Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2019-20, 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 2019-20 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Our series continues with the 2019-20 Colorado Avalanche.
2019-20 Colorado Avalanche Preview
The Colorado Avalanche had a season that seemed like a roller coaster at times. They started out winning 15 of their first 21 games and looked like one of the best teams in the entire NHL. Colorado would stumble in December, losing their final five games of 2018. Overtime was a big issue throughout the year as 14 of their 30 losses came in the extra period or shootout. Neither Philipp Grubauer nor the now-departed Semyon Varlamov could do much to stop the bleeding until a surge late in the year.
The season produced some notable results. Superstar Nathan MacKinnon had 99 points and captain Gabriel Landeskog reached a new career-high in points with 75. Those two comprised two-thirds of the league’s most dangerous line along with wing Mikko Rantanen. Grubauer grabbed hold of the starting goaltending job in March with a string of strong performances and some young players continued to improve.
Colorado would clinch a playoff spot on the next-to-last game of the year and eliminate the Calgary Flames in five games in the opening round. The upset shocked the hockey world somewhat considering how the Avs reached the postseason. A strong performance against the San Jose Sharks would follow, but Colorado fell in seven games. The final game had some controversy as a game-tying goal was waved off after a coaches challenge arguably showed Landeskog failing to clear the offensive zone on a line change.
The draft was particularly kind to the Avalanche as they nabbed multiple prospects. They snagged top defensive option Bowen Byram at pick #4 and took two forwards with top-six potential in Alex Newhook and Alex Beaucage. The pick that turned into Byram represented the final piece of the huge trade that sent Matt Duchene away several seasons ago.
Colorado was one of the most active teams once the season ended. The first move involved trading Carl Soderberg to the Arizona Coyotes for defender Kevin Connauton. They then sent two picks and a forward to the Washington Capitals in exchange for Andre Burakovsky. The Avs capped things off by shipping Tyson Barrie and Alex Kerfoot to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Nazem Kadri and Calle Rosen.
The team also brought in Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Joonas Donskoi from the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks, respectively. All the trades and signings were done to increase scoring beyond the top line and improving the team toughness. They already had one of the best lines in hockey, but adding a scorer like Kadri and young options like Burakovsky and Rosen gives the team added punch and flexibility. It also allows Colorado to bring along younger options more slowly.
Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Mikko Rantanen
Andre Burakovsky – Nazem Kadri – Joonas Donskoi
The top two lines feature one of the best trios in the entire league and three of the newest faces on the team. There is little left to say about Landeskog, MacKinnon, and Rantanen. The only question is whether Coach Jared Bednar will keep them together at even strength or split them up. The three will play together on the first power play.
Burakovsky, Donksoi, and Kadri are new to the organization. Kadri was acquired to bring a proven scorer to the club. Burakovsky has underwhelmed since being selected in the first round in 2013, but his 6’3″ frame should play great on either the first or second power-play unit. Donskoi is a consistent 30-35 point scorer for his career who should play on the special teams as well.
The bottom-six forwards have a mixture of veteran experience and improving youth. Jost and Compher, unfortunately, slide down a line thanks to other acquisitions where they’ll be asked to develop while trying to check the opposition more often. Their possession numbers might suffer as a result. They do have Wilson as a veteran presence to keep them motivated and active.
The combo of Calvert, Bellemare, and Nieto looks like an above-average checking line that won’t give up too much to the opponent in terms of possession. All three had fine marks in advanced stats that should keep the penalty kill from being overwhelmed.
Colorado has several depth options should injuries strike. Nichushkin is a recent surprise addition that brings size, but not a lot of scoring. His lack of offence (74 points in 223 games) gave the Dallas Stars a reason to buy him out after the recent season. Kamenev remains a popular option to occupy a bottom-six role despite two season-ending injuries in as many seasons. Greer enters 2019-20 on a one-year deal to essentially prove he is worthy of a regular role as a gritty power forward. Finally, the 5’9″ Dries has support from the front office after appearing in 40 games last season.
Kevin Connauton – Calle Rosen
The defensive unit is in flux because of Ian Cole‘s recovery from summer hip surgery. He should be back in December to play on the second pair and top penalty kill unit. Colorado will roll out a mixture of veterans, bruisers, and youngsters to start the year.
