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Avs Roster Starting To Clear Up

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

The squad the Colorado Avalanche will put on the ice for opening night in nearly a week became a little clearer on Wednesday as the team cut 11 players from its preseason roster.

Among those reassigned to the Avs' AHL affiliate in San Antonio were forwards Patrick Bordeleau, Marc-Andre Cliche and Joey Hishon, defensemen Zach Redmond, Maxim Noreau and Chris Bigras, and goaltender Calvin Pickard. Also, forward Conner Bleackley was reassigned to his WHL junior club in Red Deer and defenseman Andrej Meszaros was released from his professional tryout agreement (PTO).

That leaves the Avalanche's roster at 26, three players more than NHL clubs are allowed to begin the season with.

"That is what we love about it," Colorado head coach Patrick Roy said of the tough choices the club has ahead of it in the next week. "We're going to have some interesting decisions to make in the next few days, but we'll go from there."

Barring any injuries in the final two preseason contests, the Avs' back end seems to be set with only two goalies and eight defensemen remaining on the roster.

After playing in his only exhibition contest on Tuesday, Pickard spent Wednesday morning preparing to begin the season as the starter for the Rampage instead of backing up Semyon Varlamov in Denver.

Including the Burgundy/White intra-squad scrimmage, both Pickard and Reto Berra played a game and a half each during the preseason and were equally sharp during their outings. The Avs went with Berra as the NHL backup in the end, but it was a hard choice.

"They were both really good. Between them, it was not an easy decision," Roy said of the backup goalie competition. "Obviously, Reto was here last year. He played really well at the end of the season. We said the job was open, and I thought they both deserved to stay, but in the end you have to sometimes make a decision.

"We are very fortunate to have three solid goalies. I believe Calvin will play at the NHL level one day, and sometimes you have to remain just a bit patient."

Berra said he felt more comfortable at this year's training camp then he did the previous September, and a lot of it has to do with knowing his teammates, the staff and area, and focusing his offseason training.

Even though he has won the backup job, Berra isn't taking his duties lightly with Pickard—who played 16 NHL games last year—close behind.

"I want to be here. I'm happy to be here, but there is always pressure around," Berra said. "The biggest pressure is from myself. I expect a lot from myself. The work starts every day from zero."

Calvin Pickard during a game last season in Pittsburgh.

Pickard will now get ready for his fourth minor-league season, and Roy has some hefty expectations for the 23-year-old after his solid outings in the AHL and NHL last year.

"We have a lot of confidence in him," Roy said of Pickard. "We know if something happens to our goalies, we are in good shape. It would be great for him to play a lot, and that is what he is going to have (in San Antonio). I said to him, 'I don't want you to go out there and be the No. 1 goalie for San Antonio. I want you to be the No. 1 goalie in the league.' I know he is capable."

Roy likes to have an active roster that consists of 13 forwards and eight defensemen—as seen in his first two seasons behind the Colorado bench—and he'll likely go with the same format to begin the 2015-16 campaign.

While the Avs' lineup is still fluid with a week's worth of contests and practices still to take place before the season opener on Oct. 8, it appears as if the blue line corps will consist of Tyson Barrie, Francois Beauchemin, Brandon Gormley, Nate Guenin, Nick Holden, Erik Johnson, Brad Stuart and Nikita Zadorov.

Beauchemin, Gormley and Zadorov are new additions to the club with the other five D-men returning from last year's squad. Beauchemin (from free agency) and Zadorov (from a trade with Buffalo) joined the team earlier in the summer while Gormley was a late arrival, coming to Colorado after being acquired from Arizona a week before training camp began.

The 16 skaters battling for the 13 forward spots are still too close to call, but that competition could clear up rather quickly.

With center Jesse Winchester experiencing post-concussion symptoms and likely beginning the year on the injured-reserve list, the team may only have to release two more players instead of three. Jack Skille and Curtis Glencross are on PTOs and could be cut any time, while Dennis Everberg, Borna Rendulic and rookie Mikko Rantanen are also competing for spots.

Everberg and Rendulic have had solid second NHL camps, while Rantanen has been impressive in his first taste of the North American game after playing the last two seasons in the pro ranks in Finland. Roy said Rantanen would play in the fifth preseason contest at Anaheim on Thursday night.

Mikko Rantanen (center) celebrates after scoring in the Burgundy/White Game.

Expect all five players to see plenty of game action in the two remaining contests, especially Glencross.

Glencross is the new face on the Avalanche roster as he signed his deal on Monday afternoon, a day after being released from his previous PTO with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He met the team in Calgary for the exhibition on Tuesday and participated in his first practice with the club in Denver on Wednesday.

"You just try and keep it as simple as possible," Glencross said of playing in a game for Colorado before taking part in a practice. "I got some [video] clips and system stuff the night before the game so I could take a peek, and I wasn't cold turkey going in. I was kind of just reading the game and going off your instincts."

Roy is curious to see how Glencross will perform after being thrown into the mix late in the preseason.

"First game wasn't easy. Everything is new for him," Roy said. "He had a good practice today. Obviously, I explained to him that I want him to play hard out there and he's going to have his chance to showcase himself."

Also on Wednesday, Roy revealed his four centers to begin the season: Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, John Mitchell and Carl Soderberg. That leaves center and 21-year-old Mikhail Grigorenko on the wing for now as he continues his development in the NHL.

The Colorado coaching staff has mixed and matched different line combinations in the first four exhibition contests, but that will probably change with now a smaller roster and only two games remaining. Roy said he'll use about 90 percent of his lineup in the next two games, meaning the skaters and lines that will take the ice Thursday at the Ducks and Saturday against the L.A. Kings in Las Vegas will resemble the same groups that will square off against the Minnesota Wild in eight days at Pepsi Center.

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