First, some news: Semyon Varlamov,
who has been sidelined with a lower-body injury, looked fine in practice Saturday. Pavel Francouz
has been reassigned to the AHL Colorado Eagles.
Coach Jared Bednar
didn’t speak with the media and will do so Monday morning before the Avalanche heads to Winnipeg to open a five-game trip through Canada. They aren’t practicing Sunday.
The Avalanche ended their six-game losing streak Friday with a 6-1 win against the New York Rangers. Getting 10 power plays didn’t hurt.
The GAME STORY.
It wasn’t much of a deal back in February when the Avalanche acquired Ryan Graves
from the Rangers for Chris Bigras
, a transaction involving a couple of young defensemen whose careers seemed stuck in neutral.
Graves, a fourth-round pick (No. 110) of the Rangers in the 2013 NHL draft, was in his third season with the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack.
Bigras, the Avalanche’s second-round pick (No. 32) in the same draft, was playing for the AHL San Antonio Rampage. In 46 games in parts of two seasons in Colorado, he had a goal and three assists.
While Bigras continues to try and get his career on track in Hartford, Graves has been a revelation with the Avalanche since getting called up Dec. 26 from the Eagles.
It’s a small sample size, but the 6-foot-5, 226-pound Graves has earned the coaching staff’s trust, along with that of his teammates, since making his NHL debut Dec. 27 at Las Vegas.
It’s why, when Graves scored his first goal Friday in the third period against his former organization in fifth NHL game, his teammates looked as happy as he did.
“It’s awesome, he’s been playing really well,” Nathan MacKinnon
said. “He’s really smart, a very smart hockey player. Was so nice to see.”
Said Graves: "Regardless of who we were playing, it’s pretty sweet.”
Graves, 23 (same as Bigras), logged a season best 11:36 in ice time while paired with Patrik Nemeth
, had two shots on goal and was plus-1. Goalie Philipp Grubauer
bailed Graves out a minute before he scored, stopping a Ryan Strome
penalty shot after Graves hooked the Rangers forward to the ice.
Graves wasn’t sure where his career was headed with the Rangers organization or after the trade, but he played well in training camp and got the promotion he was hoping for after Nikita Zadorov
sustained a lower-body injury that has kept him off the ice.
The Avalanche previously called up Mark Alt
and Anton Lindholm
, who played two games each before being reassigned to the Eagles.
“It’s been my dream to play in the NHL, so I’m thankful for the opportunity and I’m just trying to make the most if it,” said Graves, who is from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. “It’s been a nice experience for me and I hope I can continue to contribute.
“I came into the American League at 20 and this is my fourth year pro, so you never know when you’re going to get your chance. I was just hoping to get a chance. New York had a lot of prospects, they drafted and traded for some guys. That’s the business side of things, so I was happy to move here. I was enjoying my time in Loveland and I’m thankful for the opportunity to come up here and get a chance.”
Sometimes a new start can be beneficial.
“I really enjoyed my time with New York and I’m sure (Bigras) will too,” Graves said. “They’re first class, they treat everyone great, so I hope it works out for both of us.”
Graves is getting limited minutes, averaging 9:58 after Friday. He’s plus-3 and playing a steady brand of hockey. Nothing wrong with that as part of a third pairing.
“The game is a lot faster, but so are the guys you are playing with,” he said. “The game’s less scrambly, your support’s better, guys talk better and there are some really good veterans helping out.
"There’s a big adjustment, but for me it’s just been keeping it simple, moving the puck quick, using my size to my advantage, moving my feet, being physical and just sticking to the game that brings me success. Moving pucks, playing well defensively and trying to be reliable.”