The Colorado Avalanche are officially in the midst of training camp. Last week, the rookies, including first round picks Gabriel Landeskog and Duncan Siemens, participated in the Colorado Avalanche rookie camp and then beginning last Saturday, training camp opened. I attended the on-ice session yesterday and here are my thoughts:
The Avs are going to be a young team. This is not a bad thing. There will likely be only 3 players on the roster over the age of 30; Milan Hejduk (35), Jan Hejda (33), and J-S Giguere (34). The Avs certainly lost experience and leadership with the retirement of captain Adam Foote, but Hejda and Giggy will provide veteran leadership and experience. Giggy brings a Stanley Cup win and a Conn Smythe as well. At the ripe old age of 20, centers Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly will be entering their 3rd NHL seasons. O'Reilly has looked good at camp. He had a nice shot that beat Varlamov glove-side high yesterday. I really want to hear the O'Reilly Auto Parts song when he scores in games! Both of these guys look like they have matured physically over the summer. Hopefully it's a healthy combination of good, offseason training and natural physical maturity at their age. They are also both entering the final year of their rookie contracts. Hopefully the Avs management will be smart and lock them up longterm soon. Duchene especially. Young stars like Tyler Myers, James van Riemsdyk, and John Tavares, Duchene's counterpart from the 2009 draft all recently signed lucrative longterm deals and the Avs certainly should pay Duchene his due as he has been more consistent and productive than any of the aforementioned. You can argue for Myers, but I'm sticking with Duchy. There is no good reason to not sign him now. Would they not sign him until next year and hope he has a disappointing season so that they can pay him less? Not a good strategy. If he progresses and further proves himself, which I fully expect him to do, they'd only have to pay him more. Worst case, he'd be in a contract dispute a year from now, which is where Los Angeles is with their stud defeseman Drew Doughty. I don't see Duchene going that route though. He's got too much class to ever holdout.
Duchene winning the faceoff with Peter Mueller on the right.
Mueller looked good. He says he is 100% healthy after missing the entire 2010-11 season with that nagging concussion. He appears bigger, stronger, and he's now sporting the tinted visor to reduce the glare from the lights. It is very bright playing on the Pepsi Center ice and the lights make it hot out there. Every time Muells takes a check in camp, everyone seems to notice. He did appear to favor his leg after a hit yesterday, but returned without missing a shift. If Sacco leaves Mueller with Duchene and Hejduk, that line could be very hot and dangerous once they click!
Several Avs players look bigger. A major focus over the summer must have been strength training and muscle development. Duchene, O'Reilly, Mueller, Stastny, and Galiardi all look noticeably bigger and stronger. Duchene has amazing stick skills and is probably the most fun player to watch with the puck since #21 was in his prime. His criticism in the past has been that despite his flashy moves, he's a little to easy to move off the puck. With some added strength as size, Duchene could certainly resemble a certain Swede! Let's not forget that Foppa was always known as a playmaker and not a scorer. Duchene's other idol had the best wristshot of all-time, #19. If he can put both those skill sets together, we could be looking at a future Hart Trophy winner. O'Reilly began to emerge as an offensive threat toward the end of last season as injuries began to decimate the Avs forwards. Hopefully, he will take the next step their and become a premiere two-way center. Like Mueller, Galiardi's 2010-11 season was affected greatly, although certainly not to the extent that Mueller's was. Both players have dedicated themselves to making themselves bigger and stronger this season. While injuries will certainly never be entirely preventable, a smaller, weaker guy is certainly more likely to get hurt than a bigger, stronger player. Galiardi gained 20lbs. of muscle and his "giraffe neck" is almost unrecognizable! I expect a breakout year from the trash-talking Dartmouth alum.
Coach Joe Sacco said that the captaincy has not yet been decided, but alternates Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk are certainly in the running. My vote's still for Stastny with Hejduk, Duchene, and Erik Johnson rotating the "As." Sure, Stastny has his critics. People say he's underperformed, but based on what? His contract? That's not his fault. His agent was good and the Avs overpaid. He's not flashy? That's not his game. Sure, 57 points in 74 games could have been better, but he was consistent throughout the year and he was an NHL All-Star. Not to mention, he was an Olympic Silver Medalist in early 2010. My point is, let's not run Stastny out of town just yet. He's a very smart hockey player, and like a lot of other guys, seems bigger, stronger, and hungrier at camp this year. He's not the most outspoken player, but he does have the quiet leadership capabilities like Joe Sakic did. He's only 25 and he's been an alternate captain for several years now.
Gabriel Landeskog has also looked good. The Avs prized rookie looks comfortable playing against NHLers and will only get better with more experience. There is no way this guy should not be on the opening night roster. I'd like to see him with Stats and Galiardi.
#92, Gabriel Landeskog
On defense, Siemens has looked good too. I would certainly be in favor of keeping him up for the maximum of 10 games before they have to decide whether or not to send him back down to Saskatoon.
Finally, I like our goaltending tandem. Varlamov has looked really solid at camp. Varlamov has perhaps been affected by the tragedy in Russia more than any other player and he undoubtedly is still struggling with the tremendous losses. The Avs have provided grief counselors for him and other players and Varlamov seems determined to play to honor his fallen teammates and friends. On a more upbeat note, I really like his new pads and mask!
Well, that's all for now. I hope to have more as the preseason rolls along. I was hoping to go out to the preseason finale against the Kings in Las Vegas, The Frozen Fury, but it's looking like that mini vaca may have to wait until next year.