The Colorado Avalanche will take to 2019-2020 fresh and full of confidence from their impressive 2018-2019 run, which saw them douse the Calgary Flames in five games in the first round of the playoffs. Sure, the Avalanche ran into the San Jose Sharks in the second round and lost in seven. But it was a big push from Colorado, who squeaked into the post-season in the second wild card spot.
And it established the Avalanche as a threat, in large part due to their top line. Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen accounted for a lot of Colorado’s offence last season – especially in the playoffs. In the regular season, the trio scored about 41 percent of the team’s goals.
To deepen the offence, the Avalanche picked up Nazem Kadri. He may have scored just 16 goals last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the 28-year-old did have back-to-back 32-goal seasons prior to that. It looks like Kadri will slip in as a second line centre for the Avs and he’ll have a lot to prove in Denver, which should motivate him.
“I feel like I’m having a great summer so far and I’m feeling really the best I ever have working for redemption [this] season,” Kadri said. “I feel strong, I feel great, and I strongly believe that my best years are yet to come. I think Colorado’s a nice step for me.”
The picture’s pretty clear in terms of offence. The Avalanche scored 260 goals in the regular season last year, putting them 10th overall. MacKinnon is the top draw, with a career-high 99 points in 2018-2019. He’s made some subtle but necessary adjustments to his game. He shot the puck more, for one, and that amounted to a career-high 41 goals as he led the NHL with 365 cracks on the cage.
Rantanen also set career-highs in goals, assists and points last season. He’s sixth overall in power play points over the last two seasons and benefits greatly from his linemates. Unlike MacKinnon, Rantanen’s not shooting the puck an awful lot. He had just 193 in 2018-2019, but he converted for 31 goals and is among the more efficient shooters in the league. Imagine if he generated more attempts.
Landeskog is the third piece of that lethal top unit. He also set career-highs in many offensive categories last season, but there is the smallest hint he could shift lines. Head coach Jared Bednar has implied he’d shuffle the deck in order to produce depth scoring, which means we could see Landeskog on the second line with Kadri.
Kadri should chip in offensively, but it wouldn’t be enough to reproduce the magic of the top line. Bednar’s decision-making will push the newly-acquired centre in one direction or another and it’ll be up to the former Maple Leaf to adjust. Kadri should flourish with more responsibility after dropping in Toronto’s depth chart behind, though, so don’t be surprised if he finds 30 goals in 2019-2020.
The Avalanche play a run-and-gun style with plenty of puck pressure and that sometimes leaves them open for business. Colorado allowed 246 goals against in 2018-2019 and would love to tighten up. They’ve been below average when it comes to defending against high-danger chances and were below average in Corsi For percentage at 49.9 percent last year.
Defensively, the Avalanche prefer to ice a puck-moving team. That’s meant Joe Sakic’s attained a stash of defenders who can move, like Cale Makar, Sam Girard and Bowen Byram. The latter went fourth overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and might just be NHL ready.
Colorado’s resolve on D left them open to trade Tyson Barrie to Toronto, so you know this team is ready to rumble. Ian Cole may not be able to skate until December due to hip surgery, while Erik Johnson isn’t a lock for training camp or the start of the season, but the Avs have faith in their young blood.
Philipp Grubauer is the man in Colorado. He put up a quality 2018-2019, winning the starting gig and the faith of the franchise with a .925 save percentage in the post-season. He charted seven wins and posted a 2.30 goals against average with the heat on, surpassing his career playoff totals by a lot.
Grubauer’s regular season was, paradoxically, below par. With Semyon Varlamov out and on Long Island, Pavel Francouz is in. The 29-year-old has all of 61 minutes of NHL experience, allowing two goals on 35 shots against. Grubauer’s never started more than 33 games in a season, but it’s likely he’ll be asked to start about 55 to 60 this season. That could be an issue.
The Avalanche fixed a few shortcomings in the summer, adding depth scoring and grit with Kadri. This should help them spread out their offensive attack, which in turn gives them more options to push the puck up the ice. While they have to improve defensively and generate more possession, there’s a lot to like about Colorado’s chances.
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