The first team meetings of the Colorado Avalanche's 2020-21 season are completed, which means the new campaign is officially underway.
"Everyone is really excited about getting going again. It's been a long layoff… Guys are all rested and healthy and excited to get the season started," said head coach Jared Bednar. "We like the team that we have and some of the new additions we feel that can help us. Looking to try and take that next step as a team and doing everything we can to make sure that we are pushing and raising the bar to where we want to go.
"It starts with our meeting today. We've seen the guys around the rink here for the last little bit skating in captain's skates, split up into a few different groups. Everyone's done their quarantines, and [we're] ready to hit the ice tomorrow as a team."
The Avs opened training camp at Ball Arena on Sunday, completing physical and medical testing before the on-ice portion of training camp begins on Monday at Family Sports Center. The team finished the 2019-20 season with the third-best record in the league with a 42-20-8 mark in 70 contests but fell short of its goal of lifting the Stanley Cup in the playoffs.
In order to help reach the next level, Colorado added to its roster during the offseason by acquiring two-time Stanley Cup champion Brandon Saad from the Chicago Blackhawks and defenseman Devon Toews from the New York Islanders, as well as signing other depth players.
Saad has recorded 347 points (169 goals, 178 assists) in 588 career regular-season games for the Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets, while adding 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists) in 81 career postseason contests, and he supplements the forward depth that the Avalanche already had. In 2019-20, Colorado tied for third among all teams in goals scored (236) and ranked fourth in goals per game (3.37), while its plus-46 goal differential was the best in the Western Conference and ranked third in the NHL.
Toews, who signed a four-year deal with the Avalanche after the organization acquired him, is a two-way, puck-moving blueliner who can log a lot of ice time, and he will start camp on a defensive pairing with Calder Trophy-winner Cale Makar.
Adding these players while retaining the majority of the existing squad has only added to the expectations for what this Avalanche team can accomplish. According to Bednar, the anticipation of success, both inside and outside the dressing room, is a good thing for his group.
"I think we've earned that as a team, and I don't think that is something that we should shy away from. I think last year we had those expectations for ourselves, and maybe there wasn't the outside pressure, outside expectations from around the league until we got going as the year went on, but now I think that is a good thing," said Bednar. "We want the pressure; we want to be considered one of the favorites. It still becomes about the process and what we need to do to improve to make sure that we get the opportunities that we want come playoff time."
Bednar expects nearly everyone on the 40-player camp roster to be available when on-ice work begins on Monday. As of now, the only exception is prospect defenseman Bowen Byram, who is presently co-captaining Team Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton, Alberta.
Included in the list of guys that will skate are the seven players that missed the Avs' Game 7 matchup against the Dallas Stars in Round 2 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs: forwards Matt Calvert, Joonas Donskoi and Gabriel Landeskog, defensemen Erik Johnson and Conor Timmins, and goaltenders Pavel Francouz and Philipp Grubauer.
The Colorado bench boss said that Francouz, who had a couple of injuries sustained in the postseason, had minor surgery during the offseason. Bednar also noted that Grubauer missed the final six games against the Stars with a groin injury and Johnson was out with knee and ankle injuries, but all three are healthy heading into camp.
The roster will be split into a bigger group and a smaller one, though both clusters will do very similar drills at practice to make sure everyone is on the same page. On Monday and Tuesday, the units will have separate sessions, but both will come together on Wednesday for the first scrimmage of camp. The groups are subject to change.
Projected Lines for Group 1
95 Andre Burakovsky - 29 Nathan MacKinnon - 96 Mikko Rantanen
92 Gabriel Landeskog - 91 Nazem Kadri - 20 Brandon Saad
13 Valeri Nichushkin - 37 J.T. Compher - 72 Joonas Donskoi
11 Matt Calvert - 41 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - 17 Tyson Jost
44 Kiefer Sherwood
7 Devon Toews - 8 Cale Makar
49 Samuel Girard - 6 Erik Johnson
27 Ryan Graves - 28 Ian Cole
9 Dennis Gilbert - 22 Conor Timmins
31 Philipp Grubauer
39 Pavel Francouz
10 Miikka Salomaki, 12 Jayson Megna, 14 Shane Bowers, 15 Sheldon Dries, 18 Mike Vecchione, 25 Logan O'Connor, 36 T.J. Tynan, 61 Martin Kaut, 70 Nick Henry
5 Dan Renouf, 34 Jacob MacDonald, 58 Peter Tischke, 67 Keaton Middleton, 88 Kyle Burroughs
30 Adam Werner, 32 Hunter Miska
Bowen Byram will join the team at the conclusion of the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship
Bednar Also Discussed on Avs Media Day…
On using the "taxi squad" this year:
"I'm hoping that we can get off to the start that we want and put ourselves in a good position in the standings, and then we absolutely want to use the added depth that we have. No use in having the depth that we've built as an organization if we're not going to use it."
