Avalanche rookie Alex Newhook, 20, gets Game 1 nod after just six NHL games

Avalanche rookie forward Alex Newhook, 20, began working on his playoff beard in March when playing in the NCAA Tournament for Boston College.

And despite his age, his beard developed nicely and gave him a grizzled veteran look for Monday night’s playoff opener against the St. Louis Blues at Ball Arena.

Newhook has played in just six games for the Avs after beginning his professional career with an eight-game stint with the AHL’s Colorado Eagles. But Avs coach Jared Bednar believes the 2019 first-round draft pick (16th overall) can help the club in Game 1 against the Blues.

“He’s competed hard for us. He’s shown flashes of his skill and his ability to make plays,” Bednar said of Newhook, the 2020 Tim Taylor Award winner as college hockey’s freshman of the year. “He’s a hard-working guy. He’s been pretty good defensively, too, I don’t see any big weaknesses there, so hoping he can continue to elevate his game and continue to get better and develop. So he’s getting in tonight. I just like the way he’s played.”

Newhook, who has three assists and a plus-5 rating, is projected to begin Monday’s game as the left winger on the fourth line. He has played left wing or center on the top three lines during his short stint with the Avs, but veteran left winger Brandon Saad is returning from an 11-game injury absence, and the two-time Stanley Cup champion with Chicago slotted in on the third line.

Newhook’s presence allows the Avs to pull him up to a more defined scoring role if someone is injured or isn’t playing well.

Saad, 28, seems to have a lot in common with Newhook in how they skate, shoot and build.

“He looks good, stepping in, obviously getting a chance to play tonight,” Saad said of Newhook. “It’s an exciting moment for him, and obviously, the organization and coaching staff see that he can bring something to the table. I’ve just seen him from afar. I haven’t got to be around him too much but obviously, he has tremendous talent and he’s playing with confidence. All that goes into it, and getting to play with good players helps. I think he definitely has a great future.”

Newhook is getting the nod on the fourth line Monday ahead of veteran forwards Carl Soderberg, Kiefer Sherwood, Jayson Megna and Liam O’Brien. Sherwood and Megna were the fourth-line wingers in Thursday’s regular-season finale when Saad and first-line center Nathan MacKinnon were scratched to ensure they were 100% for Game 1.

Avalanche projected lineup: 

Forwards

Gabe Landeskog-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen

Andre Burakovsky-Nazem Kadri-Joonas Donskoi

Brandon Saad-Tyson Jost-Valeri Nichushkin

Alex Newhook-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-J.T. Compher

Defensemen

Devon Toews-Cale Makar

Ryan Graves-Sam Girard

Patrik Nemeth-Conor Timmins

Goaltending

Philipp Grubauer, Jonas Johansson

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