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Junior Players Get Peek of NHL in Preseason Action

Four Avalanche prospects will suit up against the Vegas Golden Knights

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

It's not quite the real thing, but playing a preseason game on NHL ice in an NHL arena with and against NHL players is a close second to the dream that Colorado Avalanche prospects have.

The Avalanche begins its exhibition schedule tonight at home against the Vegas Golden Knights, and it will be the first chance for four players to see what the top league in the world is all about. Forwards Alex Beaucage, Luka Burzan and Sasha Mutala and defenseman Bowen Byram--all selected at this past summer's draft and still have junior eligibility--will make their preseason debuts for Colorado at Pepsi Center.

"I'm super excited. It's something that you look forward to for a long time growing up and whatnot," Byram said. "It's definitely a moment that I've been waiting for and I just got to focus and play as well as I can."

The Avalanche's roster this evening will have its fair share of NHL veterans, but youth will be the primary storyline for both Colorado and Vegas.

Head coach Jared Bednar said following Monday's practice that the Avs' lineup in preseason game No. 1 will feature young players that had a strong four days of training camp and deserve the opportunity to showcase their skills on a bigger stage.

"I'm obviously really excited. It's a great honor. It is something that you dream of growing up," Burzan said. "I know it's only a preseason game, but we're playing against NHL players and with NHL players tonight. I think it is really special and I'm looking forward to it."

Video: Luka Burzan before his first NHL preseason game

There will be plenty of nerves going into tonight's puck drop as the other young players look to show that they have what it takes to make the Avs' regular-season roster. Burzan said he's going to try and combat that by focusing on his own play.

"You just got to be confident, you can't be nervous," said Burzan. "I know it is going to be hard not to, but I think you just have to take the moment and go with it. Just do your best, work hard and whatever happens, happens."

Video: Bowen Byram before his first NHL preseason game

All four junior players suited up for the team at the Anaheim Rookie Faceoff from Sept 7-10 in the prequel for training camp and stood out with their solid play on the ice. Beaucage and Burzan both scored goals over the course of the three games, while Byram recorded two assists.

The rookie tournament was a good introduction for the pace and physicality that they will experience against professionals in the NHL, and preseason contests are just the next step in that progression of play. The games will get a little faster, a little tougher and competition will only get better and better.

"It's kind of my first taste of NHL hockey," Byram said of tonight's matchup. "There are a lot of vets playing on both sides of the bench, so it will be super exciting for me and a couple buddies that are playing in their first preseason game. Really looking forward to it."

TIMMINS IN LINEUP

After playing in the Anaheim Rookie Tournament and being a full participant at Avalanche training camp, defenseman Conor Timmins will take the next step in his journey to pro hockey when he suits up this evening.

Timmins missed the entire 2018-19 season while recovering from a head injury suffered during the 2018 Ontario Hockey League Final but has made steady progress in returning to full health. He skated at development camp, didn't have any issues at the rookie tournament and competed hard the past four days at training camp.

"I know I put in the work. It was a long year, and every day I just worked as hard as I can to get back to where I am now," Timmins said. "To be back here at Pepsi Center in front of the home crowd will be really fun."

Video: Timmins before the Avs' preseason game against Vegas

The St. Catharines, Ontario, native played in the preseason prior to the 2017-18 season and nearly made the team out of camp that year. So while playing exhibition contests is nothing new to him, Timmins is still excited to skate against other NHL talent given everything he has been through the last 16 months.

"I remember being super nervous. Obviously I was a couple years younger then," Timmins said of his previous preseason experience. "Now I'm just excited for the opportunity and really looking forward to it."

FRIENDS TURNED FOES

The Avs' Nick Henry and the Golden Knights' Jake Leschyshyn are former linemates from junior, but they'll be opponents this evening when the two friends square off for their respective squads.

Henry and Leschyshyn played together with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League from 2016-2018 before both players were traded to the Lethbridge Hurricanes on Nov. 30, 2018.

"It will be a little different. Normally I'm used to playing on his right side," Henry said of facing his ex-teammate. "I'm really excited to play against him tonight. It's going to be a real neat experience for both of us."

Video: Nick Henry on playing in an exhibition game

Henry finished with 94 points (29 goals, 65 assists) last season while Leschyshyn totaled 81 points (40 goals, 41 assists) between the Pats and Hurricanes. Henry said having Leschyshyn join him in Lethbridge helped with the transition to a new team after spending his entire junior career up to that point with Regina.

"It was huge for both us. Going from a place that was all we knew in Regina, and going to Lethbridge together made the transition a lot easier," Henry said. "I think that was why we were able to jump right into it and have success."

Leschyshyn also has a connection to the Avalanche organization, as his father Curtis played with the franchise from 1988-1996 and was on Colorado's Stanley Cup-winning team in 1996.

Avalanche Preseason Roster vs. Golden Knights

Sept. 17, 2019

30 Adam Werner G
32 Hunter Miska G
12 Jayson Megna C
15 Sheldon Dries C
17 Tyson Jost C
20 Conor Timmins D
24 A.J. Greer LW
27 Ryan Graves D
34 Jacob MacDonald D
36 T.J. Tynan C
42 Erik Condra RW
44 Mark Barberio D
45 Bowen Byram D
46 Nicolas Meloche D
50 Luka Burzan C/RW
61 Martin Kaut RW
70 Nick Henry RW
74 Alex Beaucage RW
81 Vladislav Kamenev C
84 Sasha Mutala RW
No. Name Pos.
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