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The Story Continues in Denver



The Colorado Avalanche will enter the 2015-16 season with many question marks. In the 2013-14 season there was doubt among the hockey world that Colorado would contend for anything more than last place. They had just selected Halifax Moose heads forwards Nathan MacKinnon number one overall (after winning the NHL draft lotto) and finished as the second worst team in the National Hockey League. Many had speculated that Colorado would take young defensemen Seth Jones number one as he had ties to the Organization. However, newly acquired head coach Patrick Roy and Vice President of Operations and assistant General manager at the time Joe Sakic, had better ideas.
Nathan MacKinnon and Patrick Roy would come into Denver and shock the NHL world. A strong start to the season found the roster clicking on all cylinders. Long time Avalanche forward Paul Stastny would have a breakout season, the first break out since his third year in the league. Young forward Ryan O’Reilly would go on to lead the team in goals (28) and go onto win the Lady Byng after taking one penalty in 82 games (even though many argue the call made was just to get him on something.) Nathan MacKinnon would handle 63 points and the Calder trophy or rookie of the year. Matt Duchene was finally on pace, despite a late season injury that saw Matt miss the final 10 games, Duchene was able to put up 70 points just on shy of a point per game. Captain Gabe Landeskog finally found his groove as a second year Captain of the team. At only 20 (21 end of season) the young man found himself with 65 points and leading the team like everyone expected. Erik Johnson would finally come to the party after Colorado had traded promising young defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and forward Chris Stewart to the St. Louis Blues in 2010-11. The former first overall pick would put up 39 points and play a solid number one defensive job. Rookie Tyson Barrie would make his NHL statement adding an additional 38 points and lock in an NHL job. Most importantly though, Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov would put on a show. The then 25-year-old would play 63 games submitting a 41-14-8 record with a 2.41 goals against average. Varlamov would be bested by Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask for the Vezina trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender but came runner up over Ben Bishop of Tampa Bay. A fairy tale season for the boys in burgundy was well on its way as Colorado would claim their first division championship since 2002-03. Colorado came out of nowhere to pass up the free-falling St. Louis blues by one point to claim the thrown. The unexpected Avalanche would end up second in the western conference and took on the Minnesota Wild for the first round. With under four minutes remaining, Colorado was in control, Pepsi Centre was going nuts, fans were loud and the all of a sudden… Darcy Kuemper, Minnesota goaltender leaves the rink with an injury. The change in goal sparks the Wild line up and the Wild tie the game late, sending it into overtime. Avs fans were on the edge of their seats and just moments after overtime begins, Nino Neiderreiter of Minnesota stunts the mile-high city on a two on one goal. The Pepsi Centre goes dead, Avs fans pale just watched their historic season flush down the drain and their Stanley cups hope fly out the door. Next season will be better…. Or so they thought.
2014-15 season decided to arrive in Denver and so did some new faces like Jarome Iginla and Brad Stuart. Colorado added some experience to the roster, little did they know, that experience would do nothing. All season the team was riddles up and down the roster with injuries. Nearly 500 man games lost to injury saw the club miss an average of six roster players per game to these injuries. This included Erik Johnson who had just come off his first break out season in Denver. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov could not stay healthy, despite the injuries, Varly still managed to play 57 games. With the constant mixing and matching of players, the loss of Paul Stastny to free agency, the new faces on the club… Colorado could not seem to find a groove to their season. The team only came up with three wins a row twice that season and that was their longest winning streak. At the start of the 2015 year, Jarome Iginla began to catch fire along with Nathan MacKinnon. Of course though, MacKinnon would go onto break his foot and lose the fire that had begun. Nothing would go Colorado’s way and they would find themselves at the bottom of the Central Division just one season after sitting on top. This was the season everyone in the hockey world had expected from the club in 2013-14.
Now the hockey world is not too sure what to expect from the club. After trading promising forward Ryan O’Reilly many speculate that the Colorado Avalanche will again be on the outside looking in. That trade did bring in some new faces though, one being 20-year-old Russian defensemen standing 6’5” Nikita Zadorov. During pre-season, this kid has looked very good for the Colorado Avalanche. He will be partnered alongside Tyson Barrie to begin the 2015-16 year and gives Russian goaltender Semyon Varlamov a familiar native tongue to speak with. Colorado would also acquire forward Mikhail Grigorenko. Grigorenko played for coach Patrick Roy during his junior years in Quebec and looks to find his magic touch with his former coach again. Though in pre-season, Mikhail has not been able to find chemistry just yet and has been moved around on wing and centre with several players. Additional add-ons were defensemen Francois Beauchemin, who has looked great alongside Erik Johnson on the top pairing defense. Blake Comeau has also looked really solid for the Avalanche in pre-season, he will fit in nicely on the 3rd or 4th line. The biggest question is the addition of Carl Soderberg, in his pre-season match ups he has not quite found a rhythm. Now that could be a mixture of the nerves of a new club and no chemistry but he is no O’Reilly. Soderberg’s compete level is nowhere near that of Ryan’s and may come at some point, but as of now probably would grade Soderberg a solid C. Biggest news out of the Avalanche off-season is Mikko Rantanen, the 19 year-old Finnish forward brings huge size and can stand up against NHL players. He spent the last two seasons overseas playing against men and has been showing why he was the number European skater in the draft. Falling to 10th overall the Avalanche found a diamond in the rough and have a future top winger on their hands. Mikko had a goal in his first pre-season game, but along with the entire team has been held of the score board since.
Colorado has several major questions coming into the season. Question one will be their goaltending, will Semyon Varlamov stay healthy and if not, is Reto Berra the answer and not Calvin Pickard. If not, can Pickard be a number one goalie? He certainly proved he can play at the NHL level, but the kid is not ready for a number one position. Varlamov has to stay healthy and on point for the season to come anywhere close to a playoff appearance. Second, will the defense finally be something that Colorado can say they actually have? Coach Roy will probably keep eight defensemen on the roster again this season. As of now, EJ will play with Beauchemin, Zadorov with Barrie but he third pair is not settled. That could be Nick Holden, Nate Guenin, Zach Redmond, Brad Stuart or Brandon Gormley. Stuart finished last season strong, but cannot compete at the NHL level like he once did. Holden and Guenin were 2013-14 surprises but struggled last season under the spot light. Redmond played well when given the chance and could see some ice time again. Newly acquired Gormley has looked solid in his Colorado pre-season and could fight for a spot on the roster to start the season. The final question is chemistry for the Avalanche. They could not find it last season and when they did, it came in waves. The only consistent match up was Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla, the two guys that played together for years in Calgary. Nathan MacKinnon struggled without Stastny and has not found anything in his pre-season. Matt Duchene has also had a hard time connecting this pre-season. A lot of new faces again this season could see the Avalanche off to another slow start and little offensive production. In five pre-season games, Colorado has been shut out three times, scored one goal in another and the exception to that was their 5-4 OT win in the first pre-season game. Mind you it is only pre-season and there is a lot of mixing and matching, it does not look good headed into the season opener against the Minnesota Wild. Final roster spots are coming up and Colorado has some tough choices to make, on profession tryouts Jack Skille has looked solid for the Avalanche and Curtis Glencross has played a couple games but has not made a splash. With Jesse Winchester headed back to the IR, the Avalanche are left with a cut of two players and these two guys might be headed out of Denver, even though Skille has made a case to stay.
If these three things can fall into place for the Avalanche they might find themselves knocking on the playoffs door. Only time will tell for the young team but one thing is certain and that is the start of the season must be strong. If it looks anything like it did last season, we will all be looking at the top ten draft prospects by December once again. Keys players to watch: Semyon Varlamov, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Matt Duchene, Nikita Zadorov, Tyson Barrie. If any three of these guys catch fire I think the Avs will be in a very good position, especially is one of those three are goaltender Semyon Varlamov. Only time will tell what becomes of the Colorado Avalanche, patience will be needed and chemistry will need to be discovered. With Patrick Roy returning behind the bench for his third season, a more experienced Captain Gabe Landeskog, a settled in leader of Jarome Iginla and a healthy goaltender the Avs look to challenge for a playoff spot and will do everything they can to contend for another division title.

