The long break in the spring offered the Colorado Avalanche a chance to heal any injuries, and the improved health situation didn't take long to notice upon their return. Just days into training camp, players were struck by the roster depth, the extent of which might have been forgotten amid the combination of injuries in February and March and four months off the ice.
Head coach Jared Bednar has kept the lines and defensive combinations pretty consistent throughout the first week of Phase 3 training camp, and every group seems capable of scoring.
"That's what we're looking for," said defenseman Nikita Zadorov. "If you look at the playoffs from a couple of years ago, we had some injuries and we had to call guys from the AHL to play against the best team in the NHL, so it was a little bit difficult. Now we have depth on our team."
Even first-year Avs compare this team's depth favorably to past experiences.
Andre Burakovsky, who was one of the many players to recover from an injury during the pause, won a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals in 2018. Asked about the parallels between the 2018 Caps and the 2020 Avs, he compared the teams' similar chemistry and emphasized the importance of coming together as a group, both on and off the ice. Then he gave his current squad the clear edge in one area.
"When I look back, I think we have more depth on this team in Colorado then we did when we won the Stanley Cup with Washington," Burakovsky said.
"To be able to win the Stanley Cup, you're going to need four lines that can play against any line. I think we definitely 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. That's a huge upside for us going into the playoffs."
Burakovsky has primarily skated on lines this year centered by Nathan MacKinnon and Nazem Kadri, who missed the last month of the regular season with a lower-body injury. Now, with nearly everyone healthy from injuries, he's equally confident playing alongside either guy as Colorado prepares for the playoffs.
"I think I've been finding a lot of chemistry with both Naz and Nate during the season," Burakovsky said. "I just want to be out there playing, and both of those guys are really good skill players who can make plays. For me, it doesn't really matter (who I play with). I just want to be out there."
Joonas Donskoi echoed Burakovsky, rejecting any notion that he will be "bothered" by playing on the third line because it's not only good to have four strong lines but chemistry in each grouping as well.
"We can all score goals and play offensively and play good hockey, so I actually really like our lines right now," Donskoi said. "I know Naz and Burky and (Valeri) Nichushkin were really good (on the second line) before this COVID happened, so I like our lines right now."