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Frei: Pressed into duty at forward, Jacob MacDonald didn’t look out of place

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Photo by Terry Frei

During his journeyman minor-league playing career, Jared Bednar predominantly was a rough-and-tumble ECHL defenseman revered for having his teammates’ backs with the South Carolina Stingrays.

Both with the Charleston-based Stingrays and in short stints in the AHL and IHL, Bednar frequently was asked to step up and play forward — whether because of injuries or a coach’s desire to let Bednar solidify his niche by proving his versatility.

So on Friday after practice at Family Sports Center, I asked the Avalanche coach about that.

What kind of mindset does that swingman role require?

“You like to know early what position you’re playing,” Bednar responded. “Then you can kind of focus on that job through your meetings. So you’re getting real clear on what the assignments are, and then the more you do it, it becomes easier. If you’re going to play D for a couple of months and jump up to a forward position, sometimes it can take you a little bit to get comfortable because things start happening quicker in different areas of the ice playing forward.

“For a guy like Jake who’s been a D his whole career, going back to the back end is probably a little bit easier than just jumping up to forward, which is partly why it’s so impressive that he did that last night.”

“Jake,” of course is Jacob MacDonald, a defenseman-by-trade called up from the AHL Eagles this week and dropped onto the fourth line for the 4-3 win over the Blues in St. Louis. That came after winger Mikko Rantanen was unable to go, even after going through the morning skate. And the emergency adjustment against the Blues was MacDonald becoming a winger.

The Oregon native and former Cornell Big Red defenseman got Bednar’s attention, playing 10:47 energy minutes on the line with Jayson Megna and Darren Helm. And Bednar indicated MacDonald will be back at wing against the Wild Saturday night at Ball Arena.

“He came up as a defenseman,” Bednar said. “But he’s been a swing guy and he played really well for the Eagles last year at forward. (He was) one of their best forwards for a long stretch and talking with (Eagles coach Greg Cronin), you can see why. He can skate, he’s got good skill, sees the ice. I really liked that line last night. They put the work first and they made it tough on St. Louis and had a lot of O-zone time. . . I think Jake had four scoring chances last night and drew a penalty with speed going outside on the one. Big-time positive impact for our team.”

MacDonald, 28, played 33 games with the Avalanche last season, and a total of 60 with the Eagles since coming to the organization from Florida in a June 2019 trade. He said he played “10-ish” games at forward for the Eagles 2019-20.

It’s only one game, of course, but could demonstrating his versatility on the NHL level help him stick around?

“I played forward the first eight or 10 years of my life,” he said of his childhood in the Portland area. “It’s there in the roots a little bit, but it’s been a while. I played it a little bit a couple of years ago with the Eagles, so I’ve got a little bit of experience in that department. Being able to go out and play two different positions is obviously good and it’s a lot of fun for me to be able to try and learn something new, too, at the same time.”

Superstreak Bonus!

I asked him whether Bednar’s swingman experience had come up in discussions with his coach about the role.

“We had talked about it a little bit in the past and not so much, just a little bit leading up to the game,” MacDonald said. “I didn’t know that he had done that, so it’s good to know.”

He said moving up to forward involves making “sure you’re locked in to your position within the structure and not going rogue and doing your own thing.”

He joked, “I want to play games. I’d rather play any position. I told ’em, just don’t play me at goalie and we’re good.”

When he was 12, MacDonald moved from Oregon to Michigan. “I’d been playing hockey for about seven years,” he said. “I started when I was 5. I played a little bit in Vancouver, B.C. as well. We’d drive back and forth from Vancouver to Portland, go up there for spring seasons and on the weekends.”

Once in Michigan, he played for the Compuware midget program, then moved on to Waterloo in the USHL and then to Cornell. Since finishing a full four-year career at Cornell in 2015, he has been mostly an AHL and ECHL D-man, but the game against the Wild will be his 37th in the NHL.

“Any way that I can come in and help benefit the team is what I’m trying to do,” MacDonald said.

NOTES:  Rantanen didn’t practice Friday (lower-body injury) and Bednar said he likely was day to day, not week to week. He definitely won’t play against Minnesota  . . . Samuel Girard, who has missed two games after taking the hit from Steven Stamkos against Tampa Bay last week, practiced Friday. Bednar said that unless he developed issues after coming off the ice Friday, he would play against the Wild. . . Defenseman Devon Toews, who hasn’t yet played this season because of offseason shoulder surgery, again practiced in full-contact black on Friday. Bednar said the target for his return is one of the two games against Columbus next week — Wednesday at home and Saturday at Columbus.

 

Terry Frei (terry@terryfrei.com) is a Denver-based author and journalist. He has been named a state’s sports writer of the year seven times in peer voting — four times in Colorado and three times in Oregon. His seven books include the novels “Olympic Affair” and “The Witch’s Season.” Among his five non-fiction works are “Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming,” “Third Down and a War to Go,” “March 1939: Before the Madness,” and “’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age.” He also collaborated with Adrian Dater on “Save By Roy,” was a long-time vice president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and has covered the hockey Rockies, Avalanche and the NHL at-large. His web site is www.terryfrei.com and his bio is available at www.terryfrei.com/bio.html

His Colorado Hockey Now column archive can be accessed here.

