Guest Post: Jesse Montano on Avs, Arizona
Old friend Jesse Montano is in Scottsdale for the Rookie Showcase and filed this report. Follow Jesse @jessemontano_
By Jesse Montano
SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. – It’s so funny, a weekend that in seasons past has seemed like something you have to go through before training camp officially opens and marks the start of the new NHL season, the Rookie. This year’s Faceoff was a sight to behold, having skipped it in his last year due to concerns over COVID. And having the ability to watch top-notch professional hockey live in person is something I’ve learned not to take for granted. Even still, the Colorado Avalanche prospects did not give much enthusiasm to their first game of the weekend.
Before I even saw the Avs youth hitting the ice, I was reminded of what an NHL facility should look like. When I arrived at the official Arizona Coyotes training facility, The Ice Den Scottsdale, I couldn’t help but be impressed. For a market that has long been criticized for its lack of interest in hockey, they have a fantastic site just off Highway 101 that appears to be engaged in all good ways with the community (and very friendly and helpful staff. helpful to accompany this). I was also impressed with the number of fans who turned out for an event like this maybe it is a sign of the times and people are feeling deprived of live entertainment. So many fans turned out, in fact, that the venue had to limit the number of tickets sold, and completely full for the entire weekend.
As Bowen Byram, named the young team’s captain, led his squad for warm-ups ahead of their clash with the best of the Los Angeles Kings’ prospect pipeline, the stands filled with fans, media and Boy Scouts. Lots and lots of Scouts. A few general managers also made an appearance, George McPhee of Vegas and Joe Sakic of Colorado traveled to Arizona to do their own assessment.
Now let’s move on to what happened on the ice. LA brought a team with a lot of professional experience in the wilderness, with players like Quinton Byfield, Sean Durzi, Tyler Madden, goalie Matt Villalta all taking the ice, and it showed. The Kings shut out the Avalanche 4-0 as their squad clearly had more cohesion and appeared to have over a week of practice under their belt. But as is the case with all preseason games, the outcome is whatever. How did they LOOK?
Well, that part wasn’t great for the Avalanche prospects either. Just a lot of sloppy play and bad mistakes. Holding the puck too long, forcing passes where there are no lanes, ignoring shots from the home zone and making questionable accelerations in the neutral zone. Now keep in mind what I said above, LA has deployed most of an AHL team. Many Colorado players were getting their first taste of professional speed and physique. It wasn’t that they were “bad”. They just seemed to learn to make decisions a little faster.
But it wasn’t just beginners, the avalanche had figures like Bowen Byram, Sampo Ranta, Alex Newhook and Shane Bowers. So let’s talk about them for a second. The four players I just listed were … good. It looked good. They were clearly one step ahead of their peers, and each of them made several games where you had the thought “if the player they were passing was better, that would have been a perfect game”, and they each had flashes. But my only real gripe with all of the Colorado “veterans” was that they hadn’t done enough to impose their will on the players they’re supposed to be at a higher level.
Byram stood out the most among Colorado skaters. He made several individual plays with the puck that really got you seated, including an impressive skate-to-stick to the offensive blue line to keep a power play alive. He made several jumps on the ice where he created his own space and his own lanes towards the net. The former 4th overall pick also had the Avs best scoring chance of the day when he came down the left wall, took a step forward from LA and snatched the short side crossbar. .
Bowers looked like he was trying to show coaches that the message of the need to grow up was being heard loud and clear. His moments that stood out were when he drove wide and used a large frame to protect the puck and make plays.
Alex Newhook and Sampo Ranta are the two Avs forwards who disappointed me the most. None of them were bad, none of them did anything egregious. I just expected more. I thought Newhook was so good at his role with the Avs last year, and while his skating really seemed like a cut above most others, I know he’s a much better player than anyone else. ‘he showed yesterday. I expect him to be the better forward of the two teams when they play again on Sunday.
Ranta was another one I liked last year in the playoffs. Was he a little overwhelmed? Sure, but I thought he was holding on and hadn’t done anything that could hurt your team. What I consider an accomplishment for a rookie who finds himself in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But he just looked like he didn’t have it yesterday. All that made him a dynamic offensive threat in the NCAA and AHL was apparently MIA yesterday. But again, not too worried about a game. I expect there will be another one to take over at some point this weekend.
Justus Annunen was doing perfectly well. All four goals were good. The only one that got you throwing your head back was when he fell for the oldest trick in the bookâ¦ an opposing player claiming the puck when you don’t look up. He didn’t glance until he sent a soft backhand pass straight to the Kings of a forward chash that threw it past the net, leading to a goal.
Oh, there’s also a reason why I haven’t even mentioned Oskar Olausson so far in this article. Let’s just forget that this one happened to him, right?
The Avs returns to the ice tomorrow (Sunday) at 5:00 p.m. MT against the season-long hopes of the Anaheim Ducks who are absolutely smoking the San Jose Sharks 7-3. The game will be broadcast on the Colorado Avalanche website. I expect the Avs’ best prospects to rebound against what will be another tough opponent, and finally get on the board.