There’s a lot to be excited about when you consider the talent within the Colorado Avalanche’s pipeline of prospects, some of whom are skating with the Phase 3 roster at Pepsi Center this week as they each vie for their own hotel suite at the swanky JW Marriott in Edmonton as part of the Avs 31-man bubble roster.
Let’s go down the list. Up top, of course, there’s Bowen Byram, the ultra-promising former fourth-overall pick — who has Avs fans salivating at the thought of being a future top pairing with Cale Makar. Also in attendance is Shane Bowers, another former first-rounder, who just completed his first pro season in the American League and now finds himself sharing the ice with some Avalanche this week (although an errant high stick from Tyson Jost kept him out of a majority of last week’s practices). And then there’s Conor Timmins.
If you don’t admire him for his tangible two-way talent on the ice, his Cinderella, come-back story has built for him a strong contingent of supporters and admirers, both inside the Avs fanbase and outside.
By now, we all know his story — it’s been exhaustively covered by myself and my media cohorts all season long — and as he phrased it to us again earlier this week, “it’s been kind of a tough couple years.”
Perhaps — definitely — that’s putting it a little lightly, but that’s something I’ve come to expect in all my conversations I’ve had with the quieter, reserved 21 year old. The kid’s humbled.
Timmins shocked the hockey world back in October when his talent earned him a spot on the Avs’ final 23-man roster, despite having not played any organized hockey in a year-and-a-half. His NHL experience was cut short, however, after two games when the front office thought it wise to not throw him to the wolves just yet, instead sending him to the Colorado Eagles for a year of pro development and getting his legs back under him.
Now, some nine months later, Timmins finds himself fighting for an NHL roster spot once more on Pepsi Center ice, where his future head coach continues to be impressed by him.
“We’re happy with what we’re seeing here from him,” head coach Jared Bednar said of Timmins in a Zoom call last week. “I think he’s been really good actually. I like his puck-moving ability. I think he’s a real good passer, he’s a real heads-up player, finds a way to move the puck in and out of the zone. I think the things we look at generally…he’s really good.”
At times in practice this past week, Timmins has looked a little shaky and out of sorts. Then again, a lot of players have, and that’s to be expected after four months of quarantine and nearly no ice time.
“I feel pretty comfortable. Obviously everyone’s coming off a pretty long break so there’s good and bad moments for everyone,” Timmins said. “I think I’ve adjusted in the pace as camp has went along and I’m feeling pretty comfortable.”
With 31 players allowed to travel to Edmonton and 35 camp invites during this Phase 3 of the NHL restart, quick arithmetic will tell you that four players won’t make the cut. One of those is an easy choice, as Colin Wilson remains “unfit to practice” and will certainly not travel to the Edmonton bubble as he continues to recover from a nagging injury. That leaves room for a few young guys like Byram and Timmins to fight for a spot on the backend as they hope to not be one of those three odd-men out.
“I know what’s expected of me. I just have to go out there everyday, work hard and play my best. For the first week, it was a good week of camp…I’ve done a little better as camp’s went along and kind of got my legs back under me,” Timmins admitted.
When it comes to the defenseman that coach Bednar will bring with him to Edmonton, you already know his starting six. It’s reasonable to assume he’ll bring an extra two or three D-men with him to shore up his defensive depth should any injuries or illness occur to those six while in Alberta (*knocks on wood*). When the Avs head coach spoke with the media earlier this week, he may have revealed his hand a little when it comes to the defensemen he’s planning on bringing.
“We’re still evaluating…we’re keeping an eye on all the other guys that here too. It starts with Connauton probably with his experience; we know what Barberio has done for us over the past few years,” Bednar said, suggesting them to be the likely seventh and eighth defensemen to tagalong in Edmonton. “But for my staff, we’re looking at guys like Timmins and Byram real closely because we don’t get to see them as often as the other guys.”
And when I asked about Timmins specifically, he said, “He’s definitely a guy that we’re considering taking with us, for sure.”
Bednar also revealed that he and his staff considered adding Conor Timmins to the Avs 23-man roster the year they drafted him 32nd overall in 2017…because he’s just that good.
“A couple years ago as a young player, when he came to play with us in training camp and in exhibition, we had discussions about him playing for our hockey team. That’s how good he was,” Bednar said.
Somewhere between then and now is where Timmins’ story really develops and takes form. From the unfortunate injury during a 2018 OHL Finals game while a member of the Soo Greyhounds, to a year-and-a-half of setbacks, trials and tribulations, the future key member of the Avs D-core is finally coming off his first season of real pro hockey with the Eagles of the AHL.
“Overall, it was a good year for me. It was definitely a learning experience,” said the embattled rookie, before crediting Eagles head coach Greg Cronin as a key figure in his growth this past season.
Coach Bednar also praised the “good reports” he’s gotten on Timmins from the Eagles.
“He’s more confident, he’s bigger, stronger and he’s getting healthy now, so that’s only going to help him. This is an intelligent player who has had success at every level he’s played at and you can see he’s capable of helping our team and making an impact both on the offensive side of things and the defensive side of things…I feel like he’s in a pretty good place and he’s come in here as a confident player and a player that wants to come in and make an impact for our team.”
If the language from coach Bednar is any sort of indication, Timmins is a guy he likes a lot and is perhaps a player he’s leaning towards taking with him to Edmonton. During his most recent media availability last week, Bednar spent a little over a third of his 10 minutes of media time dedicated to talking about Timmins. And that’s certainly saying something.
For Timmins, he’s taking it all in stride, as he’s done with everything thrown his way these past few years. For now, the 21 year old is just happy to be here while sharing some ice time with a few of his future teammates.
“Anytime I can be around the rink and get extra reps in, especially with these guys, it’s great for my development and it’s going to be really cool to be on this run with these guys,” Timmins added.
Only time will tell if Timmins will in fact “be on this run” with the Avalanche in Edmonton. There are, however, certainly some positive indications coming out of camp this first week. It may indeed be Timmins’ time after all.