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Q&A: Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar

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Training camps open in about a month’s time, which means it’s time for coaches around the NHL to really ramp up preparation for the new season. Some coaches have a lot of work ahead of them to try and turnaround poor seasons. For Jared Bednar, he’s hoping to build off of the success that his Colorado Avalanche had in 2017-18, improving by 47 points and returning to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2014.

After being at the NHL Draft in Dallas and going through the start of the free agency period and development camp, Bednar was able to get away for some vacation before turning full focus on the 2018-19 campaign.

“For me, I like to stick around at the end of the year, do a bunch of review and take a look at some things and get my plan together,” Bednar told Pro Hockey Talk on Thursday during his drive from South Carolina to Denver. “Then you get a little bit of time away and you go to the draft and we do our development camp following the draft, so that’s a good week of getting to know some of our new players, but also your coaching staff is all there and the schedule comes out around that time and you can put together training camp schedules and get a lot of that type of work done. And then it’s nice to take a breather and get away from the game for a little bit.”

Bednar is entering his third season as head coach of the Avalanche. Year one, which he described as “horrible,” saw him hired in late August after Patrick Roy’s abrupt resignation, something that affected preparation for that season. But year two was much better with a playoff berth and great seasons from Nathan MacKinnon, who was a Hart Trophy finalist, and Mikko Rantanen. He was rewarded by getting a trip to Las Vegas in June as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award.

We spoke with Bednar about his growth as a head coach, the plan for his two goalies and his brief time playing in Roller Hockey International with the Anaheim Bullfrogs.

Enjoy.

PHT: How have you seen yourself change in the 10 years since your first professional head coaching job?

BEDNAR: “Well, there’s a lot of ways, I think. I’m more patient now. The experience that you have. I believe I trust my players more now than I did when I first started coaching. Try not to worry as much. I always felt like the preparation was the key to success and still is. A lot of things have stayed the same but I would say I’m a little bit easier to deal with and less riding the roller coaster… Probably a little more calm now than I was as a younger coach.”

PHT: Is there more delegation on your part now?

BEDNAR: “Absolutely. Part of that’s the level of which you coach. In the ECHL you wear so many different hats and your staff is small. I was alone for my first year and then added an assistant my second year, so you’re kind of doing everything hockey related and [also] GM duties and just the things you need to get done for your players. A lot of interaction with your guys at that level, which is nice. But your staff is small so you’re kind of overworked and you have to be real good with your time down there, which is a good thing to learn because it seems like I’m back to that at the NHL level as well.

“You have to really manage your time because you get pulled in so many different directions as a head coach that you have to rely on other people. We’ve got a great staff. My staff has been amazing and they’re all very good at what they do. It’s kind of the more detailed work the higher you go and the bigger the staff you need and more attention you try and give your players, especially nowadays. Players like the back and forth with the coaches, a lot of communication, so it’s real important you have a good staff and a big staff.”

PHT: You’ve won a Kelly Cup (ECHL). You’ve won a Calder Cup (AHL). Was there a trait that those two teams shared and do you see that in this current Avalanche roster?

BEDNAR: “Yes. The leadership both times that I’ve won with was outstanding, and not just coaches. Our players taking over our room and the character of our leadership and the hunger, the willingness to come out and do things right every day… Those teams had it and they were hungry for more. The desire to win was deep and it started with our captain, Ryan Craig in Cleveland, Jaime Sifers, guys like that that kind of forced our team to have this daily mentality that we were going to get better and pay attention to the process.

“I saw it a lot last year in our group. The hunger that we had coming into the season after a horrible first year with me at the helm, I saw our leadership get passed to our young core, our star players, and they were focused and driven and resilient. They got along with each other. Our room was really tight and I think you have to have that in order to win. We still have a lot of work to do, but those are the things that lead you in the right direction and eventually will push you over the top. Hopefully we can continue to grow in those areas. But that’s the main thing, is that leadership and focus and determination that we had.”

PHT: How do you and your staff keep the complacency out after a season that saw huge strides?

BEDNAR: “We’ve talked with our guys, even during the off-season. The hunger has to be there again from our players, from our coaching staff, and I believe it is. Our division, our conference, I think is more competitive than ever and everyone’s building and adding and trying to get better and we’re no different. It comes down to the character of our players wanting to be coached, wanting to be pushed and willing to go the extra mile in order to get it done. We’ve got a talented group. We’re trying to fill in pieces around our core to make our team better. From my conversations with our guys they’re hungry, they want more. They had a taste of it last year and I think we’ve added some nice pieces in there, too.”

