Saturday, August 24, 2019

Colorado Avalanche 2019-20 season preview

From USA Today


      A skilled Avalanche team always had the chance of making the playoffs for the second consecutive season. But with just 90 points? Thanks to a terrible Western Conference, the Avs were able to capture the second wild card spot, and face the Flames, who had 17 more points than them. But in the crazy 2019 playoffs, the Avalanche were able to beat the Flames, but they were eliminated in the second round by the Sharks.

      Additions: Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi, Andre Burakovsky, Kevin Connauton, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Valeri Nichuskin, Calle Rosen, Jacob MacDonald

      Subtractions: Tyson Barrie, Alex Kerfoot, Semyon Varlamov, Carl Soderberg, Derick Brassard, Sven Andrighetto, Patrick Nemeth, Gabriel Bourque, Dominic Toninato

      Forwards
Nathan MacKinnon continues to prove that he is a top five player in the NHL. After finishing second in Hart voting in 2017-18, MacKinnon finished sixth in 2018-19, but scored a career high 41 goals, plus a career high 99 points, but he did play in eight more games than his 97 point 2017-18. He's also just 24. MacKinnon is centering arguably the best line in hockey, with wingers Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen having great seasons. Rantanen had eighty points for a second season, with a career high 87, plus a career high 31 goals. He is currently an RFA, and with all the other RFAs out there, Rantanen hasn't gotten much attention. Captain Landeskog, drafted second overall in 2011, finally was a point per game player, with a career high 34 goals and 75 points in 73 games. The Avs traded top defenseman Tyson Barrie and young forward Alex Kerfoot to Toronto for second line center Nazem Kadri. Kadri scored 16 goals, a 50% drop off from his 32 the two seasons prior. He had 44 points last year, but has averaged 48 points over the last seven seasons, including the shortened 2012-13 season. Joonas Donskoi enters on a four year deal with a $3.9 million AAV. Donskoi is coming off a season with a career high 37 points, plus 14 goals for the Sharks. Center JT Compher scored a career high 16 goals with 32 points. Andre Burakovsky comes via trade. He scored 17 goals as a 20 year old in 2015-16, but has scored 12 goals in each of the three seasons since, including two consecutive 25 point seasons. Colin Wilson re-signed instead of leaving as a UFA. He has been inconsistent in his career, with 27 points last season, and has averaged 31 points over his eight full seasons. Tyson Jost has one more year left on his entry level deal, and looks to elevate his game after a career high 26 points in 2018-19. In his first season in Colorado, Matt Calvert scored a career high 26 points. After scoring a career high 15 goals in 2017-18, Matt Nieto scored just four in 2018-19, but he did have a career high 19 assists. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was signed to a two year deal, even though he robs a young player of a shot. He's better defensively than offensively, and he should help out the penalty kill that finished 25th in the NHL. Vladislav Kamenev, part of the highly successful Matt Duchene trade, had five points in 23 games. Valeri Nichuskin, a former 10th overall pick, returned to the NHL, and didn't score a goal with 10 assists in 57 games for Dallas.

            Defensemen
While Barrie and his 59 points will be missed, the Avalanche believe they have a top pairing defenseman in Cale Makar. Makar, maybe the top prospect in the entire league, hasn't played in a regular season game, but debuted in the playoffs, with six points in 10 impressive games. He had 49 points in 41 games at U Mass. Erik Johnson was the first overall pick in 2006, and while he hasn't lived up to that hype, he has been a solid second pairing defenseman in Colorado after flaming out in St. Louis. Sam Girard signed a seven year, $35 million extension that will kick in for 2020-21. He has been impressive in his two NHL seasons. The 21 year old had 27 points and finished 7th in Lady Byng voting. Nikita Zadorov scored seven goals for the second straight season, and had a career high +19 rating. In his first year in Colorado, Ian Cole took 115 penalty minutes, and dropped off to 15 points and a -1 rating. Kevin Connauton comes from Arizona for 49 point man Carl Soderberg. A year removed from an 11 goal season, Connauton had just eight points in 50 games in 2018-19. Mark Barberio was passed over, and played in just 12 games. Calle Rosen, part of the Kadri trade, has dominated the AHL (46 points in 54 games), but doesn't have much NHL experience.

              Goalies
Inconsistent starter Semyon Varlamov left in free agency, handing the job over to Phillip Grubauer. Grubauer had a .917 SV% and 2.64 GAA in his first year in Colorado. He was very successful as Braden Holtby's backup in Washington. Pavel Francouz had a very successful career in the Czech league and KHL, and stopped 33 of 35 shots in two NHL games. He had a 2.68 GAA and .918 SV% in the AHL, and will now be the backup.

              Deep Depths
The Avs have a deep forward and defense core. AJ Greer has just six points in 37 NHL games in his career, but scored 19 goals in 54 AHL games in 2018-19. Sheldon Dries played in 40 NHL games, but with the addition of Bellemare, it will be hard for him to crack the lineup. Logan O'Connor played in five NHL games, and had 42 points in 64 games in the AHL. Defenseman Jacob MacDonald played in two NHL games for Florida last year. He has 34 goals over the last two AHL seasons.

              Up and Coming
Fourth overall pick Bowen Byram had a great WHL season, and as a defenseman, scored 26 goals with 71 points in 67 games, plus 26 more points in 22 playoff games. He could start the season with the team, but probably won't be a starter until 2020-21. Shane Bowers, a 2017 first rounder, played in four AHL games last year and is entering his first full pro season. His offense dropped in his last college season. Martin Kaut come to America, and as an 18 year old in the AHL, had 26 points in 63 games. Conor Timmins was a promising prospect, as he was a point per game player in the OHL as a defenseman, but he missed the entire season with a concussion.

              2019 draft class
Round 1, 4th overall: Bowen Byram
Round 1, 16th overall: Alex Newhook
Round 2, 47th overall: Drew Helleson
Round 3, 63rd overall: Matthew Stienburg
Round 3, 78th overall: Alex Beaucage
Round 5, 140th overall: Sasha Mutala
Round 6, 171st overall: Luka Burzan
Round 7, 202nd overall: Trent Miner

               Management
Jared Bednar was criticized after his first year as head coach was a disastrous 48 point season. But after shockingly making the playoffs in 2017-18, and shockingly beating the Flames in the first round, that criticism doesn't exist anymore. The greatest player in franchise history, Joe Sakic has done a good job as general manager, and the Avs are reaping the benefits of the Matt Duchene trade, with top defenseman Sam Girard, plus prospects Bowen Byram, Vladislav Kamenev and Shane Bowers part of it.

               Projected Lineup
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Tyson Jost - Nazem Kadri - Joonas Donskoi
Andre Burakovsky - JT Compher - Colin Wilson
Matt Nieto - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Matt Calvert
Extras: AJ Greer, Vladislav Kamenev, Valeri Nichuskin

               Sam Girard - Erik Johnson
               Nikita Zadorov - Cale Makar
               Ian Cole - Kevin Connauton
Extras: Calle Rosen, Mark Barberio

                         Phillip Grubauer
                         Pavel Francouz

                Prediction
The Avalanche are a promising team coming off two consecutive playoff berths. That normally means a deep playoff run could be in the making. I predict the Avs will win at least one round, after finishing third in the Central Division.

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