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Avs Practice with Full Roster as Opening Night Nears

Mikko Rantanen skates, Ian Cole continues to progress in his recovery

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

CENTENNIAL, Colo.--For the first time this season, the Colorado Avalanche didn't have any players missing from practice.

Colorado had 27 players take the ice for the hour-long session on Monday at Family Sports Center, and that included Mikko Rantanen, who arrived in Denver on Sunday night from his native Finland after signing a new six-year contract with the club the previous day.

Rantanen returned to his spot as the right wing on the Avs' top line alongside left wing Gabriel Landeskog and center Nathan MacKinnon for the practice. It's a position that head coach Jared Bednar expects him to play when the regular season begins on Thursday.

"I felt like he looked great. It's nice to have the Big Moose back on the ice," Bednar said of Rantanen. "I thought he was making plays, he had lots of jump. Obviously there is a little of adrenaline going. Hopefully he has the same energy tomorrow and leads into Thursday."

Video: Rantanen re-joins the Avs after signing new deal

Colorado enters opening night against the Calgary Flames almost completely healthy, as only defenseman Ian Cole is out while he still recovers from offseason surgery on both of his hips.

Cole was originally thought to be on the shelf until December, but that timeline might have been too conservative. He has been a non-contact participant in the club's last two team sessions, skating on his own before taking part in a few drills with the group afterward.

The Avalanche's practice on Monday was its first where it could put all of its attention on the regular season and the season opener in three days. Although the preseason is now over, the competition to make the roster remains fierce as the club needs to submit its 23-man roster by Tuesday afternoon.

"There are some tough decisions, you can see by some of the guys that have gone on waivers and just recently been sent down if you've been watching camp closely and watching our exhibition games closely, that have been really good, which I think speaks to the depth of our organization," Bednar said. "It's nice to have depth, we know we're going to need them. We've seen the call-ups that we've had over the past couple seasons and to have quality players at our disposal is a key and keeping as many of those guys we possibly can is really important."

Video: Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar after practice

Once Colorado has figured out its active roster to start the new campaign, determining the exact lineup for the season opener against Calgary and the other 81 outings will be the next challenge that Bednar will have to navigate.

Bednar said he's taking a game-by-game approach with his combinations and then taking it shift by shift once the puck drops. That is especially true when it comes to the forwards.

"When I set a lineup, it is because that is how I see it that day," Bednar said. "Then we start the game and we'll give them some time and try and be patient, but players are going to have to perform in order to stay slotted where I see them, and that is going to be a fluid thing all year. The guys that are playing the best and the hardest and the chemistry that we like are going to play. Honestly, that doesn't matter to me if you're a young guy, old guy, been around, haven't been around, we're going to have to earn it."

WAIVER WIRE

Kevin Connauton presently remains on Colorado's roster after being placed on waivers on Sunday and clearing on Monday. He practiced with his teammates and is expected to do the same on Tuesday.

The Avs made a similar move Monday with Jayson Megna, placing the forward on waivers with the expectation that he practices on Tuesday if he clears.

Bednar said both players could still play in the Avs' season opener.

"Everybody here is still in contention," Bednar said. "Decisions are going to be made for what is going on tomorrow as we bounce things around."

NICHUSHKIN SKATES

Valeri Nichushkin was a full participant in practice after not skating in the previous two sessions and missing Saturday's preseason finale at the Dallas Stars. He was dealing a minor foot injury after blocking a shot in the exhibition contest at the Vegas Golden Knights last Wednesday.

Nichushkin was on a line with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Matt Calvert during even-strength drills on Monday.

The former first-round draft pick is in his first season in Colorado after signing as a free agent on Aug. 19.

PRACTICE COMBINATIONS

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Tyson Jost - Nazem Kadri - Andre Burakovsky
Matt Nieto - J.T. Compher - Joonas Donskoi
Matt Calvert - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Valeri Nichushkin
Colin Wilson - Vladislav Kamenev - Jayson Megna

Samuel Girard - Cale Makar
Nikita Zadorov - Erik Johnson
Mark Barberio - Ryan Graves
Conor Timmins - Calle Rosen
* Ian Cole

Philipp Grubauer
Pavel Francouz

* - non-contact participant

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