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Very nice write up.

I am not sold on the Av's this year for several reasons.

First off they are in one of the deepest divisions in Hockey. Lots of very good teams. St. Louis and Chicago seem locks to me to make the postseason, the Wild as well. So the rest, Dallas, Winnipeg, Colorado and Nashville, no weak sister in the bunch, are fighting for maybe one spot.

Second, I am not impressed with the offseason moves. First as to moving O'Reilly, I get it, I love the guy but he seems to be a bit of a clubhouse lawyer and a pain in the rear, moving him probably improves the teams chemistry but on the ice he is brilliant most nights and he will be sorely missed. Losing Stastny the year before and O'Reilly this year, well you cannot lose that kind of talent down the middle without taking a hit.

I am not really impressed with the haul from Buffalo, Zadorov and Grigorenko may be better suited as spear carriers in Denver than the role in Buffalo where they pressed and tried to do too much. But I don't know, they seem like good players but not the type to help a team get over the hump.

Soderberg is over 30, he took forever to come to the NHL and is a 40-45 point guy with an aversion to shooting the puck. He is not O'reilly, not by a long shot.

As for Pickard, I live in Ohio and have watched him play a dozen times or so over the past three years and haven't seen much to convince that he is more than an AHL tender. A hot streak when Varly was injured built him up as something that he is not.

It looks like I am unduly ripping the Avalanche, as a Wings fan that may come natural, lol the rivalry does still burn in me. There are somethings that if they go right the team could make it in as a 7 or 8 seed.

MacKinnon could find a gear and score 85-90 points.

Duchene was off a bit last year, with O'Reilly out of the picture he could step up.

Varlamov could be healthy and start 60 games.

Johnson could be healthy and Barrie could continue to grow.

The Buffalo kids could be better than i think they are.

If all that happens, they are going to be in the mix for a playoff spot, I love MacKinnon this year and have him rated as one of the top breakout candidates of the season, and Duchene should be his usual self again, no idea why he seemed out of sorts all year.

They could contend, I do not think so, just too many good teams around them in the same division and conference but it could happen.

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