Our Colorado Avalanche 2019-20 Preview is a part of our series covering the entire NHL. Check them out here in the lead up to another exciting season.
It’s an exciting time to be alive if you are a Colorado Avalanche fan. The team is benefiting from some very shrewd moves by General Manager Joe Sakic who has been utilizing their ample cap space to improve their roster and secure their spot in the central. Two years after the trade, the Duchene trade is paying some major dividends. At-the-time trade throw-in defenseman Sam Girard has been playing top line minutes with Erik Johnson, and 2019 first round draft pick Bowen Byram is looking like a great pick. Sakic has been on a roll since that trade. He took advantage of a post-cup cap strapped Washington Capitals team by trading a second round pick for Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik. Colorado was one of the few teams available with the cap space to absorb Orpik’s contract and buy him out, which meant they could get one of the best backups looking for a starter job at a near highway robbery price.
Grubauer has played amazing hockey in Colorado and forced other ex-Capitals netminder Semyon Varlamov out of a starter job and out of town as Varly signed a contract with the Islanders this offseason. Grubauer was instrumental in getting the Avs into playoffs by standing on his head down the stretch in the 2018-2019 season. In Grubi’s last nine starts of the season, he went 7-0-2 with a 1.63 GAA and a .953 save percentage, almost single-handedly willing the team into the postseason. It would have been single-handed, if it weren’t for a little thing called the Avs top line.
Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen combined for one of the best lines in hockey this season. Nathan MacKinnon’s OT winner was one of my favourite goals all playoffs…seriously…watch it here . MacKinnon takes off and splits three defenders, streaks in and then wrists a shot top corner bardown. Nasty. Unreal. Filthy. Nathan MacKinnon made a real case for himself this last season. With 41 goals and 58 assists for 99 points in 82 games, its easy to see him as one of the premier players on the team. What’s even crazier is that the season before, Nate had 97 points in 74 games…is that even legal? His linemate Mikko Rantanen had 31 goals, 56 assists for 87 points this season and Gabe Landeskog had a measly 34 goals, 41 assists for 75 points in 73 games. This top line is crazy. Every single player over a point per game. With all of these guys in or entering their prime, Avalanche fans and any hockey fans for that matter are in for a real treat with these guys playing many more years together. That is when restricted free agent Mikko Rantanen signs with the Avalanche.
The Avalanche’s great season was capped off by offensive d-man Cale Makar making his debut in the postseason. Many were worried that burning a year of his ELC could be a poor move, but I think the consensus now is excitement for Makar to be on the starting roster, and some are even calling him a future Norris winner. He slotted in nicely and looked very comfortable making the jump from College Playoffs to Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Since the atrocious season which lead to the Duchene trade, things have been trending up for the Avalanche, and this off season followed that pattern.
Pierre Edouard Bellmare
Landeskog, MacKinnon and Rantanen all had career years and comprised one of the best lines in hockey for the 2018-2019 season. They were all over a point per game. I think with them all in or entering their prime the Avalanche can count on a high level of production from them all this season. Where the Avalanche struggled last season and where they may fall short again is on secondary scoring.
The bottom 9 can be summarized with:
Carl Soderberg, Alex Kerfoot, Derrick Brassard, Sven Andrighetto, Tyler Pitlick out; Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, Valeri Nichushkin, Pierre Edouard-Bellemare in.
A mountain of a task for coach Bednar is to get some good performances out of two 2013 first round pick underperforming forwards given second chances in Denver. First is Andre Burakovsky who was drafted #23 overall. He is coming in from the Washington Capitals as someone who made some important plays in a successful cup run, most memorably scoring two breakaway goals in game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals. However his development in Washington seemingly plateaued with the winger never beating or tying his point total of 38 from his sophomore season. He has battled injuries and been bumped down the lineup in DC, but he does have a great wrist shot and shows hustle in both ends. Second is Valeri Nichushkin who was a #10 overall pick by the Dallas Stars. This signing is very reminiscent of Nail Yakupov. Very low risk, but if everything goes right, potentially medium reward. Nichushkin was good for 10 assists last season in Dallas, and played the previous two in the KHL after his entry level contract was up with the Stars. He’ll be battling Joonas Donskoi, J.T Compher, and Matt Nieto for minutes on the right wing. It’s fairly easy to see him as the odd man out in the press box. If he pans out great, but if not I expect to see him in the KHL very soon.
The biggest name new to the Avalanche is Nazem Kadri, who comes in at the price of Tyson Barrie and Alex Kerfoot. Barrie and Kerfoot were very important secondary scorers so it’ll be interesting to see if Kadri can live up to the trade. That being said, Kadri will immediately improve the second line centre role. His aggressive style of play will lend itself nicely to forechecking and digging for pucks around the net and boards, which could take some pressure off the first line’s shoulders of having to play at both ends. Additionally, Andre Burakovsky’s style of play could complement Kadri’s nicely and if the two have chemistry they could be two great pieces of a second line.
The loss of Carl Soderberg is important, but the Avalanche did pick up Pierre Edouard-Bellemare and Joonas Donskoi, who will provide some great hustle, checking and defensive play. Donskoi will be a definite improvement on speed on the third line and could provide an interesting linemate to Tyson Jost who will be looking to bump his production up.
The Avalanche also picked up some centre depth by adding Jayson Megna from the caps, who will be able to fill in as 4C.
It would be easy to fall into the trap of seeing Colorado’s defense getting worse this offseason with Barrie being shipped out as part of the Kadri Trade. Samuel Girard has shown that he plays a similar offensive game to Barrie and is still on his Entry Level Contract. He definitely has the potential to shine on the powerplay in Barrie’s spot. Also, Colorado has another ELC d-man who will make his regular season debut, Cale Makar. He showed some great promise in the playoffs and it will be exciting to see what he can do in the regular season. The two young defenseman could get some huge increases in ice time, but we will have to see how Bednar draws up the lines, as the Avalanche also have Nikita Zadorov, Erik Johnson, Ian Cole, Kevin Connauton, and Mark Barberio to consider for all three pairings.
They also added an inbetweener d-man by getting Calle Rosen in the Kadri trade as well.
With Grubauer as the only NHL calibre goalie left in Denver, the starter job is certainly his. This is no surprise considering the season he had with the Avs.
With Varlamov out, the Avalanche could be looking for a backup as they currently only have 29 year old AHL goalie Pavel Francouz and 22 year old SHL goalie Adam Werner on contract. Look for them to pickup an available backup before or part way into the season.
Colorado Avalanche 2019-20 Prediction
2nd-3rd Central Division
The Avalanche have a lot to be thankful for. If the top line and Phillip Grubauer continue their dominance, this team has the potential of winning themselves a divisional playoff seed. With all the recent turnover in the roster, the team will need strong performances on all lines. They can still do exceptionally well if all the new additions have good line chemistry and gel quickly. Forwards will be the real test for the team, as the top line will surely bear the brunt of offensive production. Will the rest of the lineup be able to produce enough to win games? The Avalanche struggled with that last season. Defense will be exciting to watch with Sam Girard getting more minutes with Barrie being dealt away. Cale Makar will slot in and get some valuable regular season experience. The supporting cast of defense seems solid, and will benefit from defensive forward additions of Nazem Kadri, Pierre-Edouard Bellemarre and Joonas Donskoi. The team is on a definite trend upwards and will be a playoff team. This year they won’t have to be a bottom seed, although it did work fairly well for them last year.