The Colorado Avalanche have been steadily edging forward season by season, trusting in a good set of young players and a solid system. Under head coach Jared Bednar’s tutelage, the club has snarled through the standings. In 2017-2018, they finished with 95 points – a full 47 more than the previous outing.
What’s more, the Avalanche used 11 rookies last season and had nine players making their playoff debuts.
Nathan MacKinnon, at 22, is incontestably the leader of this team. He finished last season with a career-high 97 points in 74 games and was second in points-per-game with 1.31. He only had one game without a shot on goal and had six points in six playoff games.
MacKinnon’s line includes Mikko Rantanen, who had 84 points last season, and Gabriel Landeskog. The 21-year-old Rantanen combined with MacKinnon for 51 points, making them the second-best duo in the NHL last year. He also had 35 points on the power play. Landeskog put in a lot of time on the power play last season (3:45 a game, to be exact) and was a beast in the post-season.
Based on pure numbers, it’s impossible to exaggerate how good Colorado’s top line is. And with new focus and a hunger that runs deep, MacKinnon, Rantanen and Landeskog could be more dangerous in 2018-2019.
The second line has potential, but there are question marks at centre.
Tyson Jost and Alexander Kerfoot are the common-sense picks, but some depth charts put Kerfoot on the wing along with Sven Andrighetto. That’s a compelling unit, especially if Carl Soderberg locks down the third line.
Defensively, the Avalanche must keep Erik Johnson healthy. The 30-year-old played a career-high 25:26 per game last season, but he missed 20 contests. In fact, he’s played fewer than 70 games in four of his past six seasons.
Tyson Barrie also missed significant time due to injury, dropping 25 games with a hand injury. He was an impact player, though, and posted 30 points in the final 34 games of the season. Despite missing so much action, Barrie tied for first overall in power play goals among NHL defencemen.
In goal, Colorado has two goalies battling it out for the starting job: Philipp Grubauer and Semyon Varlamov.
Varlamov is heading into the final year of his five-year deal, but he’s missed serious time due to injury over the past four seasons. He missed 18 regular season games last year and didn’t appear in the post-season against the Predators due to a knee injury.
Grubauer is starting a three-year contract and will revel in a chance to take on the starting gig. He served as backup through most of his NHL career and came over from the Washington Capitals in June. He was 15-10-3 last season with a 2.35 goals against average.
Colorado hasn’t been busy in the off-season, but that seems to be working. Joe Sakic’s club has been built as much around moves made as moves not made, with a buyout for Brooks Orpik and a critical decision not to re-sign Nail Yakupov setting the fiscal stage. The Avalanche have over $12 million in cap space to play with and just a few items on the to-do list for next summer.
That, if you ask me, is a pretty good position to be in with the 2018-2019 season pending. And if you’re a Colorado fan, there’s a lot to like about this hockey club.