If you’ve been paying attention at Colorado Hockey Now, you’d know that Ondrej Pavel was going to be someone to keep an eye on this season. The Avalanche like his game a lot, and who knows how different things could have been if he didn’t get injured before training camp. That’s in the past, though. He’s here now, and ready to make the most of the opportunity.
“It’s what every hockey player always dreams of,” an excited Pavel said after morning skate. “I’m glad I got this opportunity, and I’ll try to make the most of it. It’s an amazing locker room. They welcomed me well, and I’m just excited to get on the ice today.”
Pavel will have his girlfriend, his girlfriend’s family, and his first billet parents from Iowa in attendance tonight. His parents back home won’t be able to make it, but will do everything they can to watch.
“I hope they got some coffee ready,” he joked. “I heard they might try. I talked to my brothers too, they will try to watch it. It’s obviously going to be very exciting for them and for me as well.”
A lower-body injury during training camp almost derailed Pavel’s season before it even started, but he worked hard to get back to health. After being sent to the Colorado Eagles, he was recalled for one preseason game, and he made the most of it, scoring a shorthanded goal against the Stars.
“It was just a great opportunity that the staff gave me to be able to play in Dallas,” Pavel said. “The experience I gained from that single game will help me tonight.”
Pavel’s area of expertise is the penalty kill. With Jared Bednar sick, assistant coach Nolan Pratt spoke to the media today. He runs the penalty kill for the Avalanche, and knows exactly what to expect from the young forward.
“Checker, right? We’re looking for him with his details on the defensive game,” Pratt said. “He’s done a nice job killing penalties for them down there, and we saw some of that here in training camp. Making sure he’s doing all those things right, and being on the right side of it defensively will be things we’ll look for from him.”
The 23 year old spent the summer in Denver after development camp in early July. That hard work did not go unnoticed with the organization, as Jared Bednar mentioned it multiple times in camp.
Does he feel like all that hard work is starting to pay off?
“Yes, but also, the goal is not to get into the NHL for one game,” Pavel said. “The goal is to stay in the NHL, become a stable NHL player and being at the level to be able to share the ice with these guys. I believe that the work is not done. For me, it’s just the first step, and I hope that I will just keep getting better.”
Pavel will almost certainly take the rookie lap prior to his debut, a tradition for new players in the NHL. What’s his goal?
“Just not toe picking in the corner, I guess,” he joked.
Nolan Pratt on Bowen Byram
With Bednar under the weather, it was a unique opportunity to speak to defensive coach Nolan Pratt. The Avalanche don’t make assistant coaches available to the media, so it was a fun change for one day.
I asked Pratt about Bowen Byram, who I believe is starting to adjust a bit to playing the off-side on the blueline, and how they came to the decision to play him there.
“I think it’s more comfortability for the player, individually,” Pratt said. “Girard has played it before, but I think he prefers to play be on the left side. It’s a little bit new to Bo, but both those guys are so skilled, they’re so great on their edges that they can adapt to any sort of situation you put them in, for the most part.”
Byram is starting to get more involved offensively of late, and has two goals in his last five games.
Pratt can see the improvement after some early season struggles.
“I think his game is starting to go for him,” he said. “He has been better and better as of late, and I think that’s just settling into that right side. It is a different angle, it’s a different view, everything is different for a defenseman on that side, but he’s pretty gifted in those areas. I think we’ll see him continue to perform in that spot.”
The Avalanche and Devils face-off tonight at 8:00 PM MST.