To the surprise of quite a few media members, the Colorado Avalanche held a full practice on Wednesday afternoon. It sounds like that might be the case on Friday as well. The surprise isn’t that they’re practicing, but that they’re getting the whole group in. This is around the time of the year where the schedule tightens up, and we see more off-days or optional practices. Not the case for Colorado.
Jared Bednar made sure to end the practice with a little fun, though.
Once the main part of practice was done, Bednar lined all of his skaters up in a semi-circle in the offensive zone. He stood in the corner, and fired passes to every one of them. The goal? Fire the puck at the net, and make sure you hit the netting on a quick shot. No posts, no middle post, and you can’t shoot the puck on the ice. The first portion of the game was with quick wrist shots, and the second was with slapshots. The releases had to be quick, or else you were out, which led to some erratic shots.
One by one, players were slowly eliminated. For wrist shots, it came down to Caleb Jones and Mikko Rantanen. On Rantanen’s last shot, he missed the net high, giving the crown to Jones, who got some love from his teammates. Then came time for the slapshots, which led to some real fun. These shots were all over the place. At one point, Miles Wood wound up and missed the net, and the puck rimmed around and took out Bednar’s skates, sending him to the ice. Wood may have gone into hiding after that.
In the end, the slapshot war came down to Ross Colton and again, Caleb Jones, with Jones walking away with another victory, and bragging rights for the day. After a big victory the night before, it was a nice way to end practice for the players.
Growth of Ben Meyers
I liked the game of Ben Meyers on Tuesday night. The staff liked what they saw a few nights earlier. He’s shown some versatility, having been used at both wing and center this year. At practice on Wednesday, he was centering the third line, although that may not be the case come Thursday night.
Has the organization been happy with his year-over-year growth?
“No question,” Bednar said after practice today. “He’s improved a lot. The consistency’s still not there. Loved his game two nights ago, last night was okay. He’s played some good games in between, some quiet games in between. That’s the biggest challenge for young players coming up, just to get your game at 90% of your best, and try and stay there. He’s been useful and playing pretty well. I’d like to see a little production start coming, but if he keeps playing the way he’s playing, it will come.”
Production has been the issues for Meyers at the NHL level, which makes it difficult to evaluate him. He does a lot of good things on the ice, but has just six points in 52 career regular season games. All of those six points are goals, which is kind of crazy to think about. He’s not getting a ton of ice time, but the staff has taken notice of the improvement.
More on Valeri Nichushkin
For as good as Nathan MacKinnon is right now, all anyone can really talk about is the play of Valeri Nichushkin. When he’s on a roll, he can carry a line by himself, and right now, the Avalanche are taking advantage of that.
“He’s so effective with MacK and Mikko (that) you hate to take him away from there, but again, we need to be a four line team,” Bednar said. “He helps whoever he’s playing with, including Johansen, a lot. The more we can check the puck back, and use (Johansen) to his strengths in the offensive zone, the better off we’re going to be on that line.”
Nichushkin is playing so well that it’s almost easy to forget about all the uncertainty there was surrounding him heading into the season.
All of that uncertainty came from the outside, according to the coach.
“I saw Val before I left for the summer from here and he was already doing great after he took care of himself and came back,” Bednar said. “I really don’t have any concerns with him. We kind of communicate with all of our guys and players. Everyone’s looking out for one another. We haven’t really had to address anything with him or Girard coming back. Same kind of deal. I feel like both guys are in a really good spot.”
Comparing Nichushkin to Girard off the cuff is very interesting, just because we know what Girard went through. We don’t know what happened with Nichushkin over the summer, and probably never will. That’s in the past, and right now, he’s one of a few guys carrying the team at the moment.
Bednar also talked about Nichushkin’s leadership, and that a lot of it is leading by example, not just on the ice, but off of it in the gym. He mentioned that you see a lot of those leadership traits when the team acquires a young Russian like Ivan Prosvetov, who has spent a lot of time with Nichushkin. I’m sure when Nikolai Kovalenko comes over, Nichushkin will help with the transition.
Other News And Notes
- Ryan Johansen did not skate on Wednesday. He’s under the weather currently, but will travel with the Avalanche to Dallas. They’re hopeful he can dress and play against the Stars.
- Artturi Lehkonen skated with the team again in a non-contact jersey. Just looking at the schedule and timelines, I’m wondering if that Washington game at home on Jan. 24 is the target date. That’s only two games before the All-Star break, though. At that point, you might as well wait until after the break.