Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2015-16, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Makes sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our collective LWOS 2015-16 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today we continue the series with the Colorado Avalanche.
Puck Drop Preview: 2015-16 Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche took everyone by surprise in the 2013-14 season, finishing first in the Central Division. Doing that with the young core group of players they had, the expectation was that they would build off of that in the 2014-15 season, but that was far from what happened. They struggled, and struggled early.
The season began with the Avalanche only winning one out of their first seven games, not the kind of start you’d expect of them. They continued to struggle for the next few months, with their record being under .500 by the end of the calendar year. However, they were able to go on a run that would put themselves within striking distance of a playoff spot, but that came and went quickly, as they found themselves far back of a wildcard spot by the trade deadline. If they didn’t dig themselves into a hole early on, they very well could have made the post season.
Nathan MacKinnon suffered from the sophomore slump, going from 0.77 points-per-game in his first year to 0.59. Many of the forwards showed regression, including Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, and Ryan O’Reilly. They also lost Jamie McGinn for most of the year due to injury. On defence, Tyson Barrie quietly had a breakout year, netting 53 points, eighth amongst all defencemen last season. Erik Johnson was limited to playing 47 games because of injury, and Nick Holden took a step back, going from 0.46 points-per-game in 2013-14 to 0.18. Semyon Varlamov was good, but wasn’t able to carry the team the way he did the previous year.
Colorado’s first move was acquiring Carl Soderberg’s rights from the Boston Bruins in exchange for a sixth round draft pick, and then signed him the following day to a 5 year 23.75M contract. They then made a significant trade, sending Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn to the Buffalo Sabres for Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher, and a second round draft pick.
During free agency, they signed Francois Beauchemin to a three year 13.5M deal, and Blake Comeau to a three year 7.2M deal. They re-signed Calvin Pickard, Joey Hishon, and Grigorenko, while letting Jan Hejda and Ryan Wilson walk. Danny Briere also won’t be returning, as he announced his retirement on August 17th.
2015-16 Opening Day Lineup
Gabriel Landeskog – Matt Duchene – Nathan MacKinnon
Alex Tanguay – Carl Soderberg – Jarome Iginla
Blake Comeau – Mikhail Grigorenko – Mikko Rantanen
Cody McLeod – John Mitchell – Marc-Andre Cliche
Jesse Winchester – Patrick Bordeleau – Dennis Everberg
Francois Beauchemin – Erik Johnson
Nikita Zadorov – Tyson Barrie
Brad Stuart – Nick Holden
Nate Guenin – Zach Redmond
Players to Watch
The 2013 number one overall draft pick had a great first season. He scored 24 goals and 63 points, and racked up 10 points in his seven playoff games. To no one’s surprise, he won the Calder Trophy. Last season was nowhere near as successful, being limited to 64 games, while only picking up 38 points. With the talent he has, it’s hard to imagine he continues to perform at that level. Instead, he’ll look to get back on track, and it wouldn’t be surprising if this upcoming season is his best one yet.
Soderberg tallied 48 and 44 points in his last two seasons, but one has to wonder what those numbers could have looked like if he wasn’t stuck behind Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci for the majority of his time in Boston. Putting MacKinnon on the wing would open up the second line centre position, which Soderberg could take full advantage of. Even if he’s needed to play on the wing, as long as he gets top six minutes, he’s capable of having a 25 goal, 60 point season.
On the Rise
Drafted 16th overall in 2013, Zadorov has plenty of potential. He had 15 points in 60 games with the Buffalo Sabres last season, and was a key piece in the Ryan O’Reilly trade. With Zadorov in the mix, as well as Beauchemin, Colorado’s defence suddenly looks much better. He’ll likely play in the top four, and if he can form some chemistry with Tyson Barrie, that could be a very good pairing for the Avalanche for years to come. He did have some discipline issues last year, but if he’s past that, he could be ready for a breakout year.
On the Decline
Tanguay had 22 goals and 55 points last year, his most productive season since 2010-11. It was a great bounce back year for him after only playing in 16 games the previous season. However, Tanguay is 35, and while it’s possible he could continue playing at the same level into his late thirties, not many players are capable of doing that. With all the young talent already in Colorado, he won’t be relied on as heavily, and could see his role decrease in the near future. Tanguay should still be an effective player, but it’s likely he doesn’t have too many 20 goal seasons left in the tank.
Which Avalanche team will we see this year, one capable of winning the Central Division, or one that plays catch-up all season? Probably somewhere in the middle. The Avalanche have surprised many with how the last two seasons panned out, and it is possible for them to replicate either of those years. Considering how strong the Western Conference is, especially the Central Division, it’s doubtful they finish near the top. They will likely be battling all season with a number of other bubble teams for a Wildcard spot.
Their goaltending won’t be a problem, and their recent additions make the defence look much better than it was last season. The forward group may have taken a step back with the loss of O’Reilly, but the moves they made should make up for it. They will need the young stars to play up to their potential, and if they do, Colorado may just find themselves back in the playoffs.
Main Photo: DENVER, CO – FEBRUARY 22: Nathan MacKinnon #29 of the Colorado Avalanche celebrates his goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning with his teammates to tie the score 1-1 in the first period at Pepsi Center on February 22, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)