Avalanche coach Jared Bednar raising bar for young defensemen: “They have to be better”
The Avalanche is fully committed to a defensive corps led by youth, speed, and skill as the game evolves away from lumbering enforcers of a bygone era.
But old-school values still have their place in today’s NHL. The Avs’ cast of young defensemen — notably Bo Byram, 19, and Conor Timmins, 22 — learned that the hard way in recent games. You can’t forget the basics.
“Our young kids back there had a tough night,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar told reporters Wednesday night after a 6-2 loss to the Wild. “They were getting outworked in certain areas … interior areas of the ice, and in battles. You’re not going to win games if that criteria and box isn’t checked right away at the beginning of the game, for the whole game.”
Bednar, clearly frustrated, then raised the bar.
“They have to be better,” Bednar said. “They have to get more engaged and they have to get heavier.”
Those postgame frustrations should not translate to panic for a team still considered by most as a strong Stanley Cup contender. But Colorado’s defensive unit, still without injured veteran Erik Johnson (upper body), is clearly an unfinished product. On Friday, at the Arizona Coyotes, Bednar opted to replace Timmins on the blueline with Jacob McDonald from the team’s taxi squad.
When Bednar reviewed game film from the Wild loss, though, he was not ultimately concerned about the long-term direction of his young defensemen. Not when you consider their response to constructive criticism.
“What I like about those guys with the video is that once we show them something, they’re trying to implement it into their game,” Bednar said. “Sometimes it’s just a little confidence issue, sometimes it’s trying to do too much, and sometimes it’s identifying they have to do a little bit more. Have a little bit more grit and determination in their game — just like the rest of our team.”
Without media locker room access, and limited player interviews available on Zoom calls, Byram and Timmins have not spoken with reporters during their recent rough patch. However, back on Feb. 18, Byram discussed his NHL learning curve with less than 20 games of experience.
“I’ve done a decent job of trying to stay in the lineup, but at the same time, there are a lot of things I can work on and a lot of things I can get better at,” Byram said. “That’s what I’m focused on, not being too hard on myself or negative. Just making sure that I’m still growing into myself, growing into my body, and growing into my game.”
The Avs understand it will take time to develop their young defensemen. But their leash isn’t as long as one might think.
“At this point, it’s a concern, but they’re going to grow,” Bednar said Wednesday. “We’ll be patient and they’ll get more opportunities. But we just can’t accept it, because it’s not winning hockey.”
Burakovsky milestone. Avalanche forward Andre Burakovsky played in his 400th career NHL game Friday at the Coyotes. After five years with the Washington Capitals, Burakovsky revitalized his career last season in Colorado with personal bests in points (45) and average ice time (15:12).
“It’s definitely a milestone,” Burakovsky said. “It’s a lot of fun being in the league now for 400 games. It feels like yesterday I came to Washington. Time is flying when you’re having fun. I’ve been playing with a lot of great players. It’s been a pleasure.”