Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2017-18, where LastWordOnHockey.com 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. Make 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 2017-18 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2017-18 Colorado Avalanche
Puck Drop Preview: 2017-18 Colorado Avalanche
Heading into the 2016-17 season, the Avalanche brass was hoping for their team to push for a playoff spot. But a coaching change, multiple injuries, and player struggles saw the Avs post their worst point total since moving to Colorado.
The season hadn’t even started and the red flags had started to wave. On August 11, 2016 head coach Patrick Roy stepped down and Jared Bednar took over. Whether this was a sign of things to come would remain to be seen.
The season started off fairly average. Through their first 18 games the Avs were sitting at .500 with a 9-9-0 record. But after that the season took a turn for the worse. They would go on a six game losing streak and, after two wins in three games, would go through another five game losing streak. It was the beginning of a very long year as the Bednar and the Avalanche would go on to have the worst statistical season since they moved from Quebec.
The season was hampered by multiple injuries to big name players. Semyon Varlamov only saw the ice in 24 games due to multiple injuries. Erik Johnson and Nikita Zadorov also spent significant time on the injured list as well. These, along with poor play up front, saw Tyson Barrie carry the brunt of the load for the squad throughout the year. Barrie for his part played well, notching 38 points across 74 games.
Barrie wasn’t the only Avs player to have a good year. Nathan MacKinnon took a major step forward in his progress. Although not matching his rookie, and career high, point total, MacKinnon became a staple on the Avs first (albeit more second) line. He led the team in points with 53, outscoring every other player by at least 12 points. Now, the team had such a down year that these accolades are hardly reason to gloat, but MacKinnon can be proud of what he accomplished. He was also named one of only a few “untouchables” on the squad for trades.
Another positive for the team is the play of rookie Mikko Rantanen. In his first season in the NHL Rantanen managed to put up 20 goals and 18 assists. It put the rookie tenth in the league in points and tied for fifth in goals among rookies. His play was a small shimmer of hope in a rather dark season.
The off-season left much to be desired by fans of the team. Joe Sakic and company did very little in regards to building a contender. Yes, the additions of Colin Wilson and Nail Yakupov will help, but only so much. It could also hinder the progress of some of the young stars including Tyson Jost and J.T. Compher as their playing times may go down.
The real positive moves for the organization came in the form of adding Jonathan Bernier and Alex Kerfoot. Bernier becomes a solid number two in the crease for a team who have no obvious number one. He played well last season in Anaheim behind John Gibson and will look to build on that in Colorado.
Kerfoot signed with the Avs as a free agent out of college. He played four seasons at Harvard, serving as their captain last year. Kerfoot was also tied for the team lead in points with Tyler Moy. He was one of the biggest names coming out of college and the Avalanche may have snuck a solid player away from the rest of the league. In the end, Kerfoot decided to travel to Denver because he felt it was a place where he could play right out of the gate and felt comfortable with the organization.
After that, the off-season looked rather dull for Sakic. He failed to put an end to the Matt Duchene Saga and is still hoping some team will give him what he wants. Very little was done to improve a rather weak defensive core that gave up the most goals in the league last season.
2017-18 Line Combinations
The forward lines are riddled with young, talented players. Unfortunately, that’s about it as proven talent is hard to come by. The top line remains in tact from last season with MacKinnon between Rantanen and Andrighetto. Down the stretch last year this threesome really showed the world they could play together and the Avs will hope that continues.
As of the writing of this, Matt Duchene is still an Avalanche player. Whether he remains on the team or even shows up to camp is a totally different story. But assuming he plays, a line with him, Landeskog, and Yakupov is a nice number two. They have the potential to score and whenever you have the top face off centreman in the league, you cant complain.
The third line is going to have to hope that youth prevails. With two sophomores and a rookie all loaded with potential, the Avs brass has to hope for a situation like the Toronto Maple Leafs had last year with their young line. No, they don’t have a Auston Matthews, but if these three youngsters can play together they could make some waves out West.
Andrei Mironov – Duncan Siemens
The defense are not as talented on paper as the forward core, but they have slightly more pressure this year. The top pairing of Zadorov and Johnson is understandable as they played together for most of the season, when both were healthy that is. Barberio being partnered with Barrie is another obvious choice. The third pairing is more of a toss up. After being the Avs fourth round pick in 2015, Mironov is expected to make the transition to North America. Whether he cracks the squad remains to be seen but he looks poised to grab that third pairing spot. The battle will then come down to Bigras, Siemens, and Anton Lindholm. Any one of those three prospects could steal the last spot.
Yes, Bernier has been a starter before. But there is no contest heading into training camp for the starting position. It is Varlamov’s spot to lose and if he plays up to his potential, there is no chance.
Players to Watch
It’s hard to say that the best player on a team is one to watch but MacKinnon is that type of talent for the Avs. He led the team in points and sat fourth in goals. But somehow it feels like MacKinnon could easily increase that point total and a full season playing alongside Rantanen would definitely help.
After playing the last five seasons in the KHL, since the age of 18, Mironov looks poised to make the jump to the NHL. Playing against grown men will help and as a defense first defenseman Mironov will only help the squad if he can play up to his potential.
Despite drawing into the third line right now, Jost has the potential to have a break out season this year. He will look to enter his rookie season with the trust of the club behind him. The former first round pick looks poised on the puck and ready to play at the top level.
Players on the Rise
Rantanen had a solid rookie season but was unfortunately overshadowed by the unbelievable rookies throughout the league. But after posting 20 goals and 38 points he looks poised to increase that total dramatically. If he can mesh with MacKinnon like he did to finish last season both are looking for a huge increase in points.
Players on the Decline
Comeau saw a decrease in points last season and he does not look like he will be turning that around. Seeing as he may not be in the top 12 to start the season could also be a sign that his Avs career may be coming to an end sooner rather than later.
2017-18 Season Prediction
The Avalanche failed to really improve dramatically during the off-season. Without any big moves you would usually expect the team to do about the same. But the Avs cannot compete as poorly as they did last year. They will need to get to the bottom of the Duchene saga. Once that is past they have the ability to be better than last season. They couldn’t possibly be worse could they?
As far as placement in the always-tough Western Conference, don’t expect much. The Avs may be able to sneak out of the basement, but not much higher. Expect a finish anywhere between 13th and 15th in the West. They will just try to be better than the Vegas Golden Knights.
via Last Word on Hockey, by Nick McVicar