Colorado Avalanche injuries have come in waves, big ones.
Variations on “better now than during the playoffs” are repeated often. However the Avalanche (14-8-2) have to trudge there, and organizational depth is easing the hurt somewhat.
Nathan MacKinnon returned Wednesday night against the Arizona Coyotes, but the list of injured still includes J.T. Compher, Bo Byram, Cale Makar and Erik Johnson. Even their injury replacements need injury replacements. Conor Timmins joined the list Monday and Greg Pateryn took his place. Dennis Gilbert had facial surgery after he was injured in a fight Feb. 16 and has recently begun skating again.
For now, the AHL’s Colorado Eagles have supplied a solid chunk of the lineup.
“There’s games where those young guys are coming in and outplaying some of our veteran guys,” coach Jared Bednar said.
Bednar listed Jacob MacDonald and Jayson Megna among the most impressive injury replacements this go-around. MacDonald, who scored his first NHL goal Feb. 27, has endeared himself to the big club by playing significant minutes — he cracked 20 Friday — in several situations.
“He’s helping us in a lot of different areas for a guy that wasn’t on our initial roster,” Bednar said.
Megna was the odd man out when MacKinnon re-entered the lineup, but Bednar said he’s been good on draws and his right-handed shot as a center is valued.
For Megna’s part, he said he’ll grow more and more comfortable if he’s able to stick around.
“It’s been a blast to be back up, especially with a team as good as this one,” he said. “I just try to contribute any way I can.
“I worked hard to get back here and hopefully it pays off.”
Dan Renouf is making the most of a chance that’s finally come. He played three seasons at the University of Maine before turning pro. He went on to spend four whole seasons at the AHL level for the farm teams of the Detroit Red Wings, Carolina Hurricanes and, last season, the Avalanche. The 26-year-old had spent just one game at the NHL level, in 2017, before he was called upon to fill in for Colorado.
“You can see that he’s very good defensively,” Avalanche defenseman Samuel Girard said. “He’s very strong too. He’s good for us right now.”
He’s spent the past seven games with Colorado, paired with Devon Toews at times. In spite of his lack of NHL experience, Bednar called Renouf “steady” after he recorded his first career point, an assist, Friday.
“He’s a pleasant surprise,” Bednar said. “We were getting a lot of good information and some high praise and feedback from the coaches at the Eagles, and he’s lived up to that. He’s doing a nice job for us.”
“I think that he’s been a trustworthy defender. Some nights he moves the puck a little bit better than others, but he’s got a heaviness to his game. He’s not going to cheat us on his try and his work ethic. I find him to be making the right reads in our system.”
One-year Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog Hunter Miska has been filling in for quite a while as would-be backup goaltender Pavel Francouz has been injured since the season began. He’s allowed multiple goals late in otherwise solid starts, and that cost the Avalanche on Saturday in an eventual overtime loss. He surrendered two goals on seven shots in the third.
“I think he’s a little bit disappointed in himself after (his) last game,” Bednar said. “He’s putting a lot of pressure on himself to play well for us and he didn’t have the greatest game.
“It looks to me like he gets a little nervous toward the end of games after playing real well for the bulk of the hockey game. It’s a young mistake but he just has to continue to work through it.”
Bednar declined to count Logan O’Connor among the list of injury replacements because he played with the Avalanche for two six-game stints in 2019-20, plus five playoff games. Bednar considers him “basically a regular.”
The former Denver Pioneer has three goals through 13 games and has thrived at times as a checking-line winger with trust on the penalty kill.
Bednar said there’s “no question” it will be difficult to take O’Connor out of the lineup when they’re back to full capacity.