost - Blake Comeau
Anton Lindholm - Erik Johnson
Chris Bigras - Tyson Barrie
Nikita Zadorov - David Warsofsky