The Colorado Avalanche kicked off their 2019 training camp last Thursday with medical and physical testing. Since then, the Avs completed three days of on-ice camp sessions and on Monday morning, their first practice of the preseason.
Colorado is set to open its 2019 preseason at 7 pm on Tuesday at home against the Vegas Golden Knights. Here are the biggest stories coming out of training camp
Mikko Rantanen is still without a contract. With the Travis Konecny and Brock Boeser contracts signed on Monday, Rantanen is one of 10 remaining restricted free agents still without a contract. Avs GM Joe Sakic and Rantanen’s camp have both expressed interest in signing a long-term deal. Sakic has confirmed, as expected, that Rantanen will be Colorado’s highest-paid player in short order.
But the question remains, by how much? Star forward Nathan MacKinnon is under contract for a bargain $6.3 million annually. Can the Avs afford to give Rantanen four million dollars more than one of the best players in the league?
The situation does not seem to be as cutthroat as other restricted free agents around the league. But with that being said, Sakic would be wise to eliminate the distraction on what could be a Stanley Cup contending season and sign his young forward to a contract as soon as possible.
Nazem Kadri has impressed his peers with his all-around play. The blockbuster deal the Avalanche and Toronto Maple Leafs announced on July 1 made sense for both teams. Colorado desperately needed a second-line center, while Toronto was able to sacrifice a talented forward to upgrade its blueline with Tyson Barrie. But what comes as a surprise to most, most notably Nathan MacKinnon, is just how talented Kadri actually is.
“He’s a lot better than I thought he was,” MacKinnon said. “I think in Toronto he was held back a little bit. He’s a great shutdown player and will continue to be that, but he’s got a lot of offensive upside that I don’t think the league has seen yet.”
Kadri has been skating on a line between young forward Tyson Jost and newcomer Joonas Donskoi. The three have impressed from the onset, even drawing praise from head coach Jared Bednar in the early days of camp.
With the acquisitions of Kadri and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Colorado has solidified its center position. Bednar confirmed that the Avalanche will utilize Bellemare in a shutdown role on the fourth line. Last year Colorado rotated forwards on its fourth line, often using it ineffectively. Bellemare on the fourth line, along with Kadri on the second and J.T. Compher on the third, gives Colorado a more established center core behind MacKinnon for the first time in three seasons.
The Avalanche’s second power-play unit could be more effective this season. The Avalanche’s top power-play line on Monday consisted of MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Andre Burakovsky, and Kadri with defenseman Cale Makar at the point. Once Rantanen is under contract, the expectation will be to push one of Kadri or Burakovsky to the second unit. Since Kadri is prepared to set up camp in the opposition’s crease, similar to the role Colin Wilson played last year, he is the more likely player to remain on the top unit.
With that in mind, Burakovsky could join a second unit consisting of Jost, Compher, Donskoi, and Sam Girard at the point. A line that could provide an ample amount of offensive production on the power play.
There are roster spots to be had on the blue line. The injuries to veterans Ian Cole, Erik Johnson, and Kevin Connauton have opened up some roster spots on the Avalanche’s blue line. With Johnson expected to be ready for opening night, Colorado will have him, Makar, Girard, and Nikita Zadorov locked into the top four.
2019 fourth overall pick Bowen Byram skated with former Maple Leafs defenseman Calle Rosen on Monday and were a solid duo according to Bednar. The two of them, along with Conor Timmins, who is healthy for the first time in a year, Ryan Graves and Mark Barberio will all have a shot at the opening night roster.
Cole is expected to be out until December, while Connauton is currently skating in a non-contact jersey after fracturing his cheekbone two weeks ago.
Pavel Francouz and the Avalanche are confident in his abilities as an NHL goalie. On the first day of free agency, Sakic told the media that Francouz will be the backup goalie heading into next season. The KHL veteran has turned heads at training camp, instilling confidence in both Sakic and Bednar that he is in fact ready to be a full-time NHLer after a successful season in Loveland a season ago.
At the conclusion of Monday’s practice, Bednar announced the demotion of five players. Goaltender Trent Minor was sent back to the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, while forwards Travis Barron, Josh Dickinson, Brandon Saigeon, and defenseman Josh Anderson were all sent to the Colorado Eagles of the AHL.
The cuts were made prior to the Avalanche’s preseason opener, where Bednar will be icing a younger lineup.
“We have a group going tomorrow that’s young. It is rewarding guys for coming to camp in good condition, for playing well in rookie camp,” he said. “I think there are some guys that have earned the opportunity coming into camp here to get a look in the exhibition games and get a taste for it, some draft picks. Same goes for some of the guys coming in on tryouts.”