There is still more than two weeks before the Colorado Avalanche begins round-robin play in the Stanley Cup Qualifier, but a look at what that game roster could possibly be was on display on the third day of the club's Phase 3 training camp.
Colorado continued to split its roster into two groups for Wednesday's practice at Pepsi Center, but the first squad featured an expanded unit compared to what was utilized on the first two days of team-organized skates. Eight players were added to the first unit to make up a squad that appeared to be very similar to the one that was used during large portions of the regular season.
The changes saw the J.T. Compher-centered line with Joonas Donskoi and Vladislav Namestnikov move to the early session, as well as the Nikita Zadorov-Ian Cole and Mark Barberio-Kevin Connauton defensive pairings. In addition, Tyson Jost also skated with the main group while alternating on a unit with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Matt Calvert and Matt Nieto. Jost, who had practiced with Vladislav Kamenev and T.J. Tynan previously, also took several reps in the early stages of the second group's skate before finally leaving the ice midway through the session.
While the first skate featured more practice-like drills and situational play led by the Colorado coaches, the later group was mostly made up of prospects and focused on skill development with team performance consultant Shawn Allard.
Video: Day 3 | Training Camp Recap: July 15, 2020
While the idea currently in camp is to split the Avalanche into two sets to allow more reps and focus for each skater, all 34 active players will play a key role in the team's pursuit of a championship in the coming weeks. The NHL clubs that can overcome any sustained injuries and get contributions from depth players are usually the same ones playing late into the playoffs, which could be especially true in this year's tournament with concerns of the COVID-19 coronavirus still ever present around the globe.
"That is what you need to win a Stanley Cup I think. Obviously, you need three good D-pairings and goalies, but I think running four good lines, we can keep the possession in the offensive zone and create penalties, create scoring chances," said Donskoi in regards to a club's depth. "If someone gets hurt, we have a new guy coming in, and we know that we'll have guys out of the lineup that can also play at this level. So I think that is really important."
Other than the addition of Jost, the Avs' first group kept with the same combinations as they used during the second day of camp. Andre Burakovsky skated on a trio with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, while Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin rounded out a Nazem Kadri-centered line.
Both Donskoi and Burakovsky said this Avalanche squad is one of the deepest and most-talented teams they have been a part of, and that it doesn't really matter who ends up playing with who. The club had to use a variety of combinations during the regular season after losing a total of 223 man games to injury and illness, and the Avs still ended up just two points out of first place in the Western Conference.
"We have so much depth in our lineup," Burakovsky stated. "To be able to win the Stanley Cup, you're going to need four lines that can play against any line, and I think we definitely do have that. We have four lines that can defend and score at the same time. So I think we're looking pretty good and I think we just proved that when we went through a lot of injuries. Guys were stepping up and everyone could play with everyone. I think that's a huge upside for us going into the playoffs."
Video: Burakovsky on the team's chemistry after practice
After being just one of 17 rookie defensemen in league history to surpass 50 points in a season, it shouldn't have come as a shock to anyone that Cale Makar was officially nominated for the NHL's top rookie honor.
The league made the announcement on Wednesday morning with Makar joining the Chicago Blackhawks' Dominik Kubalik and the Vancouver Canucks' Quinn Hughes as finalists for the Calder Memorial Trophy, with the winner set to be announced during the conference finals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I wasn't surprised," Donskoi said of the news of his young teammate. "I think it was well-deserved, and I think he belongs there. He makes a huge difference. It's crazy how good of a skater he is and good hands and good vision. He can make plays."
Makar finished his first campaign by leading all first-year players with a 0.88 points-per-game average, while his 0.21 goals per game were the highest by a rookie blueliner since the Philadelphia Flyers' Shane Gostisbehere in 2015-16 (0.27). Makar recorded 50 points (12 goals and 38 assists) in 57 games, second among all NHL freshmen behind only Hughes' 53 points--though Hughes appeared in 11 more contests.
"I'm very honored and humbled to just be on this stage, even with these guys here," Makar said. "It was such a great group of rookies this year, and I think we're all honored to be on this call right now… Obviously all of us are here because we have such a great supporting cast, and I think that's what was able to give us all our successes here."
Makar is the second Avalanche player to earn an award nomination, as Nathan MacKinnon was named on Tuesday a finalist for the Ted Lindsay Award, given to the league's best player as voted by the NHLPA. The NHL will announce the finalists for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy and Lady Byng Memorial Trophy on Thursday.
Colorado is set to hold its fourth-straight day of practice on Thursday at Pepsi Center, but the ice is expected to be a bit more crowded as the team will only hold one session in the late morning.
All on-ice activities are closed to the general public.
PRACTICE LINE COMBINATIONS
Andre Burakovsky - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Gabriel Landeskog - Nazem Kadri - Valeri Nichushkin
Vladislav Namestnikov - J.T. Compher - Joonas Donskoi
Matt Calvert - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Matt Nieto - Tyson Jost
Ryan Graves - Cale Makar
Samuel Girard - Erik Johnson
Nikita Zadorov - Ian Cole
Mark Barberio - Kevin Connauton
Philipp Grubauer & Pavel Francouz
Vladislav Kamenev - T.J. Tynan - Tyson Jost*
Shane Bowers - Sheldon Dries - Logan O'Connor
Anton Lindholm - Bowen Byram
Conor Timmins - Jacob MacDonald
Michael Hutchinson & Adam Werner
* skated a bit with both groups