On the verge of returning to full health, the Avalanche practiced without an injured Nathan MacKinnon on Tuesday

Oct 19, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) passes the the puck as Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar (8) looks on against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Avalanche continued to welcome players back into the lineup for Tuesday’s practice but were also missing a key piece.

Superstar center Nathan MacKinnon was absent, and the team confirmed that he was being evaluated for a lower-body issue. The absence of their star forward overshadowed the return of defenseman Cale Makar and forward Valeri Nichushkin — the latter of which has not played since opening night nearly a month ago.

Without MacKinnon in the lineup, the Avs elevated J.T. Compher to the top-line center position, playing between MacKinnon’s usual linemates Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. Nichushkin was present on the second line with Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky.

“The injury bug bit us pretty early this year,” Landeskog said. “Some guys are coming back which is great to see and obviously losing Nate and guys are playing through some bumps and bruises and that’s going to be a part of the season all year long.”

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MacKinnon’s status for Thursday’s home game against the Vancouver Canucks is yet to be determined. His availability is just one of two key questions that have yet to be answered.

The other pertains to Bowen Byram’s spot in the lineup.

The rookie defenseman, who has excelled through 10 games, scoring three goals and recording eight points, skated on the fourth defensive pair with Kurtis MacDermid on Tuesday. Byram was on the top pair with Devon Toews in Columbus — a spot he relinquished to a returning Makar. He also was not on either power-play unit.

It is not clear as of yet if Byram is going to be scratched on Thursday.

The Avalanche also recalled forward Alex Newhook from the American Hockey League one day after sending down Sampo Ranta. Newhook is one of 12 healthy forwards currently with the team in MacKinnon’s absence.

“We just got to find a way for the next man up to step in and step up,” Landeskog said. “We all have to elevate our game in the absence of some of these guys.”

Landeskog also said he doesn’t know when MacKinnon could be back, or if he’s going to miss much time at all.

If MacKinnon and Byram were to both dress against the Canucks, it would be the healthiest lineup Colorado has had all season. The only other notable name still missing is backup goalie Pavel Francouz, who has not played since the Avalanche’s loss to the Dallas Stars in the second round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs in Edmonton.

Martin Kaut and Stefan Matteau are both on the injury reserve list after getting hurt while playing with the big club. But they are expected to be sent back down to the AHL upon returning.

Tuesday’s practice lines:

Gabriel Landeskog – J.T. Compher – Mikko Rantanen
Valeri Nichushkin – Nazem Kadri – Andre Burakovsky
Tyson Jost – Alex Newhook – Logan O’Connor
Darren Helm – Jayson Megna – Keifer Sherwood

Devon Toews – Cale Makar
Samuel Girard – Erik Johnson
Jack Johnson – Ryan Murray
Bowen Byram – Kurtis MacDermid

Darcy Kuemper
Jonas Johansson

Power play units:

First: Compher, Rantanen, Landeskog, Burakovsky, Makar
Second: Kadri, Newhook, Nichushkin, Toews, Girard

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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

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