“It’ll be a little bit of a different feel this year, but I know that our key guys are hungry for more. Adding players to our roster like Philipp Grubauer, who just won a Stanley Cup; Ian Cole’s won a couple Cups. Having guys that have been through it before and that were able to achieve and win the Stanley Cup are great additions to our team, along with a guy like Matty Calvert, who’s hungry and comes over from the Columbus organization.”

PHT: If Semyon Varlamov shows he’s 100 percent healthy and with Philipp now in the fold, do you have a percentage split in mind for both guys this season?

BEDNAR: “It’s hard to say. I think there’s been some inconsistencies in Varly’s game because of his injury history over the last couple of years, right? We eased him into the season a little bit last year to make sure that he was feeling confident in himself and that he was feeling right, and it worked out. He had a tough break at the end because there’s a collision and he hurts his MCL. I don’t think that you can prevent that as a goalie. He’s there to make the save. It’s not something that was tied to his previous injury. 

“We need Varly to stay healthy and when he’s been healthy, especially last year, as he started to play midseason and go he’s proven that he’s a No. 1. Now you have a guy like Philipp Grubauer coming in and he’s hungry to be a No. 1, he’s pushing to be a No. 1. Certainly last year he took over the net at times in Washington. But at the end of the day it made him a better goalie and it made Braden Holtby a better goalie and he ends up going in and winning them the Stanley Cup. We want the best out of both of these guys and we’ll ride the hot goalie at times, but I’d like to see Varly stay healthy and be able to regain his form because I think he’s trending that way and it’s going to be a matter of health for him. I know he’s one of our hardest working guys and a real hungry guy and I feel like Philipp Grubauer is hungry to prove that he’s a No. 1 as well.”

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PHT: Nathan MacKinnon received a lot of attention last season and deservedly so, but Mikko Rantanen had a tremendous year playing alongside him. What kind of kid is he and how has it been to coach him?

BEDNAR: “First off, their success goes hand in hand. They play on the same line, the same power play, the majority of their ice time they’re on the ice at the same time. They got a great chemistry, they complement one another. Mikko is a really nice kid, had a breakout season. He’s a hard-working guy in the off-season and also during the season. I think he’s just scratching the surface of his potential. He’s still a young player, both age-wise and from an experience standpoint in the league. I think that he has another level that he can get to, we’re going to try to push him to that level here this year as a coaching staff and demand more of him. He can still become more consistent. But he’s a real receptive guy. He’s a highly-intelligent, highly-skilled player and he’s got great size and strength, too. Sky’s the limit for Mikko…

“Certainly, Gabriel Landeskog is part of that line and can’t be overlooked because they all play a different game but they find a way to complement one another and there’s a chemistry there that I’d like to see them continue to grow as a line. Last year, just being the first step, they can continue to improve as individuals and as a line, to be honest.”

PHT: Obviously playing with Nate and Gabe helped him a lot with the point jump in year two, but what areas did you see Mikko take major strides in last season? Was it a matter of playing with those two guys and just another year of experience or was there more?

BEDNAR: “I think there’s more. There’s certainly a comfort level there with Nate and Gabe. I think knowing the league, knowing his opponents, pushing himself to be a difference-maker every night and getting more consistent in year two. [He] was healthy to start the season, he got dinged up his first year and it gave him a little bit of a slow start, so he was out of the gates right away playing well. I also think that their success, you have to give their teammates some credit, too. We had some depth. We had a checking line with [Carl] Soderberg, [Blake] Comeau and [Matt] Nieto that freed those guys up to play in more offensive situations. I felt like the year before they were doing a lot of the heavy lifting defensively and still we had to try and rely on them to create offense. Last year a lot of the responsibility was split because of the depth we had. We had some secondary scoring with guys coming in like [Alex] Kerfloot and [J.T.] Compher and [Tyson] Jost. It’s also there’s a team perspective to their success as well.”

PHT: Finally, you’re one of a handful of people in the NHL with a tie to Roller Hockey International. How did that opportunity [six games with the Anaheim Bullfrogs in 1995] come up and did the ankle injury prevent you from playing again the following summer?

