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Rookies Display Youthful Exuberance

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
There have been numerous factors behind Colorado’s success this season, which has seen the club reach 50 before the halfway point.

It’s easy to point to the play of Craig Anderson between the pipes, or the gelling of the Avalanche’s top line of Paul Stastny, Chris Stewart and Wojtek Wolski over the past month. You could also discuss the team’s success on the road, beginning with a seven-game swing early in the season, or its dominance against teams from the Eastern Conference (a 7-2-1 record).

But if you overlook the play of the Avalanche’s rookies, you’d be missing a big part of the equation. Coming out of training camp, 2009 draftees Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly were all the rage. The media, opponents and Colorado’s players themselves raved about Duchene’s vision and patience with the puck and O’Reilly’s defensive skills and all-around game. It’s almost old hat to say at this point, but the pair has displayed a maturity level beyond their years during their first NHL season.

But the impact of Colorado’s rookies has extended far beyond the play of that highly-touted pair. Six different players have made their NHL debut for the Avalanche this season. Add in T.J. Galiardi and Philippe Dupuis (both of whom saw action with Colorado last season but still retain their rookie status) and the Avalanche has had eight rookies making contributions at the NHL level in one way or another.

And contribute they have.

No team in the NHL has received as much production from their first-year players as the Avalanche, as Colorado’s rookies have combined for 67 points (21g/46a) through the club’s first 40 games of the 2009-10 campaign.

Duchene and O’Reilly have led the way with 24 and 17 points, respectively, but Colorado has been getting contributions across the board. Along with the aforementioned pair, Galiardi (4g/11a) and defenseman Ryan Wilson (2g/7a) also rank among the top-20 rookie scorers in the NHL.

Maybe there is such a thing as strength in numbers, as the club's rookies all seem to talk about how much they enjoy playing with each other when they are asked about their success as a group this season.

“It’s always nice to play with guys the same age that you get along with,” said O’Reilly. “They’re going through the same experiences and it’s easier because you have someone to help you if you’re struggling in a certain area. I think it’s one reason our young guys are successful right now.”

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For some players, like Wilson, it’s not only about finding their niche on the team, but also getting to the proper comfort level on the ice. The defenseman admits that he was “pretty nervous” before his first five or 10 games, but has become a little more at ease as he gets a more games under his belt.

“I’m pretty comfortable now, but the truth is you can never get too comfortable playing this game. Overall I’m a little less nervous and a little more composed out there,” said Wilson.

You would also be remiss if you didn’t mention the contributions of a handful of other players – most notably Chris Durno and Matt Hendricks – who are receiving their first extended experience in the NHL but don’t qualify as rookies due to their ages (29 and 28, respectively).

Durno netted his first career NHL goal on Saturday night and has totaled three points (1g/2a) in 13 games this season. Hendricks has scored four times and added a pair of assists while appearing in 29 games, and is in the midst of a three-game point streak (1g/2a).

“Those guys are playing unbelievable right now and that’s huge for us,” said O’Reilly. “They’re so hungry to play and hungry to be successful. No matter what age you are, having guys that have that hunger brings up everyone else’s games.”

Sunday’s Practice Notes
The Avalanche has Monday off and will return to practice on Tuesday before departing for Ottawa. Wednesday’s game against the Senators opens a three-game road swing, which will also see the Avs take on Detroit and Columbus.

Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco is hoping that both defenseman Kyle Cumiskey (foot) and forward Marek Svatos (groin) will join the team on the road trip.

“I expect Cumiskey and Svatos and Svatos hopefully to both be traveling with us,” said Sacco. “I’ll make a decision before the game on Wednesday who’s going to play and who’s not, but I’m hoping they’ll at least be available for my decision.”
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