Disappointment might not be the right word for it, but Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar has made it clear that he expects to see a lot more from his top forward prospect, Alex Newhook.
Newhook was expected to compete and push for a spot on the team’s second line ahead of training camp, and now with just a week to go before opening night on Oct. 13, it seems all but confirmed that the more veteran Val Nichushkin has already won that spot on the Avs second-line wing.
“I’d say just OK,” Bednar said of Newhook ahead of the team’s third pre-season game on Monday night. “He hasn’t stood out in a big way yet. I think we’ve had some guys that have played really well, but I think he’s a guy that I’ve had a conversation about starting to ramp it up…he’s had a slow start to the camp.”
While Bednar did say he has seen some improvement in Newhook’s game from the rookie camp in Arizona in early September to now, he made it clear that he expects a lot more from the 20-year-old center.
When I spoke with Bednar before Day 1 of training camp, I had asked if Alex Newhook is a guy he could see pushing for a spot to fill that hole on the second-line left by Brandon Saad’s departure. Then, it certainly sounded like he’d be given every opportunity to fill that role.
“I want to give him some opportunities to play in the top-six, to play with guys that can produce offense, and it’ll be up to him if he makes the most of his opportunities,” he said.
So far, it doesn’t seem like he’s met Bednar’s standards this preseason. Not yet at least. Newhook did, however, rebound from his coach’s comments before the game and ending up scoring the lone goal for Colorado in its 3-1 loss to Minnesota‘s veteran lineup.
“I liked him,” Bednar said after the loss. “He was one of our top forwards for sure. He was involved in the game, he was competitive, on pucks…Newy was leading the way.”
Long-term, Alex Newhook is the guy the Avalanche see in their top-six, but it’s important to remember that it takes time to develop, and just because he was rushed into the NHL last year and performed decently, it doesn’t guarantee him a spot on this year’s lineup.
“With some of those young guys, you have to be patient with them and you have to let them grow and play in some of those roles and see if they succeed,” Bednar added of Newhook. “If they do, they can stay in those positions. If they don’t, we’ll likely have to turn the page briefly and go with someone else.”
It seems like a lock that Alex Newhook makes Colorado’s opening night roster, though stranger things have happened. On Monday morning, Bednar said time is running out for a number of guys and more cuts are looming, as the team must basically halve its roster in the next week leading up to opening night.
Bednar added that “tough decisions” are coming and that he, Joe Sakic, Chris MacFarland and Craig Billington meet after practices and games to discuss these roster decisions. There’s no doubt that those four have discussed Newhook’s status.
Do I think Newhook is a guy that’ll be cut? No. But for a guy who was expected to have a breakout camp and go earn a top-six role, has his preseason been a little disappointing? Maybe a little.