The long road to the 2018-19 season and ultimately becoming a Colorado Avalanche began over the course of the last few days. As just one piece of the puzzle there aren’t many hard evaluations but any time players are on the ice in a competitive setting there’s a few impressions to note with a dose of managing expectations.
Rookie Camp Practice
The rookies gathered in Denver for one practice on Friday before heading out to Las Vegas for the tournament. It certainly had a prepatory feel but was easy to see some trends form such as the top line (Kamenev/Shvyrev-Kaut and Lewis-Beaudin-O’Connor) and defensive pair (Boikov-Meloche). One surprise was the absence of Colorado Eagles head coach Greg Cronin but every other member of the AHL staff was present. Drills were mostly focused on lines and some transition situations however it was a bit unexpected they didn’t practice special teams units prior to tournament. As a bonus, the Avalanche veterans took the ice after the rookies finished up and had their own hour long warm-up. They participated in a few drills and then a loose 5v5 scrimmage where the losing team had to skate as punishment.
The Avalanche rookies finished with a record of and each game was recapped with highlights by Rudo3
As inconsequential as the games were on their own it was still nice to see the Avalanche rookies leave the tournament with a win and a little momentum heading into main camp. Another positive was to see some progression over the three games both individually and as a group. Some of the sloppiness and tentative play lessened as the games went along. Though there were no dominant performances, which is very difficult to do in this setting anyway, there were some good moments to takeaway.
It was easy to see coming that Martin Kaut was one of those expected to flash in this tournament but also easy to forget he is still 18 years of age (for now) and has only just started to get used to the game this side of the pond. At first Kaut was trying to do a bit too much and rushing his plays with the puck but by the third game settled more into his base of play which is good defensive play and passing, particularly exiting the defensive zone and in through the neutral zone. Kaut was rewarded for his efforts with an empty net goal to help seal the victory as well. His game might be a slow burn through main camp and preseason but he is a smart player and will continue to improve.
Igor Shvyrev is another who is adjusting to the North American game and he certainly had moments where it is tempting to think ahead to what he could possibly provide at the next level. The first game he played on the left wing and never looked comfortable but in the last two games he played at center and was able to control the play and carry the puck much more. Shvryev’s skill level is one of the highest among all Avalanche prospects as he is particularly good at passing and playmaking but has a blistering shot and is also feisty and capable on the defensive end. When he gets stronger on the puck he could become a real force. Though he did not score in this tournament he was quite involved in many plays and his progress is one of the most interesting to follow in camp.
The expectation bar for Vladislav Kamenev was rightfully high but he also had to make adjustments in this setting. The first game he wasn’t as noticeable as many had hoped but turned it on in the San Jose game where he scored the type of highlight reel goal with a drive to the net and backhand finish he was expected to display. A lot of what Kamenev’s game entails are subtle other things such as using his body for puck protection and in defensive situations with smart passing, which he brought in this tournament as well. Kamenev will need to build off of this momentum for a strong camp and preseason in order to crack the Avalanche roster on opening night.
Brandon Saigeon did everything he possibly could in his quest for a contract by leading the team (by far) in goal scoring with five goals in three games. He scored them in each game, in all-situations but one common theme was they all happened right around the net. The Avalanche sorely need someone who can clean up in the dirty areas and Saigeon showed he’s ready to play professional hockey. It’s time to reward him for his efforts.
Initially it was a bit of a concern during the camp day in Denver Ty Lewis was in a more defensive role with JC Beaudin and Logan O’Connor but the trio was one of the top offensive lines and really stood out particularly in the first game and combined for several goals when the rest of the team didn’t have much going. This could be an exciting line for the Eagles and hopefully they can stay together through camp and preseason to build on that chemistry.
On the defensive end it was slim pickings but Nicolas Meloche looked poised and polished like a professional experienced defenseman should especially considering the competition. However, he should also get credit for doing a lot of the heavy lifting on the defensively and in getting the puck out of the defensive zone because he was that defenseman who could be relied on. Meloche contributed offensively as well with some big shots from the blue line and showed exactly what was needed in the two games he played heading into a big main camp for him.
Sergei Boikov was back on the ice after missing the entire 2017-18 season due to injury and didn’t look like he missed a beat. He was a bit overly anxious and aggressive in the first game but settled into his game and a defensive role as the tournament went on. He also contributed a few nice offensive moments well such as a great stretch pass on Kamenev’s goal. Boikov looks like a AHL quality defenseman and will be very interesting to see how he is used in camp and eventually fits into the lineup.
Conversely, it was tough to see how Josh Anderson is going to fit into plans at the AHL level as it looks like he has a fair amount of work ahead of him. Anderson knows his strengths as a big physical defender making his presence known to the opposition and defending around the net and blocking shots but his play with the puck will need some improvement.
Of the try-outs there wasn’t much to write home about. Kevin Davis, who is already under AHL contract, had more good than bad moments and would make fine AHL depth on defense. Forward Matthew Boucher is ticketed for Canadian University but showed enough spunk and productivity with two goals in the two games he played that he could be in consideration for a AHL or ECHL contract. Other forwards Robbie Holmes showed his speed and Cole Reinhardt had a few nice passes for a good enough showing but ultimately likely not enough for contracts.
In net, Justus Annunen looked like the better prospect as he was solid and gave up one goal in the second half of game one and four in game two, most of which were point blank opportunities off of turnovers. Petr Kvaca had a rough first half of game one with the six goals allowed but settled in to game three and got the win after giving up only three tallies. A couple of the goals were a little iffy but he had to make some great saves to preserve the win as well. It remains to be seen if either will make it to main camp but a successful rookie showing nonetheless.
It should also be noted that Conor Timmins was not in attendance due to lingering issues with a concussion he suffered last spring. Hopefully he is able to return to the ice as soon as possible when he’s fully ready. Missing even the rookie events are a setback especially if he’s to be an impact player for the Eagles or possibly the Avalanche.
Meanwhile in Russia
Not to be forgotten, Nikolai Kovalenko isn’t present at camp but is enjoying a good start to his season. After winning MVP at the Junior Club World Cup he then began his season in the KHL with Lokomotiv and scored his first KHL point with a goal in his first game. This goal really epitomizes the type of tenacious game Kovalenko possesses and he’s going to score many more of these type in his career.
Not the best quality but here is Avs 6th rounder Nikolai Kovalenko's first KHL goal:https://t.co/OKB5qLrE6U
— Nathan Rudolph (@Nathan__Rudolph) September 4, 2018