WASHINGTON—Hard work and determination on and off the ice is key for a young player to break into a team's lineup, and it takes even more effort to stay in the starting rotation once there. It's part of the process to make it in the NHL.
Defenseman Brandon Gormley knows that first hand from his time with the Arizona Coyotes and through the first 19 games with the Colorado Avalanche this season.
After being a healthy scratch for eight of the first 11 contests this year, Gormley is expected to be in the lineup for his ninth straight game this evening as the Avalanche faces the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center.
"It obviously makes it easier, you kind of get in a rhythm," Gormley said of playing in more games recently. "At the same time you have to earn the right and your role out there every game. You got to do whatever you can to help the team win, and that's what we're focused on here."
For a young player still developing in the game's hardest position to master, Gormley has primarily been taking it slow in his responsibilities. He's spent most of his time on Colorado's third defensive pairing and will play there again tonight with Zach Redmond.
Gormley has averaged 13:15 of ice time this season, but he has skated some heavy minutes in a few games. He played 19:37 on Oct. 24 against Columbus, 17:22 on Oct. 21 against Carolina and 16:11 on Nov. 3 against Calgary.
The Murray River, Prince Edward Island, product is considered a project for head coach Patrick Roy and the Avalanche, and he had to wait his turn with the club fielding seven other capable NHL D-men at beginning the year.
"You want to be out there as a player. You want to contribute, help the team win," Gormley said. "Obviously when you're not in the lineup, you got to do whatever you can—whether is it working out or work hard off the ice and in practice and try to stay ready. When you get your opportunity, you got to earn it and they'll let you stay in the lineup."
He eventually got his chance in the sixth game of the season and has taken advantage of it since then.
"I thought I worked hard there at the start, got myself ready for my opportunity," Gormley said. "It's nice to have some games in a row, and I just need to keep getting better every day."
The No. 13 overall draft pick by the Coyotes in 2010, Gormley split the previous two seasons between the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League and Arizona, where he sometimes watched from the press box. He appeared in 27 games last season with the Coyotes, and it helped him learn what it takes to stay in the NHL.
"As a hockey player you have to learn from your past experiences and they let you be ready for the new ones coming up," Gormley said. "You definitely reach back in those times and you know what it takes and be a consistent player in the NHL."
He's beginning to find that consistency.
Goaltender Semyon Varlamov could make his return to the Avalanche lineup soon after missing the last four games because of a groin injury.
"I think he is very close to make a return," head coach Patrick Roy said of his Russian netminder. "I think he's going to be available for us on the next game against Winnipeg."
It isn't known yet if Varlamov will play against the Jets. Reto Berra has been between the pipes in the Avs' last six games and will once again get the start this evening.
Varlamov hurt his groin during morning skate on Nov. 10 in Philadelphia. He was retroactively placed on the team's injured-reserve list last Sunday and is now available to come off at any time.
Center John Mitchell has missed six of the last eight contests with an oblique injury and is still considered day-to-day.
"There are some ups and downs in his thing right now," Roy said. "I'll say it is a day-to-day right now."
Roy will make a minor change to his forward groups this evening, moving center Mikhail Grigorenko and left wing Andreas Martinsen to a line with Jarome Iginla and putting Cody McLeod on a combo with Carl Soderberg and Blake Comeau.
"That's how we finished the game against Pittsburgh, and I thought it was good," Roy said after today's morning skate.
Nate Guenin will be the club's lone healthy scratch.
Gabriel Landeskog—Nathan MacKinnon—Matt Duchene
Andreas Martinsen—Mikhail Grigorenko—Jarome Iginla
Cody McLeod—Carl Soderberg—Blake Comeau
Dennis Everberg—Chris Wagner—Jack Skille
Francois Beauchemin—Erik Johnson
Nick Holden—Tyson Barrie
Brandon Gormley—Zach Redmond