Rookie camp came and went, training camp followed, and the Burgundy and White game left us with some memorable moments from The Captain. Now preseason is all that stands between us and the regular season.
Training camp was a refreshing look at the Avalanche, confirming or at least reinforcing much of the hopeful speculation this offseason. Here for you, all in one place, are the most important things learned from the rookie camp, training camp, and the Burgundy/White game.
Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Duchene are going to be a force of nature.
They turned heads every day at training camp; Duchene looked even faster, even more explosive, and even more dominant than he did last year, just as he promised he would. In other words, he will very likely be an All-Star this year.
RoR was even more impressive if possible, surpassing all expectations for his transition to left wing. He retained his trademark two-way defensive supremacy, but also dominated in the corners both with and without the puck. He continues to make stellar decisions on and off the play, he continues to score eye-popping goals, and he continues to have a competitive drive that impressed everyone who watched him play.
Throw in P.A. Parenteau, who also looked very good playing on a line with Cody McLeod and newcomer Colin Smith, and this line will be really good. First off, they’ll be fast. Intimidatingly fast. And secondly, every member of this line knows how to both score and set up plays, and Radar’s defensive sensibilities will make Duchy and PA even better. Seriously, if you are not excited about anything else coming out of camp, get excited for this line.
The Avs drafted really well this year.
Patrick Roy is using words like “overwhelmed” to describe how he and the rest of his talent scouts feel about Chris Bigras. He may have had a more impressive camp, both rookie and full, than anyone else. Bigras stunned everyone with his confidence and how well he moved the puck; it seemed like every time he was on the ice the puck found its way to him, and he basically never made a mistake once it did. He skated flawlessly, started rushes with precision and control, and looked much more like a dominant NHL defenseman than a kid who everyone thought still has another year or two of junior in him. No one thought that any rookies not named MacKinnon had the opportunity to make the team out of camp, but if Bigras continues to look this unbelievably good he may very well find himself on the roster come the regular season.
Speaking of MacKinnon, he looked phenomenal at rookie camp and slightly frustrated (but still very good) at full training camp. He is going to take some adjusting, which pretty much everyone knew would be the case, but he still showcased flashes of the player Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy saw when they drafted him first overall.
Mason Geertsen, another defenseman drafted this year (4th round, 93rd overall), played fantastically as well, and while he definitely won’t be playing for the Avs on October 2nd, within a year or two he very well could be playing excellent NHL minutes. Finally, both Roy and goalie coach Francois Allaire were pleased with third-round pick Spencer Martin, who won’t be making the team either but still had a solid camp.
The defense is still the team’s worst aspect, but it’ll be better than people are expecting.
Duncan Siemens looked like the player Avs fans have been waiting for all throughout the camp. He was physical and he made excellent decisions with and without the puck. He’ll likely start the year out in Lake Erie, but don’t be surprised to see him get called up for any number of reasons.
Siemens was the other important return in the Erik Johnson / Shattenkirk-Stewart trade which has been endlessly criticized (not without reason), and if he starts playing this year he’ll go a long way toward making that trade look much better. People have been impatient to see him in Denver but he has been developed very patiently and very well; he should be in burgundy and blue by the end of the year.
Meanwhile Erik Johnson had a solid camp, scoring several goals in scrimmage and sharing starting line responsibilities with Bigras. The two really clicked, and both of them were very exciting. I have been in EJ’s camp since he was traded to Colorado; he may have had disappointing seasons and he may not be first-overall caliber, but he was misused and stifled by a Sacco system that misused and stifled a whole team (hence why he’s in Buffalo now).
Roy knows what he needs, and plays a system EJ fits well into; this year should finally be his year. He won’t win the Norris, and he may not even have a positive +/-, only because of the state of the team’s defense overall, but he will look very good and hopefully will show he deserves his paycheck and his starting status. He’ll score some goals, most importantly on the power play, and hopefully he’ll finally be able to lay most of the questions swirling around him to rest.
Tyson Barrie will be in Colorado all year barring any major setbacks, and while I do not think he is the defensive savior some see him as, I do think he is a solid player who will help lend some consistency to the team’s defense.
There are still plenty of questions and a long way to go, but the team is moving the right way quickly.
The most encouraging thing about this camp was attitude. Gabriel Landeskog stated that the team was “pissed off” after last season, and they looked like it on the ice. Play was fast and physical, and everyone looked serious and determined.
Patrick Roy has said several times that he is here to win, and that the team is going to have a Stanley Cup attitude. And while the team is still very young (minus Alex Tanguay, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Cory Sarich, and Andre Benoit), they seem to be buying into it.
Make no mistake, they aren’t going to win the Stanley Cup this year, or next year. But they no longer look like a team that has given up, or that doesn’t care; there are not going to be any trips to Las Vegas in the middle of the year. You can see it in the interviews with the players; Duchene, O’Reilly, Landeskog- they all have heat in their eyes, and chips on their shoulders. They know what kind of talent this team has, and they aren’t going to accept failure anymore. Nothing- nothing- is more encouraging about this team. Even MacKinnon has the look of a level of competitiveness that will be painful to play against and wonderful to watch.
As previously stated, there are still some questions. How is Semyon Varlamov going to perform? I personally think he’ll look very good playing for his new coaches in a new system (he too is buying into this determined, bordering on angry, mindset), but there is no denying that he is under a titanic amount of pressure.
The defense will be better, but is it going to be anywhere good enough? In my opinion, this is a team that can make the playoffs. Will they make the playoffs? I’m not sure; maybe not. There are going to be a lot of kinks to work out, between new players, new coaches, new management, new systems, etc. I would not be all that surprised if the offense was amazing but the defense continued to lose games. But I also would not be surprised if they snuck into the eighth spot in the playoffs either. I’m not going to get my hopes up, but after years of looking like a team that did not care, this team is doing everything right, and it looks like a team that can go far in the not at all distant future.
Colorado opens the season on October 2nd against Anaheim. If you’re looking to go, you can find Avalanche tickets for up to 25% off.