After forwards Gabriel Landeskog and Brandon Saad and goaltender Philipp Grubauer missed the first three days of training camp, the Colorado Avalanche players got back on the ice and participated in their first team practice of the season on Friday. The three Avs had been deemed "unfit to play."
"Today was more kind of get-up-and-go the first part of practice and then it was special teams. It was good to be back out there again and felt good," said Landeskog. "Honestly, I thought I was going to feel worse after a few days off the ice, but I felt pretty good."
Landeskog and Saad were together in the session on an even-strength line with Nazem Kadri, a trio that head coach Jared Bednar talked about putting together before any on-ice work began this camp.
Landeskog and Kadri skated together at times during the 2019-20 campaign and were both staples on Colorado's top power-play unit, while Saad was acquired by Colorado this past offseason.
"We were on a line today and it felt pretty good," Landeskog said of playing with Kadri and Saad. "I mean obviously it's one of those things where sometimes you get put on a line and you have chemistry right off the get-go and sometimes you have to work on it, and today it was a good first day I thought. We didn't do too much 5-on-5 stuff, but I am excited to get the chance to play with both of them.
"Obviously, I have played with Naz in the past, we played in the bubble together quite a bit, and I think Saader is going to bring a lot to the team. Experience, he's got two Stanley Cup rings and he's got a lot of offensive talent--obviously he has got speed, he can finish--and I am looking forward to seeing what we can do as a line."
Video: Three Avs return to the ice and special-teams work
Saad helped the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2013 and 2015 and has 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists) in 81 career postseason contests. The 28-year-old has also recorded 347 points (169 goals, 178 assists) in 588 career regular-season games for the Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets.
"I think I am the type of player that just tries to be myself," Saad said of what he brings to the combination. "I have been up and down lineups before and played with a lot of different players, but I think the biggest thing is just being yourself and that helps them read off of you as well with protecting the puck, playing with it down low. Styles might change when you play with different players who have a different style, but for the majority you just try to be your best and bring what you can to the game."
With Saad making his camp debut, it was the first time that Bednar was able to be on the ice with his new forward.
"Saad, he is everything as advertised," said Bednar. "He is an experienced guy, he's smart, looks sure of himself in his positioning. I think he is a guy that is going to be able to chip in on both of our special teams, both penalty kill and power play."
Group 1 Line Combinations
95 Andre Burakovsky - 29 Nathan MacKinnon - 96 Mikko Rantanen
92 Gabriel Landeskog - 91 Nazem Kadri - 20 Brandon Saad
13 Valeri Nichushkin - 37 J.T. Compher - 72 Joonas Donskoi - 17 Tyson Jost
11 Matt Calvert - 41 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - 25 Logan O'Connor - 44 Kiefer Sherwood
7 Devon Toews - 8 Cale Makar
49 Samuel Girard - 22 Conor Timmins
27 Ryan Graves - 28 Ian Cole
9 Dennis Gilbert - 88 Kyle Burroughs
31 Philipp Grubauer
39 Pavel Francouz
After starting the session with some 5-on-5 drills, the majority of practice was focused on the power play and penalty kill. It was the first time that the Avs have done special teams work at this year's training camp.
Colorado's top unit of Nazem Kadri, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar from the 2019-20 season remained intact, while the second unit featured a few different looks.
When describing "PP2" after practice, Bednar said that it featured Valeri Nichushkin or Saad at the net with Andre Burakovsky on the right side while Joonas Donskoi and J.T. Compher were in the middle of the ice. He also said that Samuel Girard and Devon Toews took reps up top and on the flank.
"There are seven guys here that we are looking at for that second unit, just seeing what sort of works and what doesn't. We have a little bit of time," said Bednar. "Some of those guys have played multiple positions on that power play in the past few years with varying degrees of success at different times throughout the season. We'd like to get something together where we can have five guys but, sometimes depending on how guys are playing that might be a little bit of a fluid situation on that second power play."
In regards to the penalty kill, Bednar noted that Toews, Girard and Makar will help the club in man-disadvantage situations this year.
"You look at other teams and their top defenders and top defensemen, they play all situations and I think it's good for Cale's game to be able to do that a little bit," said the Colorado bench boss. "We will just watch their ice time--we have a certain number where we want these guys to be. I think when you are talking about Girard and Cale and Toews, these guys can easily play 22-25 minutes a night, if not more on some nights. We will just see how the special teams' opportunities come. If we have a lot of power plays one night then Cale probably wouldn't kill as much, and same type of thing with Toews and Girard; we'd find other guys that we like in those roles and give them more responsibility on those nights."
Though it was the first day that the trio of Landeskog, Saad and Kadri was together, Bednar noted that he and his staff are pitting that line against the Andre Burakovsky-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen combination in practice.
"In those 5-on-5 drills we purposely match [the Kadri] line against MacK's line. I think you got experienced players versus experienced players, and that line makes it tough on the MacKinnon line and that's what you want," said Bednar. "You want them competing in practice against one another, against the best defenders that we have so they are challenging each other and getting better in practice, and I was happy with the way the 5-on-5 part of that practice went."
OTHER PERSONEL UPDATES
Defenseman Erik Johnson remains "unfit to play" and head coach Jared Bednar wasn't able to give a timeline for his return. Bednar did have an update on AHL-contracted defenseman Keaton Middleton though.
Video: Avs coach Jared Bednar on power play & penalty kill
"He left camp to go get a second opinion. He didn't clear the physical so just wanted to update everyone on that," Bednar said of Middleton. "I guess if we get more information, I'll keep you posted on that situation, I don't know exactly what it is, but he's now left camp."
Middleton is a 6-foot-5, 235-pound blueliner who spent the previous two seasons with the San Jose Barracuda, notching 10 goals and 16 assists in 102 total contests.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Saad made a couple of stops in the Midwest with the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets before being acquired by the Avalanche.
Though he has only been in the Mile High City for a few weeks, he has already come to appreciate Colorado's 300 days of sunshine a year.
"The sun shining every day is something new for me, but it's beautiful, you get to see the mountains," said Saad.
Video: Brandon Saad's first day of Avs training camp
Gabriel Landeskog on the team's expectations:
"Our expectations are real high and we expect to take a run at this thing and we expect excellence from ourselves every day when we come to the rink, and part of that is having that championship mentality. For us, we've seen the pieces that (general manager) Joe [Sakic] and the management have brought into this team and I think you can tell it's a championship mindset, and we are looking to take that next step. Very excited to see what we can do this year."
Brandon Saad on the Avalanche's team chemistry:
"I think it's great. Anytime you can bring back a team with basically the same roster with a couple additions it's huge. I have been a part of teams in the past where you show up and you almost feel like the new guy even though you've been there for a few years because you have 10-plus new guys. So to come in and see how tight-knit (of a) group they have here and to know they've had success in the past and now to come and be a part of that, I think the chemistry off the ice shows on the ice."
Jared Bednar on Tyson Jost's penalty killing:
"Jost is a guy that really stepped up at the end of last year once given the opportunity. He put a lot of work into it behind the scenes in practices for months, extra time with video, and it paid off. When he got the opportunity in the games down the stretch, he was outstanding, became one of our top penalty killers so he is going to see some ice time there."
Bednar on Toews killing penalties:
"I think Toews had killed penalties throughout the American [Hockey] League. College, American League, every step he's been he has been a trusted penalty killer… It's something that he is open to doing. He wants the ice time, he wants the responsibility, so we will use him or start with him on our penalty kill."