We’re bringing these back with a myriad of stories surrounding the Avalanche after their first on-ice session of training camp. That’s right. The Deen’s List is back a and it’s here to stay for the entire 2021-22 season.
Colorado’s practice rink was buzzing with excited fans, upbeat media and a general sense of positivity from its skaters as the Avs embark on what they’re hoping to be the year they overcome adversity and win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2001.
Those that spoke to the media — Gabe Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Darcy Kuemper, Logan O’Connor, and head coach Jared Bednar — enjoyed the in-person press conference setting. The media certainly did as well. But the focus remained on having a great skating session and getting the new guys acclimated quickly.
The Avalanche are once again one of the better teams heading into the new season. They have what it takes to win. Here’s what we saw on Day 1 of on-ice sessions at Family Sports from the NHL’s reigning President’s Trophy winners.
The Deen’s List
This isn’t some kind of new addition to the Avs’ kit (and thankfully not another overwhelming attack on the jersey designers in Denver). But two bigger names wore red non-contact sweaters in Thursday’s session. The first was expected, the second was a surprise.
Defenseman Devon Toews wore red and spent a bulk of the time on his own ice sheet working with skills coach Shawn Allard. He looked to be moving comfortably and confidently, even when he shot the puck. This is, of course, a day after head coach Jared Bednar announced that Toews had offseason shoulder surgery and is expected to miss time at the start of the regular season.
But his usual partner and perhaps the biggest name on the Avs’ blueline, Cale Makar, was the other guy in red. It was a surprise. But it’s also not a major injury and nothing to worry about.
“He had a minor tweak there last week,” Bednar said of Makar. “He had some issues in the summer and he had a small procedure done. Now he’s feeling good. I don’t think there’s any rush to get him into full contact. We’re just going to ease him into that. He’ll play exhibition games and start the regular season.”
Top line leads the charge
Like they have for the past four seasons, the top line of Mikko Rantanen, MacKinnon and Landeskog skated together and will continue to be relied upon to lead the charge.
But just as he has in the past, Bednar is unafraid of separating the trio when needed. In some instances, Landeskog could provide a spark to center Nazem Kadri on the second line. And in other cases, another forward — such as winger Andre Burakovsky — could heat up and earn an opportunity to skate alongside MacKinnon and Rantanen. It’ll go as past seasons have gone.
“I really like what Landy provides to that line, but I also like what he’s able to give Naz, for instance, in support,” Bednar said. “A lot of that doesn’t just depend on how the top line is playing or the other lines are playing. It’s like if Burky’s playing really well, he’s an obvious fit to go up with MacK and Mikko. If he’s playing really well and their line isn’t doing a lot but he seems dangerous, it’s an easy move to slide him up to the left wing and move Landy down to play with Naz and (Valeri) Nichushkin.”
Erik Johnson returns, but perhaps with a new look
The return of veteran defenseman Erik Johnson was well documented among the players that spoke on Thursday. O’Connor called Johnson’s leadership and veteran absence last season “tough” for the team.
But Bednar also spoke highly of Johnson’s leadership and said that he doesn’t need a letter to be the leader he is. Which raises questions about the alternate captain’s ‘A’ that Johnson has worn for so many seasons. In the 52 games he missed in last year’s shortened regular season, the Avs let Rantanen assume the role of alternate captain.
“There are some young guys, guys like Mikko, that have stepped up,” Bednar said. “We’ll probably have a discussion as a group and then pick our guys to wear the letters. But we rely on all those guys, especially our veteran guys to lead for us.”
Nichushkin gets the first look on the second line
Without Brandon Saad and Joonas Donskoi, who have both moved on, the Avs are looking for a new second-line left-winger. And the first person to get a look is Nichushkin. The forward is familiar with both Kadri and Burakovsky, playing with each, individually, in the past and together as a three-player unit during the 2020 season.
If Nichushkin can provide the offensive spark he’s shown glimpses of along with a complete two-way game, he’s likely going to remain on that line for a long time. But this is still the first day of camp and things could change.
Speaking of line combinations, here are the top four lines, three defensive units and two goalies from the first day of camp:
Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Mikko Rantanen
Valeri Nichushkin – Nazem Kadri – Andre Burakovsky
Tyson Jost – Alex Newhook – J.T. Compher
Darren Helm – Mikhail Maltsev – Logan O’Connor
Samuel Girard – Cale Makar
Bowen Byram – Erik Johnson
Ryan Murray – Jack Johnson
Aarif Deen is our Colorado Avalanche beat reporter. He covers Avs games live from Ball Arena and attends practices, media availabilities and other events pertaining to the Avs on the daily beat. He is also a co-host of Hockey Mountain High: Your go-to Avalanche Podcast. Deen joined Mile High Sports upon completion of his bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Before Mile High Sports, Deen worked for the Michigan Wolverines Athletics Department as the assistant sports information director.
Follow him on Twitter @runwriteAarif