Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2018-19, where Last Word on Hockey 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 2018-19 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the Colorado Avalanche.
Puck Drop Preview: 2018-19 Colorado Avalanche
The entire story for the Colorado Avalanche in 2017-18 revolved around their surprising play after their horrendous 2016-17 season. The team accumulated an all-time franchise-worst 48 points that year, setting the bar lower than ever for 2017-18. Fans and critics alike called for General Manager Joe Sakic to be terminated, so when Owner-and-President Josh Kroenke doubled-down his support for the ex-Avalanche captain, much of the same was expected from the on ice product. Basically, the world thought the Avs would continue to be the joke of the league.
That didn’t seem phase them, though.
Rejuvenated with youth and hunger, the Colorado Avalanche were on a mission all year long: prove everyone wrong. Led by one of the most dominant first lines in the league, Colorado won 43 games and ended with 95 points. This meant the team was one win and one point shy of doubling their output from their miserable previous campaign (just 22 wins and 48 points).
2017-18 Colorado Avalanche Stars
Nathan MacKinnon experienced a career breakout season, as his 97 points through 74 games earned him a Hart Trophy nomination. On his wings, captain Gabriel Landeskog and sophomore Mikko Rantanen picked up 62 and 84 points respectively. With only three skaters on the team aged 30 or older, the team relied on their youth and prospects.
Defensively, Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson, Nikita Zadorov and Samuel Girard truly cemented themselves as viable top-four defensemen. All this, combined with strong goaltending from both Semyon Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier, propelled the Colorado Avalanche to a Stanley Cup Playoff berth.
Although they were eliminated in the first round, they pushed the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Nashville Predators to a six game series. Not only that, but they did it without starting goaltender Varlamov or top-pair blueliner Johnson, who both faced long-term injuries prior to the end of the season. Needless to say, this team exceeded expectations and fast-forwarded their rebuild by a country mile.
A successful 2017-18 made people wonder if the Colorado Avalanche would make a free agency splash to add to their roster for the future. However, Sakic worked to keep his young core intact, with no desire to give the ice time they need to develop away to others. Sakic and coach Jared Bednar believe in the team as it is composed, and don’t want to tinker too much with those blueprints.
That being said, Sakic wasn’t entirely inactive. He did attract some positive attention when he acquired Washington Capitals goaltender Philipp Grubauer for a 2nd round pick in the 2018 Entry Draft. (Brooks Orpik was also included in the deal as an incentive, as Sakic immediately bought out his contract). Grubauer now takes the place Bernier held on the roster after he signed with the Detroit Red Wings.
Other small additions and subtractions occurred too. Most notably, the Avs parted ways with forwards Nail Yakupov (KHL) and Blake Comeau (Dallas Stars), defenseman Andrei Mironov (KHL), and goalie Andrew Hammond (Minnesota Wild).
To patch some holes, the team added a handful of guys too. First came speedy forward Matt Calvert via free agency to play in the bottom six and on the penalty kill. Later that same day, Calvert’s teammate from the Columbus Blue Jackets, defenseman Ian Cole, also signed with Colorado.
Finally, although they don’t have NHL experience yet, the signings of KHL goaltender Pavel Francouz (actually signed in May, but still a piece added primarily for the 2018-19 season and on) and NCAA DI forward Logan O’Connor of the Denver Pioneers could have an impact next season.
Samuel Girard – Erik Johnson
Players to Watch
While other teams in the conference improved on paper (like the St. Louis Blues or Calgary Flames), the Avs improved from within. Just because they qualified for the playoffs last year doesn’t mean they want to forget the long-term rebuild they begun. The obvious guys to watch all play on that deadly first line, as MacKinnon will fight to make last season’s enormous success a regular event for him.
Besides MacKinnon, Landeskog and Rantanen, keep a close eye on Sven Andrighetto. He missed some time to injury last year, but still posted career highs in goals, assists and points. He’s likely to log minutes on the second powerplay unit, and will benefit from continued growth from his linemates Jost and Kerfoot. Tyson Jost is heading into his second full season and could be in for a career year. The same is true of Kerfoot, making that second line quite an exciting spectacle to watch.
Adding Cole to the defense injects a bit of experience to the group while also giving them way more depth. Plus, acquiring Grubauer now creates a legitimate battle between him and Varlamov for the starting duties. The increased depth across the lineup will only improve competition from within, strengthening the nightly lineup.
Some people think this team is a prime candidate for regression. The idea is they overshot their potential last season, and won’t be able to surprise anyone this time. However, the Avs weren’t a secret every night last season. The league quickly became aware of the fact that Colorado was not the same, weak team they were a year earlier. Everyone knew MacKinnon’s ability, everyone knew the team’s speed, and still they fought and won their way to a playoff spot.
More realistically, this team should be even better next year. Their young build makes it easy to envision almost the entire roster improving. Forwards like Kamenev, Jost, Compher, Rantanen, Kerfoot, and Andrighetto are all still progressing and developing as players. If each of them take a step forward, or even just a few of them, they’ll only be a more deadly team. Plus, it would take some pressure off their top line that truly carried them to the playoffs last year.
As a final prediction, expect the Colorado Avalanche to finish third in the Central Division next season, behind the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets. They could get a little deeper in the postseason this time too, as they start establishing themselves as regular competitors in the league.