"That depth and that taxi squad, I believe that we're going to need to use it. We have a lot of stretches in the schedule where we're playing every second night, four games in six nights. We've had some durability issues with our roster, even over the last couple years, and I believe that if we can rest those guys and get the most out of them, and if we are able to rest some guys and play others that those guys that were rested should be able to come back and help drive our team to victory on the following night or the next game. That depth is definitely going to be something that we keep evaluating at the year goes on and make sure we got guys jumping into spots that can help us and help push our team forward."
On the team's depth:
"In regard to our depth, I think it's absolutely the deepest team that we've had, and part of that is growth from our draft picks and the guys that we've called up from the Eagles that are showing that they're knocking on the door and that they can help our team win. That's not just guesses, that's based on some of the time they've spent with us over the last couple of years when we've had injuries and we called these guys up and they've done a real nice job for us."
On the 56-game schedule:
"It's a new set of challenges. Playing the same team back-to-back, and in our case, sometimes four times in a row. It's different. You can approach those situations almost like a playoff series. We all know that being .500 isn't good enough, so you're going in to play a team and splitting a series isn't good enough in most cases. I see a lot of situations where you could be up on a team 2-1 in a four-game stretch and have that final game mean a little more because you know to push yourself up the standings, you're going to need to win it."
"To be rested and energized in this type of schedule where there are no breaks to really regroup, in years past the schedule would have had us playing a busy stretch and then maybe some time to regroup and get rested again and there are very few breaks like that this year. There will be lots of conversations and lots of evaluations of our players, both the guys that are on the active roster and the taxi squad. Our plan is to practice those guys with us all year in a little bit of a larger group and then give some of those guys that don't have as much ice time a little extra work before and after those skates."
On COVID-19 safety protocols this season:
"At the end of the day, the protocols are in place to make sure everyone stays healthy. And we certainly know that if we want to get to where we want to go this season as a team, we're going to have to be healthy. The injuries and guys getting sick can impact the results that you want in the regular season, playoffs, et cetera. I think that is a little bit of a sacrifice that you have to make. You have to follow the rules, you got to be careful, you got to be diligent. If you do that, you're giving your team the best chance to win."
On lineup decisions:
"There are some fights that will take place during the year for ice time and positioning. I don't know what those are yet. I haven't pre-determined those yet. I watch our guys play. I have to be open as a coach to watch young guys come up and grow. I think veteran players have to be open to the idea that other players are pushing them and that they're going to compete for their ice time. That's the nature of the business. It's a 'what have you done for me lately' type of league. It's about results. It's how we have to approach it as a coaching staff. We have to be open to any and all scenarios with our lineup."
On the addition of Brandon Saad:
"I know Saad pretty well and his history from even back in the Columbus days. I know what he's done with the Chicago Blackhawks and playing against us and the roles that he's been put in there and had success in there. I like a lot of things that he brings to the table and where he slots in with Kadri and Landeskog. Right now, I see it as a good fit, time will tell. We will be open to moving things around a little bit as we were last year, but it's a big guy that can pack the puck, can contribute offensively and be a responsible defender, chip in on both special teams, that is kind of right where I see him in the lineup to start here. With that opportunity comes responsibility, but I think he's a guy that's looking forward to chipping in and contributing to our success. He is one of the guys I am excited about seeing and seeing how he fits in with our group because he's had a lot of success in other places he's been and now he is coming to us with another chance to play a major role and help impact our team for the positive.
On Bowen Byram's future with the team this year:
"When it comes to Bowen Byram and what role he'll play, that's all to be determined. We're at the point as a team where we expect to win every night and that's how we approach it. He's going to come in and prove what he's able to do for our team. I do believe that he's grown a lot in the short time that we've had him as a draft pick. Watching him play in the World Juniors, I think he's getting better and better as the tournament goes on, as the games get more important, and he's impacting the games there in a positive fashion. I believe he can do that for us. I think we're going to have to get him in the lineup here in NHL games. There's no exhibition games, so we're going to get him in the lineup and see what he's able to do for us and kind of monitor his growth and see where his game goes."
On Tyson Jost's development:
"He bought in and developed into a real good penalty killer. He spent a lot of time with (assistant coach) Nolan Pratt going over details. He practiced hard, did a good job in practice, he was put in situations in the games and he was excellent for us down the stretch on the penalty kill. He's found a way to add value to his game. and it's made him a better player overall. We're just looking for him to continue to grow the way he did last year."
On Ryan Graves' role this year:
"I expect his job to be very similar to what he did last year for us. He was relied upon in a lot of key situations on the defensive side of the puck. He was at the time the best partner we felt for Cale Makar and saw a lot of ice time playing with Cale and playing against the top lines from opposing teams. Big role on the penalty kill. I don't see a lot of that changing, although he is not paired with Cale to start. We're not going to get locked into guys only playing with their D-partner. I think it's going to be a little bit more fluid than that now that our team is growing. So, using him in those defensive strengths and get him to help and chip in offensively is still a key for us. I expect the same type of play from Ryan as we saw last year during the regular season."