BEDNAR: “I was playing in the ECHL in Huntington [West Virginia] and Grant Sonier got hired as our coach and we got talking. They invited me out to go play. A lot of ECHL players were doing that. It was a way to stay in shape, to keep training. Heading out to the west coast in LA or Anaheim seemed like a fun idea. Enjoy the beach and train and continue working at hockey and then getting paid for the summer instead of going back home and getting a construction job or something, it was a way to keep training and continue to live like you would during the season and just put more into your training. That seemed like a no-brainer for me and [I] went out there and had a great time, met some great people. I did end up getting hurt, jamming my ankle into the boards and breaking it, so I spent a little time in a cast which set me back but it was just a risk that you take in order to try and continue to get better as a player and be able to train for the summer when you need to make some money and work. 

“I enjoyed it. I just decided not to go back. Because of the injury I was a little bit leery of competing all summer long again when I could put a little bit more time into my training, which it turned out to be a good decision.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Building off a breakthrough: Matt Dumba

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Minnesota Wild.

Coming into last season, Matt Dumba already established himself as a pretty nice NHL defenseman.

[Looking back at 2017-18]

Considering how inexact a science drafting can be, the Wild had to set out a sigh of relief that the seventh pick of the 2012 NHL Draft was paying at least some dividends. Even so, the 2017-18 season really put Dumba’s skills on display.

For the third season in a row, Dumba hit the 10+ goal mark, generating a career-high 14. He also achieved a new peak in points, seeing a big jump from 34 points in 2016-17 to 50 in 2017-18. Dumba’s 50 points ranked 19th among defensemen – more than Dustin Byfuglien and Dougie Hamilton – while his 14 goals tied him for 10th at the position.

Really, Dumba presented upgrades across the board.

He already saw increases in ice time (16:50 TOI in 2015-16 to 20:20 in 2016-17), yet this past season really showed just how prominent Dumba’s become for Minnesota, as he logged 23:49 minutes per game. With Ryan Suter sidelined during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Dumba shouldered an even larger burden, averaging just under 27 minutes per game as the Wild fell to the Jets in five contests.

After signing his new five-year, $30M contract, Dumba spoke of even greater growth going forward.

“I look back at my personal growth over the season and I want that to just be the start,” Dumba said in July, via NHL.com. “I think I started the year a little slow, to be honest, and if I can play at the pace I was down the stretch the entire season, I think, I hope, I’m just scratching the surface.”

In that same NHL.com article, you can see new Wild GM Paul Fenton discuss the elite company Dumba is joining from an offensive standpoint.

There’s a lot to love about Dumba’s game already, and he’s probably worth fighting through whatever flaws he has in his game. Still, if he wants to break through from very good to truly elite, becoming more effective in his own end could be key.

You can see big areas of improvement from 2016-17 to 2017-18 in deployment and production via Bill Comeau’s SKATR comparison tool, yet some of the finer defensive points still need some work.

Now, it’s unfair to argue that Dumba didn’t make any strides in his all-around game. While his possession stats seem underwhelming, he went from receiving cushy offensive-zone starts to carrying a fairly heavy defensive workload, so keeping his possession stats at more or less the same level is reasonably promising.

In a lot of ways, the Wild’s outlook feels a little glum going into 2018-19.

The aging curve (or just injuries?) seems to have hit Zach Parise pretty hard, and considering the way Ryan Suter’s season ended, his huge minutes might be taking their toll. Spending big money but failing to get to that next level in the postseason cost Chuck Fletcher his job, and the Central Division only seemed to get grizzlier this summer.

Seeing significant improvements from Dumba and Jason Zucker soothes some of those wounds in Minnesota. If we’ve seen their peaks, they already represent very useful players. The Wild might need even more from them if they really want to leap over the many hurdles in the West, though.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

It’s Minnesota Wild day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Minnesota Wild.

2017-18

45-26-11, 101 pts. (3rd in the Central Division; 4th in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost 4-1 vs. Winnipeg Jets, first round

IN:

Eric Fehr
Greg Pateryn
J.T. Brown
Matt Hendricks
Matt Bartkowski
Andrew Hammond
Matt Read

OUT:

Matt Cullen
Kyle Quincey
Daniel Winnik

RE-SIGNED: 

Jason Zucker
Matt Dumba
Nick Seeler

Another year, another disappointing end result for the Wild, who were bounced in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Winnipeg Jets. Unlike in 2017 when they faced the Blues in the opening round, Minnesota was never expected to take down the high-flying Jets, and they didn’t.

