Newcomers create roster questions
Dallas - On a night when the Avalanche allowed many of its heavy lifters the chance to rest, a group of players proved a couple of things.
One, there are a ton of great battles for roster spots on this team.
And two, the Lake Erie Monsters could have a heck of an expansion year.
If the Avalanche's new American Hockey League affiliate is stocked with some of the players who excelled Thursday in a 6-3 preseason win over the Dallas Stars, then there should be plenty of talent to go around.
Winger Eric Healey had two goals and an assist, center T.J. Hensick had a goal and two assists, and center Jaroslav Hlinka had two assists in a fight-filled game in which the Avalanche gave Joe Sakic, Ryan
Smyth, Scott Hannan, Andrew Brunette, Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk the night off.
And while coaches in Cleveland might be salivating at the opportunity to get their hands on players like Healey, Hensick and Hlinka, they'll have to wait to see if any of the trio make the parent club.
"We've got a lot of decisions to make," Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville said. "We're deeper, we're stronger. As an organization, our depth has been picking up, and we're in a good position to start the year."
Healey, 32, is a career minor- leaguer who played two games with the Boston Bruins in 2005-06. But he had 27 goals among 75 points at Springfield last season in the AHL and is hoping to force Colorado into a tough decision.
That won't be easy. Hlinka, 30, is coming over after leading his Czech Republic league in scoring. He showed Wednesday that he and Hensick have good chemistry no matter what the combination. Both can play center or wing. Hensick, 21, continues to impress in his first training camp.
"His speed catches your eye," Quenneville said. "I think overall, he's had a really strong camp. We've tried him at center and right wing, and that's a nice option to have."
When asked if it would be too much to ask Hensick to jump straight from the University of Michigan into the Avalanche's lineup, Quenneville replied: "I look back at Wooly (Wojtek Wolski) ... and then Paul Stastny last year," Quenneville said. "You think he's going to need time in the minors, and then you watch him play and he steps right up to bat."
But by having their own affiliate, the coaches say they'll feel confident no matter where the players land. The Avalanche has shared an affiliate the past two seasons in Albany, but it now feels ready to take control of its destiny in that department.
"When you have success the way this organization did, you have to give up some of your future, and we did that in the past. But, over the last few years, we have rebuilt some of that, and now those players are coming into the system," GM Francois Giguere said. "Now we're ready to accommodate those players. We probably have more depth than we've ever had with our 14th and 15th forward and our eighth or ninth D."