ENGLEWOOD- For the second day in a row, Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly stole the show at Colorado Avalanche training camp. With first overall draft pick Nathan MacKinnon set to debut in his first scrimmage, most eyes were on him as soon as the puck dropped. That didn’t last long though as it became quickly apparent that the day would belong to numbers 9 and 90.
The frosty rink at Family Sports Center was abuzz when the two superstars were on the ice together as they seem to be finding a natural fit that could bring much success come the regular season.
“Wow,” said head coach Patrick Roy after the contest. “It was a nice clinic out there. I mean Matty and Ryan seem to work really well together. Ryan’s a smart guy, he’s so good along the wall, making room for Dutchy. They click really well. I thought it was great.”
The duo, paired with prospect Troy Bourke instead of future line mate PA Parenteau, wreaked havoc on the opposing team during both halves of today’s 80 minute scrimmage. Their fast-footed forecheck was formidable at worst. At best it managed to obliterate all comers. During one sequence, the boys stole the puck from an overwhelmed offense stuck in it’s own zone and quickly converted the play into one of many goals in a 5-3 victory after an Erik Johnson blast from the blue line found netting.
“Dutchy and Ryan fit really well together,” said Roy following the first day of camp. “I was curious to see how Ryan would feel to be on the wing but you could tell that he’s here to work and it was fun to watch him.”
“I know what he’s going to do. He knows what I’m going to do. It’s easy,” said Duchene.
Roy was wholly satisfied with what he saw from his – mostly complete – top pairing during camp, all the way down to the defense.
“Even (Chris) Bigras and Johnson, for them, they made nice passes that came up with a goal of Johnson’s,” said the first year coach. “It was good. I liked what I saw. I really liked it.”
Despite perhaps feeling to the contrary, MacKinnon also earned praises from Roy following his first game-situation showing in a Colorado Avalanche sweater.
“You know what? It goes according as what we’ve planned. We don’t want him to feel pressure. We want him to have fun here. We want him to be who he is,” said Roy, after hearing MacKinnon seemed down about his play. “Sometimes when you want to impress too much, it’s the opposite that happens. We want him to be him and go out there and enjoy and good things will happen.”
Betraying his words with his face, MacKinnon said that he felt good following his first scrimmage despite finishing without a point.
“It’s been a few days now and I thought it’s gone pretty well,” said MacKinnon.
When asked if he could relax knowing that he was already on the roster for the year, MacKinnon continued to show signs of an undying desire to prove that he belongs on the roster come opening night.
“I think I have the same mindset right now. I know how things can change,” said MacKinnon. “It’s still a month away from the season or so. A little less but obviously some things can change from now ’til then and you never know I guess.”
That’s the kind of hard work that landed him in Denver in the first place. Still, Roy said he could relate to the 18-year-old’s need to prove himself to the coaching staff and spectators in attendance.
“It kind of reminds me a bit when I was traded to Denver. I was on the plane with Mike Keene and I said to Keener ‘I’m nervous, I mean I want the fans to love me. I want to do well.’ Keener said ‘Just be yourself and they’re going to love you,’” said Roy. “Nate needs to do the exact same thing. He just needs to be himself and the fans are going to love him.”
It certainly helps take the pressure off of the rookie when guys like Duchene and O’Reilly can dominate everyone shift after shift. While MacKinnon quietly gains the experience he needs to hang with the big dogs, the top line looks ready to exert its will on all comers.