If you’re an Avs fan who’s penciled in Evan Rodrigues as the guy charged with filling a Nazem-Kadri-sized hole in coach Jared Bednar’s top six, you might want to keep that eraser handy.
“(You) just play your own game,” Rodrigues, who signed a 1-year, $2 million free-agent deal with Colorado on Sept. 12, said during the first day of Avs training camp Thursday.
“You can’t focus on the media, what fans are saying or anything like that. You’ve got to stay in your own head and stay confident … I’m just here to help this team win games. So whatever the coach needs from me on offense, defense, power play, penalty kill — wherever you need to be in the lineup — I’m just here to try to help this team win. I’m keeping it that simple.”
Like the 31-year-old Kadri, who last month landed a seven-year, $49 million contract from Calgary, the 28-year-old Rodrigues is coming off a career-best season. The former Pittsburgh Penguin posted NHL single-season highs in goals (19), assists (24), points (43), power-play goals (seven), games (82) and average ice-time (15:50 per game).
“I’ve always kind of had that mentality that I feel most confident when the puck’s on my stick, and I like having the puck and making plays,” Rodrigues explained. “ And so last year, playing center, playing top-six minutes, getting the puck a lot, it just kind of reinforced that belief that when I have the puck … when I’m playing confident, I can play with the best of them. And I try to continue to have that mentality, because in my head, I fully believe it.
“I know when I’m playing confident, that’s what I’m playing my best hockey.”
Bednar expressed plenty of confidence in his new forward early, pairing him early in the first practice of the day on a line with Alex Newhook and tryout candidate Alex Galchenyuk, another veteran center option with faceoff experience.
“I liked him a lot (Thursday),” Bednar said, grinning when asked about of Rodrigues’ camp debut. “Real good puck poise and patience, (a) smart player with the ability to pass and shoot. I thought he made some nice plays out there, just even in the small area — even at the end, he made some nice plays. (He’s) an elusive guy, got some good deception to his game. So he’s going to be a real nice addition, especially when you’re looking at some of the guys that we may have out of the lineup to start the season.”
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New faces such as Rodrigues could prove critical in the early part of the year for Bednar, who said Thursday that captain Gabe Landeskog “won’t skate anytime soon” because of a lingering lower-body injury sustained late last season.
The coach said the injury could “definitely” delay the start of Landeskog appearing in the 2022-23 regular season, which opens Oct. 13 against Chicago at Ball Arena.
The chance for minutes, especially in the fall, was part of what made the Avs an appealing destination for Rodrigues, whose frame (5-foot-11, 184 pounds), acceleration and stick work are similar to Kadri’s, although he’s not as physical or as defensively well-rounded as the former Avs center.
“No one in this room is going to say, ‘I only want to play 10 minutes (per game).’ They’d be lying to you (if they did),” said Rodrigues, who recorded 30 of his 43 points last season before Jan. 8. “You always want to play the most minutes you can. But you just do what’s asked of you, and at the end of the day, winning is the most important thing. So (if) you help the team win, you’re going to have success.”