Now that the front office has finished the majority of the off-season work, one issue facing head coach Jared Bednar is the question of how he will put together the Colorado Avalanche lines in 2019-20. General manager Joe Sakic brought in four new faces to improve scoring, but it is impossible to know how players will gel until they hit the ice. While the team’s defence is cluttered, the talent is easy to organize by comparison. Fans could expect a few different line combinations over time if new players don’t gel right away.
Colorado Avalanche Line Projections
The First Line
This trio composes one of the best lines in all of hockey. Each player scored at least 70 points in 2018-19 and expectations are high for that production to continue.
MacKinnon is the driver with 99 points and a reputation as one of the best players across the league. He is a phenomenal skater and puck-handler with the talent to win games on his own. He should be in the conversation as a Hart Trophy Contender in 2019-20.
Landeskog is the grizzled veteran of the line, even if he is just 26-years-old. The team’s captain is coming off a career-best 75 point season. It was also his seventh year posting over 100 hits. He’s a perfect two-way player that can play in almost any situation. Despite his synergy with the top group, Landeskog could move down a line to give scoring punch elsewhere.
Rantanen is the third and final member of the projected top line. The 22-year-old scored 87 points last season and is a huge part of the team’s firepower. He’s a restricted free agent at the moment in line for a huge payday thanks to recent production and future potential.
The Second Line
Combining three of the newest Avalanche players is a strong possibility. Kadri has the most impressive resume after 10 years with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He scored 44 points in 2018-19, but was above the 55-point and 30-goal marks the previous two years. Colorado represents a tremendous opportunity for the seasoned veteran.
Donskoi is an interesting option on one side of Kadri. The 6-foot-0 wing scored 14 goals and 37 points with the San Jose Sharks last season and has posted 30 or points in three of his four professional seasons. The 27-year-old doesn’t have a huge ceiling at his age, but 35-40 points or better with someone like Kadri feeding him is possible.
The third member of this group is also the biggest wildcard. Burakovsky fell short of expectations in five seasons with the Washington Capitals. The former 1st round pick never scored more than 40 points during that time, but was often buried in Washington’s bottom-six. He has great size at 6-foot-3 and 201 pounds and excellent skating ability. Putting him with better linemates like Kadri and Donskoi could produce more points. Expect a good amount of Burakovsky in front of the net redirecting shots from the point. At just 24-years-old, he still has untapped upside.
The Third Line
Each one of these players has some upside worthy of being part of the top-six in the event of injury or poor play amongst the incumbents. Wilson has the most NHL experience with 10 years between Colorado and the Nashville Predators. He scored just 27 points in 65 games in 2018-19 but is capable of more if he stays healthy. He was brought back on a one-year deal to prove just that. Wilson is also a fine skater that could move into the top-six if someone gets hurt or doesn’t perform.
Jost moves down a line with Kadri’s acquisition. The 21-year-old increased his scoring from 22 points in 2017-18 to 26 last year. That modest improvement also came with three goals and four points during the playoffs. The 1st round pick from the 2016 draft still has tons of room to grow. He will get plenty of chances to prove his value before he hits restricted free agency next summer.
Compher will occupy the other wing next to Jost. Amongst returning players, he was fourth in scoring for the Avalanche last year behind only MacKinnon, Rantanen and Landeskog (seventh overall in team scoring in 2018-19). Compher also increased his scoring total from 2017-18, going from 23 to 32 points. The Illinois native didn’t have much time next to Jost last season, but the duo could be a dangerous one on the bottom-six.
The Fourth Line
These three players currently project as the team’s checking and penalty kill line. The new face here is Bellemare, who signed with Colorado after spending last season with the Vegas Golden Knights. While he isn’t a scoring threat (just 15 points in 76 games last year), he is a steady presence with good faceoff numbers and was reportedly a good locker room presence. Bellemare will turn 35 before next season and is under contract through 2020-21.
Nieto was a pleasant surprise during the recent postseason. His seven points in five games helped down the Calgary Flames in the first round. Two of those points came in the form of pivotal shorthanded goals. That sort of threat is great to have when trying to thwart opposing power plays. Nieto isn’t a major threat but has scored over 20 points in his previous two seasons with the Avalanche seasons. 25-30 points is not out of the question, especially if injuries hit and he moves up the lineup.
Calvert represents this line’s biggest scoring threat and most aggressive forechecker. He scored 26 points last year and finished with 115 hits, good for fifth on the team behind Landeskog. Calvert has nine years in the NHL, which makes him a calm, veteran presence on a team looking to make a deeper playoff run next spring.
Despite being injured for parts of the past two seasons, Vladislav Kamenev still shows some promise as a bottom-six option. He has posted five points, one shorthanded, in 23 games last season before going down in December. He will be the first replacement in case of injury. Sheldon Dries and A.J. Greer also appeared in contests last year with limited impacts on offence. All three are in need of new deals as restricted free agents.
What This All Means
The Colorado Avalanche lines should be four of the most exciting in the NHL next year. They already had one of the most dominant trios in the league but added a tremendous option in Kadri. Throw in Donskoi and Burakovsky and fans will see one of the most interesting collections of firepower in the Western Conference. There are questions about how new faces will acclimate, but this is one of the better rosters the franchise has fielded for some time. Expectations are high going into the 2019-20 season.
Main Photo: TORONTO, ON – JANUARY 22: Colorado Avalanche Left Wing Gabriel Landeskog (92) celebrates after scoring his 17th goal of the season in the empty net with Colorado Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon (29) during the third period of the NHL regular-season game between the Colorado Avalanche and the Toronto Maple Leafs on January 22, 2018, at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, ON, Canada. (Photograph by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)