The top pairing features one of the team’s bright youngsters and an established veteran. This projection is entirely dependent on Johnson’s recovery from offseason shoulder surgery. Expect some serious reshuffling if his health doesn’t cooperate. Johnson is a steady performer who can regularly chip in 25-30 points throughout a season
Girard only scored 27 points last season but has a prime opportunity to show what he can do. A scoring jump into the 35 point range is not out of the question, but he might not be ready to be the primary power-play driver just yet. Girard is one of the defenders expected to help anchor the group for many years.
Calder candidate Makar shows up on the second pair with the bruising Zadorov. The former Massachusetts Minuteman burst onto the scene in the playoffs and is projected to shoulder much of the responsibility as the first power-play quarterback. Given his probably usage and talent, do not be surprised at 35-40 points.
Zadorov is back on a one-year deal to prove his long-term worth to the front office. He’s never scored more than 20 points in his career and probably won’t this season. Zadorov’s real value comes in delivering frequent hits and getting in the opposition’s face. He is an excellent penalty killer when needed.
Connauton looks like a fine option here to mentor the former Maple Leaf prospect. The 29-year-old has just 76 points in 310 games over six seasons. Don’t expect great traditional or advanced stats; he is often used in the defensive end when the opposition has possession advantage.
Expect a few different names to shuffle on and off the third pair, but Rosen is a strong option to open the season. He scored 46 points in 54 games for Toronto’s AHL affiliate in 2018-19. He knocking on the door for a role. Set expectations low for now, but look for Rosen to appear frequently in the early going while others heal.
These three all offer something different as rotation options on the blue line. Barberio is a crafty older player who has over 230 blocked shots in 250 career games. Graves is huge at 6’5″, 226 pounds and brings many of the same physical skills as Zadorov. Meloche is one of the few right-shooting defenders on the roster and was one of Colorado’s better AHL defender last year. Timmins will come along slowly having missed all last year while recovering from concussion symptoms. He could get a call-up if he looks ready and plays with no issues.
Grubauer seized the starter’s job late in the season and rode a hot streak to game seven in the Western Conference semifinals. He’s the clear number one goalie in Colorado this year. Francouz will be the primary backup after having a quality season with the organization’s AHL affiliate. He has plenty of experience as a successful KHL backstop as well. There is some concern that workload will trouble the duo, but it’s one of the more interesting combinations in the Central Division.
Players to Watch
The trade for Burakovsky came as a surprise given the relative lack of production. The former 1st round pick has never scored more than 40 points in his first five season’s. That should change with a new team. Burakovsky will have more talented teammates and playing time in scoring situations. He has a one-year deal through to next summer to prove he’s worth more than what he’s done so far. 40-45 points is certainly possible in Colorado’s system.
There’s little doubt Makar is a stud. He has excellent skating ability and can move the puck at a high level. He also has a good shot from the point. Makar will see plenty of time on the first power play as the quarterback of the top special team unit. The question is how ready is he? 10 playoff games aren’t enough to make serious predictions about regular season play. It’s unknown what the rigors of an 82-game schedule will do to the 20-year-old. There could be some fluctuation in Makar’s play as he adjusts to the grind.
Grubauer is finally in a situation where he is the clear-cut starter after several years in the Washington system behind Braden Holtby. He has the talent to be a top starter but hadn’t started more than 30 games in a season until last year. Grubauer hasn’t shown he can handle 45-50 or more starts in a season and Francouz only has two NHL contests under his belt. Grubauer needs to show he’s capable of being the guy in net.
2019-20 Colorado Avalanche Prediction
The 2019-20 Colorado Avalanche are going to be one of the big teams to watch. They have a more stacked offence that should put up more points in all situations. The defence and goaltending are mostly unproven with tons of potential. A full of year of Grubauer behind Makar and company is something to watch with great interest.
The Central Division is going to be extremely tough in 2019-20. The St. Louis Blues are hot off a Stanley Cup victory, the Stars added several talented players, and the Nashville Predators signed former Colorado star Matt Duchene. Every division game will be a battle for supremacy. The Avs won’t be able to slip at all if they want to prove they are for real.
A lot hinges on Kadri, Burakovsky, and Donskoi to perform. There isn’t enough proven offence left on the roster to make up the gap if they don’t produce. There are also serious questions surrounding the experience both on the blue line and in the net. Colorado is a massive threat to win the Stanley Cup if everyone gels. Otherwise, the team is only good enough to compete for the division on the strength of their top line.