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Avalanche coach Jared Bednar has lots of options, tough decisions ahead after flurry of trades

It was a relatively quiet deadline day for the Colorado Avalanche. The major alterations to the roster were done earlier in the week, and now it’s time for Jared Bednar and his coaching staff to sort it all out.

The Avs did make a minor move — sending Ben Meyers to Anaheim, where he could reunite with his former AHL coach Greg Cronin, for a 2024 fifth-round pick. But general manager Chris MacFarland was very busy earlier in the week, making four trades to acquire a second-line center (Casey Mittelstadt), a defenseman (Sean Walker) to replace Bo Byram, and two depth forwards (Brandon Duhaime and Yakov Trenin).

Toss in Valeri Nichushkin’s return Friday night after missing nearly two months because of a stint in the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program, and the Avs have a bunch of new faces and new options for Bednar to figure out best fits for.

“We’ll have to experiment a little bit, because even your best-laid plans on paper don’t always work out to be the right fit,” Bednar said. “We have ideas with where we want to go with our lineup, but we still have enough games to be able to move guys around a little bit and find some chemistry if need be and find some line combinations that we like so we’re four lines deep. That’s the goal, come playoff time.”

Nichushkin doesn’t count as a deadline-day addition, but his presence in the lineup again should have a huge impact. He had 21 goals in the 29 games before his time away from the team and was a significant factor for the club on both special teams.

The stretch before his absence was arguably the best of his career, and the Avs slumped in all three phases of the game without him.

“It’s just a massive addition because he’s such a good player,” MacFarland said Wednesday. “You put him in and Casey Mittelstadt, and it’s sort of like two-thirds of a second line that we didn’t have in our lineup last week.”

Mittelstadt will start with Nichushkin and Jonathan Drouin as his linemates, but that could and probably will change at some point. Bednar compared Mittelstadt’s skill set to Drouin’s after the trade. Maybe they will mesh immediately, and Nichushkin will benefit from having two of the best passers on the team feeding him for scoring chances.

If not, the Avs can try other combinations. Any two of Nichushkin, Drouin, Mikko Rantanen and Artturi Lehkonen could play with Mittelstadt or Nathan MacKinnon on the top two lines.

There might be more intrigue with the bottom two lines. The Avs added Trenin and Duhaime this week, but also Zach Parise in January, since Nichushkin left the team.

Ross Colton, Logan O’Connor and Miles Wood should be regulars when healthy. That trio could end up together again soon, though O’Connor is currently out with a lower-body injury.

That still leaves Parise — though he’s also day-to-day with a lower-body injury — Trenin, Duhaime, Andrew Cogliano and Joel Kiviranta for three spots. Then there’s Chris Wagner, who’s out with an upper-body injury, and Russian prospect Nikolai Kovalenko, who could arrive soon. And then maybe, eventually, Gabe Landeskog at some point during the playoffs.

For now the injuries make things a little less complicated. But if the Avs do get healthy up front, Bednar is going to have tough decisions to make. It’s also possible that guys who have been here will end up as one of the odd men out some nights.

“Our guys that are here, I know where their hearts are at and that’s digging in to win the Stanley Cup. That’s our goal,” Bednar said. “At different times during the year and in different ways, players are always making sacrifices for what’s best for the team. They’ll do the same now that we have more bodies and guys will have to come in and out of the lineup.”

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