Five games in, the young talent tasked with nightly roles for the Colorado Avalanche out of training camp have mixed reviews.
Forwards Alex Newhook and Sampo Ranta and defenseman Bowen Byram stuck with the team from rookie camp through opening night. Newhook was immediately reassigned to the AHL. Ranta has disappeared some nights.
Byram, however, is playing his best NHL hockey to date.
Byram described himself as “nervous and tentative” as a 19-year-old last season and taken aback when he went out to defend a big-name player.
“This year I feel a lot more comfortable on the ice, no matter who’s out there,” Byram said.
This held true when he went out against Alex Ovechkin, captain of the Washington Capitals, for the first time Oct. 19.
“It was kind of surreal, but once you get going in the game you kind of forget about it and try to play to the best of your abilities and shut them down,” Byram said.
Byram has a goal and 3 assists and is plus-2 through five games this season. He scored in the opener after missing the last two and a half months of the 2020-21 campaign due to injury.
The NHL considers a player that hasn't appeared in more than 25 games in any preceding seasons to be a rookie. Byram appeared in 19 last season, so he was tied for fifth in rookie scoring as of Monday afternoon. Among defensemen, only the Detroit Red Wings’ Moritz Seider has more points (5 assists).
Byram was on the top pairing with Cale Makar for the Avalanche’s two most recent games in Florida. Byram said he tries not to think about where he’s playing but rather how.
“Playing with Cale, it makes it pretty easy,” he said. “It's been a lot of fun so far. Just (have to) stay focused and keep stringing some wins together.”
The Avalanche haven’t been able to do that yet. They have two wins on either side of a three-game losing streak heading into Tuesday’s home matchup with the team that ejected them from the 2021 postseason, the Las Vegas Golden Knights (1-4-0).
“They're not where they want to be so far at the start of the year and neither are we,” coach Jared Bednar said. “So we’ll be fighting for two points tomorrow night.”
Notes: Defenseman Samuel Girard left overtime Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning after a hit from Steven Stamkos that drew no further punishment from the league. Bednar said Girard was “sore” from the hit and, along with forward Tyson Jost, took a maintenance day Monday. “We’ll see what (Girard) looks like tomorrow.” … Bednar said Makar’s usual defensive partner last season, Devon Toews, was cleared for controlled contact. Regular contact will follow, then games. Toews has been practicing in a red non-contact jersey and hasn’t played yet following offseason surgery. “He's been feeling good,” Bednar said. He added forward Valeri Nichushkin and goaltender Pavel Francouz remain week-to-week: “They're making good progress, but they’ve still got a little ways to go.”
Colorado’s first road trip of the season will have a losing record after a 4-1 loss to the F…