The Wild finished with the 2017-18 regular season as the eighth best team in the NHL, which was somewhat impressive considering they had to overcome injuries to Charlie Coyle, Jared Spurgeon, Nino Niederreiter and Zach Parise.

They managed to survive thanks to productive seasons from Eric Staal (42 goals, 76 points in 82 games), Mikael Granlund (21 goals, 67 points in 77 games), Jason Zucker (33 goals, 64 points in 82 games), Matthew Dumba (14 goals, 50 points in 82 games) and goaltender Devan Dubnyk.

Unfortunately for them, the one injury they couldn’t overcome was the one to defenseman Ryan Suter‘s fractured ankle. Suter ended up missing the end of the regular season and the playoffs. The 33-year-old was their leader on the blue line. He put up six goals and 51 points in 78 contests. That was a tough break.

The Wild added a whole bunch of bodies this off-season, but none of their acquisitions are core pieces, which means it’ll be the same group that will be relied upon to create offense for this team. They could stand to get some more production from guys like Parise, Coyle and Mikko Koivu if they’re going to be taken seriously in the Western Conference.

Also, Dubnyk will have to continue turning in solid performances between the pipes. The 32-year-old has been rock-solid since joining the Wild three seasons ago. He owned a 35-16-7 record with a 2.52 goals-against-average and a .918 save percentage in 2017-18. When he’s on his game, the Wild are a better team.

Minnesota has some talented youth in their pipeline, but you’d have to think that they’ll need to make a playoff run soon with the veterans that are currently on their roster. Are they good enough to do that? So far the answer is no, but things change in a hurry in the NHL.

Prospect Pool: 

Jordan Greenway, W, 21, Boston University – 2015 second-round pick

Greenway got his first taste of NHL action last season when he suited up in six games during the regular season and five move in the playoffs. He recorded just one assist during the season and a goal and an assist in the playoffs. Greenway is a hulking power forward with offensive upside, which is a rare. He finished his collegiate career by collecting 35 points in 36 games at Boston University in 2017-18, and he has a real chance of cracking Minnesota’s lineup this season.

• Kirill Kaprizov, W, 21, CSKA Moscow – 2015 fifth-round pick

Since being a late-round draft pick, Kaprizov has turned heads in the KHL. He picked up 42 points in 49 games with Ufa Salavat Yulayev in 2016-17 and 40 points in 46 games with CSKA Moscow last season. Kaprizov is loaded with offensive upside. He’s got great hands, awesome puck skills and an ability to find the back of the net consistently. The biggest problem with him right now, is that he has two years remaining on his KHL contract, which means he’s still not close to North America.

Luke Kunin, C, 20, Iowa Wild – 2016 first-round pick

Kunin made the leap from the University of Wisconsin to the professional ranks last season. He collected 10 goals and nine assists in 36 games in the AHL and two goals and two assists in 19 games in the NHL. Unfortunately for Kunin, he tore his ACL late in the season, which led to him having surgery in April.

“I’m feeling good,” Kunin told the Pioneer Press in July. “I’ve been able to get into my strength training as I would’ve if I wasn’t hurt, so that’s been nice. As far as the injury is concerned, the doctors are really happy with how everything has been going so far.”

Kunin’s been an offensive-minded player at every level. He has enough upside to become a top-six forward at the next level.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

PHT Morning Skate: Sekera out with torn achilles; Letestu gets Panthers tryout

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Philipp Grubauer spent part of his day with the Stanley Cup making friends in the German mountains. [Keeper of the Cup / Twitter]

• The Edmonton Oilers announced on Tuesday that defenseman Andrej Sekera suffered a torn achilles tendon during off-season training and underwent surgery. He is out indefinitely. [Oilers]

• Mark Letestu is heading to Florida Panthers camp on a PTO. [Panthers]

• The NHL preseason begins Sept. 15. [NHL.com]

• Following shoulder surgery, Zach Werenski plans to be in the Columbus Blue Jackets’ lineup on opening night. [Blue Jackets]

• Wysh updates our old “Mount Puckmore” Puck Daddy summer series for 2018. What four faces should represent your favorite team? [ESPN]

• Can Alex DeBrincat end next season as the Chicago Blackhawks’ leading goal scorer once again? [Blackhawk Up]

• How ‘tanking accidentally’ is the wrong way to tank. [Yahoo]

• Ben Meisner’s story is tough to read, but is an important one. [The Players’ Tribune]

Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois could play themselves into the “one of the best lines in the NHL” argument, pending they stay together, of course. [1st Ohio Battery]

• How will Brad Treliving fit both Matthew Tkachuk and Noah Hanifin under the Calgary Flames’ 2019-20 salary cap? [Flames Nation]

Nathan Walker has done a lot in introducing the world to hockey in Australia. [Last Word on Hockey]

• The Vegas Golden Knights are being very aggressive about protecting their logos and marks. [Review Journal]

• It’s not just NHLers putting in the work during Minnesota’s “Da Beauty League” this summer. Minor leaguers are making their mark as well. [The Sin Bin]

• The Washington Capitals retiring Peter Bondra’s No. 12 is long overdue. [DC Puck Drop]

• The 2018-19 NHL season could be the end of the line for these five players. [Featurd]

• Finally, Victor Hedman lands at No. 1 on NHL Network’s list of the top NHL defensemen:

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Three questions facing Los Angeles Kings

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Los Angeles Kings.

Want more on the Kings? Check these posts out:

[Looking back at 2017-18 | Building off a breakthrough | Under Pressure]

 1. Can Jonathan Quick do it again?

After a tough 2016-17 campaign where he was limited to just 17 games played, Jonathan Quick produced a very nice 2017-18 season. It was one of the American netminder’s best in the NHL; while his 33-28-3 record didn’t blow anyone away, Quick generated a nice .921 save percentage.

Such work was especially notable because, after hogging the puck under Darryl Sutter, the Kings opened things up – by their standards – thus making life a little tougher on their goalies. They were middle-of-the-pack in high-danger chances allowed (according to Natural Stat Trick), for instance. This isn’t to say that they turned into Swiss cheese, yet there was a give-and-take, and Quick handled the change well.

Can he do it again in 2018-19? And if he cannot – or if Quick gets hurt – will the Kings crumble?

For much of last season, the Kings enjoyed strong backup work from Darcy Kuemper, but the team traded him to Arizona before the deadline.

It’s plausible that there could be a bigger drop-off from Quick to everyone else, then.

If nothing else, though, the Kings have options behind him. Jack Campbell showed some of that first-round promise, albeit in a small sample size, so he might help here and there in a pinch. The Kings also brought back Peter Budaj. On one hand, the journeyman goalie is already 35. On the other, he’s not that far removed from success with Los Angeles, as he surprised with a .917 save percentage over 53 games in 2016-17.

2. Will veterans deliver or hit the wall?

Quick, 32, isn’t the only Kings player who’s accrued a lot of mileage, yet will be counted upon to carry them down the road in 2018-19.

Drew Doughty is still in his prime at 28, but any sign of decay would provide some concern with that eight-year, $88M extension not even kicking in until 2019-20.

Jeff Carter, Dion Phaneuf, and Dustin Brown are all 33. Anze Kopitar is 30, while we discussed the risk-reward scenario regarding 35-year-old addition Ilya Kovalchuk here. Alec Martinez is 31, and even Jake Muzzin could lose a step at 29.

The margin between victory and defeat can be pretty small in sports, so even moderate slippage can be a concern for the Kings.

3. More days of the new?

The Kings picked up the pace last season, and they also saw some young players emerge. Head coach John Stevens must continue to strive for the ideal balance between putting veterans in a position to continue to succeed, allowing young players to thrive, and adapting the team’s structure to be more modern than what was seen under Darryl Sutter.

(After all, it would be silly to throw out everything Sutter put in place, considering how effective the Kings previously were at hogging the puck.)

When it comes to seeing youthful talent ascend, some of that may come down to giving more ice time to someone like Adrian Kempe.

Training camp could also be crucial for the growth of Gabriel Vilardi, an intriguing forward who slipped – slightly – to the Kings at the 11th pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.

“Gabe, he’s got a big presence out there,” Kings front office member Mike O’Connell said, via NHL.com’s Dan Greenspan. “He sees the ice really well. He finds his teammates. He’s going to be a tough guy to stop. He still has work to do, as most players do when they first start, but it looks good. It’s a good foundation. I think he should fit right in.”

If the Kings can integrate Vilardi into the lineup, then they may finally get some supporting scoring to go with what has frequently been a top-heavy offensive approach. An injection of young talent could go from a nice luxury to a bare necessity if question 2 doesn’t work out so well for the Kings, too.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.