CENTENNIAL, Colo.--Line combinations during training camp and early in the preseason can often be taken with a grain of salt. It's a time for the coaching staff to mix and match players, see who works well with who and possibly begin to build some chemistry among trios.
That is not to say that there weren't several intriguing combinations used during the first day of the Colorado Avalanche's 2019 training camp on Friday morning. Some of them consisted of old units from last season, while others were brand-new entities all together.
On defense, the pairing of Cale Makar and Samuel Girard stood out. Not only because the two twenty-somethings are offensive-minded blueliners, but that they also played together during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Girard is entering his third NHL season and is at his second Avalanche training camp, while Makar is in his first. Makar joined the Avs for the postseason last year after signing his entry-level contract following the conclusion of his college season at UMass in April.
"It's the start of everything. Regardless of who makes the team, there are so many good guys at camp," Makar said of his first September practice in Colorado. "Obviously it's not up to the players, it's up to the coaches. It's going to be a fun one, lots of competition. I'm going to be excited."
On offense, Jared Bednar experimented with new Avs center Nazem Kadri between fellow newcomer Joonas Donskoi and third-year forward Tyson Jost, and the Avs head coach was pleased with what he saw.
"They made some plays at the blue line, their details were tight," Bednar said of the line. "Today is more of a flow, go through some forecheck details, some breakout details, but they're experienced guys and they know where to be. I thought that line did a really good job."
Andre Burakovsky is another new forward to Colorado's squad after being acquired in an offseason trade with the Washington Capitals, and he ended up on a trio with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog on Day 1 of camp.
Burakovsky is hoping to get more opportunity in the top-six this year than he received previously in Washington, and Friday's on-ice session at Family Sports Center was his first chance to show that he's up to the challenge.
"I was excited. There was a lot of talk about Colorado before, and I was really hoping for it," Burakovsky said of the trade. "At the same time, I really loved D.C. and all the guys. They're friends that I'll never forget, I'm really tight with a lot of those players. But for me coming here, I get a new opportunity, a fresh start. That's all I wanted. I wanted to come to a team that really believes in me and lets me play and give me an opportunity to show how good I can be."
There will be plenty more opportunities for Bednar to experiment with combinations as the Avs have three more practice days before their first preseason game on Tuesday.
Day 2 of Avalanche training camp on Saturday begins at 8:45 a.m. The second on-ice session starts at 10:55 a.m. All practices at Family Sports Center are free and open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis.
Valeri Nichushkin was not at training camp on Friday, as the forward was wrapping up his immigration paperwork. However, Bednar said the Chelyabinsk, Russia, native is on his way to Denver and will likely practice on Sunday.
"It took awhile for him to get his passport in Russia and then do the papers for the visa and whatnot. He's in route," Bednar said. "You probably won't see him [Saturday] either because he has to go through all of our medical and testing stuff to make sure that he is cleared and ready to play."
Drafted in the first round in 2013 (No. 10 overall), Nichushkin signed with the Avs as a free agent on Aug. 19, 2019.
Erik Johnson and Ian Cole skated by themselves and ran drills with Avalanche on-ice performance consultant Shawn Allard while Group 1 practiced.
Johnson (shoulder) and Cole (hips) continue to make progress in their recoveries, and Bednar said Johnson and Colin Wilson --who is out with a shoulder injury and did not skate--could both be ready for the start of the 2019-20 campaign.
"There is no rush to get him on the ice with the group," Bednar said of Johnson. "He skated on the ice on his own. He will join practice in an orange jersey, a non-contact jersey, at some point here.
"Wilson same thing. Shoulder is fine, progressing fine, but he's got some lower-body tightness. They're not jumping into games here in four days, so there is no rush to get them out there if they're sore and aggravate something and make it worse. I expect both those guys to jump in and join us at least for non-contact for a while. The goal is still to get them into an exhibition game or two by the end of it."
One player that was wearing an orange (different than red) non-contact jersey was defenseman Kevin Connauton. Acquired in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes in June, Connauton practiced while also sporting a full cage on his helmet after having surgery to repair a broken cheek bone from an errant puck.
"It will just take a while for that to heel," Bednar said. "He's a guy that felt good enough to do all of our testing and skated non-contact today. At some point in the foreseeable future, they'll give him permission to do contact. He'll be on the ice for us every day, and hopefully getting better."
A feature of Avalanche training camp for the past two seasons has been two dreaded skating tests, and the fitness exams are back for a third go-around in 2019.
After roughly an hour of practice, each group (including goalies) lined up and went back and forth from each goal line while trying to beat a certain time. The players did the skate three times, getting a short rest between each attempt.
"I had never done anything like that before," said forward Joonas Donskoi, who participated in his first-ever Avs skate test after signing with the club in the offseason. "I got to say that was the hardest thing that I've ever done. For sure, got my legs burning a little bit."
Bednar said the test is meant to be hard and for the players to give it their all each rep.
"Would I like to see every guy completely exhausted, laying on the ice after the skate? Yes, that's the goal." Bednar said. "It's not to pace yourself or make sure you can do all three without a drop off. It's going as fast as you can all three times and see if you can sustain it for three reps. That gives our training staff and our strength coaches a real good indication of where they're at."
Friday's Team 1
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Andre Burakovsky
Matt Nieto - J.T. Compher - Colin Campbell
A.J. Greer - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Logan O'Connor
Igor Shvyrev - Josh Dickinson - Nick Henry
Travis Barron - Brandon Saigeon - Erik Condra
Samuel Girard - Cale Makar
Ryan Graves - Mark Barberio
Jacob MacDonald - Nicolas Meloche
Josh Anderson - Kevin Connauton
Sasha Larocque - Kevin Davis
Friday's Team 2
Tyson Jost - Nazem Kadri - Joonas Donskoi
Matt Calvert - Vladislav Kamenev - Jayson Megna
Sheldon Dries - TJ Tynan - Martin Kaut
Ty Lewis - Shane Bowers - Michael Joly
Sasha Mutala - Luka Burzan - Alex Beaucage
Nikita Zadorov - Conor Timmins
Bowen Byram - Calle Rosen
Dan Renouf - Mark Alt
Anton Lindholm - Peter Tischke