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John Mauss

Good story, Terry. Don’t think many of us knew Bednar’s history playing both ways. I thought McD looked excellent last night, period–not just as a converted D-man. He has speed and talent as well as adding some physicality that we really need. This will give us a little more depth at forward. If our D-men stay healthy he isn’t likely to play much, so this a win for him and the team. Nice to get a pleasant surprise for a change.

ricoflashback

MacDonald didn’t look out of place. He fits like a glove. He’s a high energy player like O’Connor. And being a former defenseman, it helps tighten up the Avs checking and pressure defense. I’m a huge proponent of hybrid players like this. I’ve suggested it before for Sam Girard who can skate and create on offense but is a physical liability with his back to the play below the Avs blue line. Girard would double his point total if they used him as a forward. And, near the end of a game with a one goal lead, play both MacDonald… Read more »

Yan Girard

MacDonald and Girard are cases completely different. First, MaDonald is 28 years old and Girard is 23 years old. MacDonald has difficulties of entering in NHL while Girard is already in the best NHL defensemen at only 23 YEARS OLD. In the hockey junior, Girard was in the best Canada defensemen. Girard played all his junior career and NHL career as defenseman. You say that Girard would double his points total if he played as forward. The last years, Girard was at pace of 55 points in 82 games. This means that Girard would collect 110 points in 82 games… Read more »

ricoflashback

Sam Girard is not an elite defenseman and will never be. End of story.

Yan Girard

Girard isn’t an elite defenseman but is an elite forward. End of your story.

ricoflashback

Sam Girard could be a decent and maybe a good forward. But never, ever, an elite defenseman. Average, at best. I’d dump him in a New York second. Enough of pee-wee hockey. Either Sakic will realize this or his successor will.

Yan Girard

Last year, Girard was 15th for the points per game (despite that he doesn’t play on the first unit powerplay) with 0.67 P/G, was 27th in the time on ice with 23:13 minutes and 30th in the plus-minus +15 in comparison with the defensemen that play at less 30 games. Can you name a single defenseman that was at a pace of 55 points in 82 games the last season without plays on the first unit powerplay? Thank you. Assume that Girard is 30th in these important statistics (Girard excels in many other statistics), 31 teams in NHL for a… Read more »

Yan Girard

Last year, Girard was 15th for the points per game (despite that he doesn’t play on the first unit powerplay) with 0.67 P/G, was 27th in the time on ice with 23:13 minutes and 30th in the plus-minus +15 in comparison with the defensemen that play at less 30 games. Can you name a single defenseman that was at a pace of 55 points in 82 games the last season without play on the first unit powerplay? Thank you. Assume that Girard is 30th in these important statistics (Girard excels in many other statistics), 31 teams in NHL (last year)… Read more »

Last edited 1 year ago by Alexander A.
ricoflashback

The Avs chances of winning are better without Sam Girard – especially come playoff time. The more he is out, the better the Avs will play. Take your statistics and throw them out the window. Better yet, play on those statistics and trade him to some team who values small puck hockey and create cap room to sign a scoring forward. Better on defense, bigger, more physical without circles Sammy and obtain a replacement for Donskoi & Saad.

Yan Girard

Where were Donskoi and Saad in playoffs against Vegas? Where was all the team in this serie? You replace Girard by another defenseman in the serie against Vegas of the last year and we get the same result. The team didn’t simply perform. The problem of last year was a lot more deep that the presence or not of a single player. The Avs has already done the demonstration that it may not perfom without Girard. In this way, the Avs don’t need Girard not to perform. It’s easy to say that the chances are better with or without a… Read more »

Last edited 1 year ago by Alexander A.
ricoflashback

I have no room on my roster for an undersized defenseman that can’t play defense.

Yan Girard

I have no room on my roster for McDavid who never passed the second round of the playoffs and who passed just once in career the first round in the playoffs. Stupid comment, stupid answer.

Matt Briggle

I thought he was great at wing last night. He was skating good, really hard on the forecheck, tenacious on the puck, and overall a positive impact on the game. If he can repeat that performance again on Saturday he will probably be close to earning a full time NHL job just because of that versatility and salary cap.

colorado_gary

Guys like Jake and LOC are going to give you maximum effort every shift. Last night the whole team played that way, which needs to continue. I really liked McDonald at forward. I hope he sticks. I have been impressed with his motor, level of skill, and innovativeness and quick-thinking. Heck, I thought he did a great job at Defense last year!

Joshua Canfield

Agreed. Even though OC hasn’t lit up the score sheet, he’s looked like one of the better forwards for the Avs through the first 6 games. He definitely has earned being bumped up in the lineup.

As for MacDonald; I really like him. He has a lot of potential and I thought he was good last year. Even with just a small sample size.

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