It was a short summer for the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche but they’ll take that every year. Despite losing a few players to free agency, there wasn’t much drama and an enormous piece of business got taken care of earlier this week with Nathan MacKinnon’s mega contract extension. The core is in place and the Avalanche hope to begin their quest on a repeat starting with this training camp but there are still a few unanswered questions to watch for as the practices and preseason unfolds.
What is the team’s health status?
The vision always is for every player to be available when training camp begins but that’s usually not the case in a regular year. Now with such an abbreviated offseason for recovery, there may be a few surprises as on-ice sessions begin. We know Val Nichushkin is still working his way back from surgery on his broken foot plus there could be others missing. And keeping those that begin camp on time healthy is also another top concern.
Bednar said they may have some guys who aren’t ready to start the season, so others may get some time to shine.
— Ryan Boulding (@rboulding) September 21, 2022
Who will be the new second-line center?
The biggest question of the summer still doesn’t have an answer as Nazem Kadri departed for the Calgary Flames on a seven-year deal and left the Avalanche with a hole down the middle of the lineup. The defending champions have options, however. Newly signed Evan Rodrigues will surely become an option and if the head coach is to be believed Alex Newhook will have a great opportunity to grab a hold of the job. Other internal options exist such as JT Compher and Mikko Rantanen who have each held the second line center job in the past. This is shaping up as a true camp battle without a predetermined answer.
I asked #Avs Bednar about the competition for the 2C position. He says Rodrigues will get a look, Newhook will get a “good, hard look” and “we have Mikko as well.”
— Aarif Deen (@runwriteAarif) September 21, 2022
What happens to the power play?
With the departure of several key man advantage personnel, it is an opportunity for some new and creative thinking on the power play. Conventional wisdom suggests teams should stick to a one-defenseman plus four-forwards set-up but no other team has the competitive advantage of the back-end which Colorado possesses. This roster isn’t exactly eight forwards deep with power play talent either so if the team chooses to force that common template they likely are leaving talent on the bench. Bowen Byram should be ready for a permanent role on the power play, even if it’s on the second unit.
What to do about the middle of the formation is in question too as Kadri often played the bumper position. If the Avalanche elect to put out four forwards per unit that’s a job up for grabs. Val Nichuskin or Artturi Lehkonen could take the position as expected top-six forwards this season but the best option is likely Alex Newhook with lightning-quick hands and has been a standout player in his career at every level in such a position.
Will any of the prospects get a chance?
An eternal question always goes without an answer and this season is likely no different. Depending on how many regulars are missing to start camp there might be a chance for some prospects to get more of a feature in the preseason. As fun as it would be for those rookie camp attendees such as Oskar Olausson or Jean-Luc Foudy to really ride the dark horse to an opening night roster spot, it is those no longer waivers exempt in Martin Kaut, Shane Bowers, and Mikhail Maltsev who need something significant to happen to their trajectory at this camp.
Will there be a battle in net?
It seems like the idea behind trading for Alexandar Georgiev was to have him start and the expectation is he will be given that role beginning with camp. It will be interesting to see if there’s going to be much true battle between Georgiev and Pavel Francouz in camp. Francouz has earned a lot of credit and trust with the team and fan base but he’s always been locked into a backup role. It would be easy for that type of set-up to continue especially given their contracts with Georgiev on a new three-year deal but it does feel like this could be the year for more of a competition in net.