The Colorado Avalanche have been forced to great creative with its depth in 2020-21 due to multiple injuries. The team has lost a handful of veteran contributors and is relying on an interesting mixture of players to stay competitive. This includes some players who weren’t expected to appear at all this season. It’s worth looking at who is on the current roster and how much more the Avs can withstand on the health front.
Colorado Avalanche Depth
There is perhaps no more important player in this organization than Nathan MacKinnon. The 25-year-old is simply one of the league’s best and replacing him is no easy task. He is week-to-week, which could mean at least three more games missed. Colorado survived one game without its centrepiece, but how will they survive four or more?
The first answer is J.T. Compher. The 25-year-old from Illinois moved from the third line to the first in a victory over the Minnesota Wild. That placed him between Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, which is never a bad thing. The trio skated together for roughly 9:18 against the Wild. They had no points but did post a combined Corsi For of 62.5 percent. It’s nice to see no serious drop off without MacKinnon in terms of possession, at least.
The Avs are also without forward Matt Calvert and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, two of the key bottom-six skaters and penalty-killing options. They both have Corsi For percentages above 52 percent despite starting in the defensive zone over half of the time. The team has deployed Logan O’Connor, Sheldon Dries, and Kiefer Sherwood in their places for now. It seems to have worked as the trios only game saw them contribute one goal, one assist, and a Corsi For of 70 percent in just 4:10 of action. That seems unsustainable, but there’s no reason to alter what looks like very good chemistry at the moment. The only real change could be swapping Dries with Shane Bowers for a game or two so the young centre can get some NHL exposure. Also, watch for Martin Kaut to see time as well.
Defencemen have been a major Colorado target in recent drafts. They have selected many promising young blueliners such as Cale Makar, Bowen Byram and Conor Timmins in recent years and all three are playing right now. The major concern is that despite their contributions, more is needed with Erik Johnson and Devon Toews out with ailments. It’s created an opportunity for players who are far from being household names.
That includes Jacob MacDonald. The 6’0″ skater was an undrafted signee in the Florida Panthers organization before the Avs acquired him via trade in 2019. He has appeared in two games this year with no points but does have seven shots and a 59.5 Corsi For. It’s also worth noting that his relative Corsi is 3.9, so he’s clearly doing something to drive offence despite averaging only 13:17 of ice time. It will be interesting to see if MacDonald can hold off the more experienced Greg Pateryn on the bottom pair. Pateryn is far more physical than MacDonald looks, but his career 49.2 percent Corsi For figure doesn’t really mesh with the team’s current style. His only real advantage over MacDonald is his right-handed shot and 273 games of experience.
Further injuries could result in additional debuts on the blueline. We could see options such as Dennis Gilbert or Kyle Burroughs make an appearance. Both were acquired in different trades from the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Islanders, respectively. They each profile as forechecking defenders best-suited for penalty-killing duties. It’s worth noting that Burroughs is a right-handed shot. That is something teams find extremely valuable in their spare pieces. The team’s current blueline is holding steady. But the Colorado Avalanche depth (or lack thereof) simply is not enough to deal with significant time missed due to injuries.
It’s fair to say that few expected Philipp Grubauer to shoulder the early load so well. He’s started in nine of the team’s first 11 games with Vezina-calibre numbers. The 29-year-old German has a .934 save percentage and 1.67 goals-against-average. That is exactly what the team needs in light of other absences.
However, there is still a concern behind Grubauer. Pavel Francouz was outstanding in 2019-20 but has not played in 2020-21 due to a lower-body injury. The team has turned to 25-year-old Hunter Miska while the veteran Czech recovers. Miska is a Minnesota native who has just three NHL games under his belt. His results have not been great this year. He has a .881 save percentage and 3.55 goals-against-average. It’s only two games right now, but he doesn’t look like the ideal backup at this stage of his career. The good thing is that Miska does get to play behind a very good team, so things can certainly turn around quickly.
Look for Adam Werner if either Grubauer or Miska fall before Francouz returns. The Swede debuted last year and posted a shutout in his first career game. The second contest didn’t go so well, but Colorado loves his 6’5″ frame and potential as a competent option over the next few seasons. There aren’t any realistic options behind Werner, so this is one area where the Avalanche might try to improve its depth with a trade.
Colorado could have made more moves than what they have over the past year. The lack of goaltending depth is obvious, but holding onto assets like Tyson Jost and Valeri Nichushkin have produced solid results. It’s impressive how well the Avs’ front office evaluates the roster and finds ways to improve it without overpaying. This can be seen in deals like the one for Toews, which cost the team nothing more than two second-round picks. Flipping forward A.J. Greer for Burroughs also looks prescient considering how many young blueliners have been called to action. The team still has a few picks to burn if injuries threaten depth any further.