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Avalanche begins training camp with heralded MacKinnon line intact



Avalanche begins training camp with heralded MacKinnon line intact

Day 1 of on-ice Avalanche training camp identified what coach Jared Bednar and his staff are thinking with forward lines and defensive combinations.

Call it a road map to scoring and defending for a team that is replacing five forwards and defensemen who played in the June 10 season-ending loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in Round 2 of the playoffs.

The lines and pairings are bound to change throughout 2021-22, but it looked familiar at the top Thursday.

The so-called MGM Line (or Money Line?) — center Nathan MacKinnon and wingers Gabe Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen — remained intact. And sans Brandon Saad, who was lost to St. Louis in free agency, five of the top-six forwards from last year remain in the same role.

Bednar said Landeskog and second-line left winger Andre Burakovsky will again be interchangeable, with Landeskog dropping down to play with second-line center Nazem Kadri and Valeri Nichushkin on occasion.

But the plan again is to ride the heralded MGM/Money Line until it fails or Bednar sees a need to tinker.

“I really like what Landy provides to that line, but I also like what he’s able to give Naz, for instance, in support,” Bednar said. “A lot of that, for me, doesn’t just depend on how the top line is playing or the other lines are playing. It’s like if Burky’s playing real well, he’s an obvious fit to go up with Mac and Mikko. If he’s playing real well and their line isn’t doing a lot but he seems dangerous, it’s an easy move to slide him up to the left wing and move Landy down to play with Naz and Nichushkin.

“If anyone else can elevate their game to a point where we feel like they can help Mikko and Mac, we’ll get other options to give us a little more depth.”

MacKinnon and Landeskog, who sat side-by-side at the speaker podium after the first session, are proponents of sticking together with Rantanen.

“We’ve been together for four or five years now (and) today, first day back, there’s no rust, the chemistry is there — it’s easy reading off each other,” MacKinnon said. “It’s a lot of fun. We’re lucky that we have that. I feel like a lot of players on teams have to kind of go through that process but it’s easy for us.”

Added Landeskog, “We know each other very well now and we continue to build off of each other on the ice and, even our chemistry off the ice. We’re all kind of similar in age and I think we complement each other. I think every good line says that about one another but for us, we’re three guys that play a little bit differently, all three of us. But it comes down to hard work and that’s where it starts for us.”

Bednar also came up with the following in the first of four on-ice camp days:

— The third line consists of three natural centers from the NCAA development route — rookie Alex Newhook (Boston College) and Tyson Jost (North Dakota) and J.T. Compher (Michigan). Newhook centered the trio.

— The fourth line has two newcomers, Darren Helm and center Mikhail Maltsev, playing with Logan O’Connor.

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