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Young Avs Aim To Make Strong Final Impression

Jobs are on the line as Colorado prepares for its last preseason game

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab /

CENTENNIAL, Colo.--It has come down to this for a handful of Colorado Avalanche players. Just one more preseason game to make an impression on the coaching staff and team management before the final roster is determined.

Most of Colorado's present 29-man squad knows they're going to be on the club when the regular season begins on Oct. 5, but there are several players that view Thursday's contest at the Vegas Golden Knights as a last chance to showcase their skills.

"Tomorrow is going to be a huge game for me, for a lot of the guys in this room," said Avs rookie Alexander Kerfoot, one of 16 forwards battling for likely 13 spots. "It's the last impression we'll leave before they make the final cuts. I'm not taking anything for granted. I want to play really well tomorrow night and have a good couple practices after that.

"I can't control anything other than how I'm playing and how I'm working. I might not make the best play every time, but I want to control how hard I work and how much I compete."

Kerfoot could be a bit ahead of the other young Avs fighting for an NHL spot because of who he's been on a line with during training camp.

The Harvard grad has almost entirely practiced and played with Matt Duchene and Nail Yakupov, two veteran players with tremendous skill at their disposal. That experience has helped Kerfoot get adjusted to the lightning-fast pace of the NHL and allowed him to produce four points (two goals and two assists) in three preseason outings.

"It is pretty easy when you're playing with them," Kerfoot said of Duchene and Yakupov. "It's not too hard to give them the puck and let them make plays, but they've also helped me in practice by seeing what they do on and off the ice. They prepare themselves really well and just watching them play in games, they're really skilled. They know what to do on the ice. They're smart hockey players and really skilled hockey players, and I'm just trying to learn from them and get better every day."

Video: Alexander Kerfoot discusses Avs training camp

Kerfoot's line has been one of the trios that has found some success during the preseason and will stay together for the game at the Golden Knights. Sticking together beyond that is also a good possibility as head coach Jared Bednar has liked how some of his forward groups have found early chemistry.

"We like the balance that we have with all of our lines right now," Bednar said. "We think all of them have the ability to produce offensively."

While Kerfoot is trying to earn a spot among the forward corps, David Warsofsky is trying to do the same on the backend. He is one of 10 defensemen still in the mix, but the oldest of the bunch that is still on the bubble.

With 305 AHL and 39 NHL games to take from, Warsofsky views this chance to make the Avs as one that doesn't come around very frequently.

"I'm going into my seventh year, so things have changed since I was a young kid. You can only take advantage of these opportunities. They don't come around very often," he said. "Maybe in my call-ups in the past I have played well, or injuries haven't gone my way, or I haven't played well and taken advantage of the opportunity. Here, I'm just trying to take advantage of the opportunity that the Avalanche has given me and make the most of it."

Video: David Warsofsky on trying to make the Avs roster

Like Kerfoot, Warsofsky has had a solid preseason and could be dark horse in making Colorado's roster. He has a goal and an assist in three exhibitions and will be partnered on Thursday with Nikita Zadorov.

A combination with the 6-foot-5 Zadorov could be what Warsofsky needs to impress the Avs staff as the D-pairing would have a nice blend of size, strength and speed that is important when transitioning the play up the ice.

"Obviously, I'm a puck-moving defenseman, so get the pucks up to forwards, whether that is in practice or in games and get scoring opportunities," said Warsofsky, who is the smaller of the two D-men at 5-foot-9. "I think that is a big part of my game, and it has to happen."

The Avalanche started its training camp nearly two weeks ago with 56 players and now has 29 in its locker room. It won't be easy in the coming days for general manager Joe Sakic, Bednar and the rest of the Avs executive staff in deciding which 23 players the club will start the year with.

"We're watching these exhibition games closely and picking back through them in video to make sure we're positive in what we're seeing with all of these guys," Bednar said. "There are some tough decisions to be made, and we have one more exhibition game to keep evaluating and then by next Tuesday we got to get down to our roster."

Video: Avs coach Jared Bednar gives an update on the Avs

Colorado did reduce its squad by one on Wednesday afternoon by releasing defenseman Jared Cowen from his Professional Tryout.

Cowen had been with the Avalanche during the first 12 days of camp and played in three games, but the competition on the blue line has been tight and several of the team's homegrown talents have performed very well. Chris Bigras, Anton Lindholm, Andrei Mironov and Duncan Siemens have impressed and are battling with Warsofsky for four rear guard spots.

"We're looking for the right mix of guys," Bednar said about making Colorado's opening-night roster prior to the team announcing Cowen was cut. "I think a lot of guys show real well in camp and in exhibition games, so there are a couple tough decisions yet to make. Guys are separating themselves in certain areas as well. We just got to decide what strengths we're looking for within our group."

The Avs have nine players that won't make the trip to Vegas, with four of them on the team's injured list. Defenseman Sergei Boikov is out indefinitely with a dislocated shoulder, and now A.J. Greer and Jonathan Bernier are also on the mend.

Bednar said Greer is going through the league's concussion protocol after getting hurt last Thursday against the Dallas Stars.

"He's been out for a few days," Bednar noted of Greer. "He's been exercising now for a few days, and we're going to try and get him on the ice as soon as we can."

Bernier missed Wednesday's practice at Family Sports Center with a groin injury that he sustained in the second period of Monday's contest at Dallas. The goalie was unable to finish the game, as Semyon Varlamov came in and played the third stanza.

"We're just playing that one a little cautious," Bednar said of Bernier's ailment. "We're hoping to get him on the ice here in the next few days. We're going to evaluate him day by day and see how that develops over the next few days."

With Bernier in the training room, Joe Cannata will serve as the backup goalie for Varlamov in the Avalanche's preseason finale. Cannata was placed on waivers on Monday for the purpose of being sent to the American Hockey League's San Antonio Rampage but was never officially reassigned after he cleared, allowing him to remain in Colorado for the time being.

One good sign for the Avs was that forward Joe Colborne skated on his own before practice in a red, non-contact jersey. Colborne has yet to join the team on the ice this season after missing all of training camp with an injury.

"He's been skating on his own for a little bit here, a number of days," Bednar said. "He's just not ready to join the group yet."

When Colborne does return to practice, he'll have to take the team's skating test. Everyone on the Avs' roster has now done it, other than the big University of Denver alum.

Mark Barberio, Tyson Barrie, Tyson Jost, Colin Wilson and Nikita Zadorov--all players who missed the early days of camp for various reasons--took the test at the end of Wednesday's practice and finished exhausted but relieved, just like their teammates were before them.

Those five players can now stop dreading about the test and put all their energy into preparing for the Avalanche's season opener at the New York Rangers in nearly one week's time.

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