Ranking the Rebuilds #7….the Colorado Avalanche

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I think we can agree that the Colorado Avalanche rebuild began on May 10, 2013.

That is the day that Joe Sakic was named Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations.

That’s an odd title and the Avs retained Greg Sherman but he reportedly serves in an advisory capacity to Sakic and head coach Patrick Roy who has a tremendous amount of control over personnel decisions.

Sakic hired Roy on May 23rd of 2013 and the tandem set to work rebuilding a team that had missed the playoffs for 4 of the previous 5 seasons.

The new regime didn’t have to start from scratch since the 2009 draft had produced Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly and Tyson Barrie who are all accomplished NHL players.

The 2010 draft produced blue chip goalie prospect Calvin Pickard and 2011 produced Gabriel Landeskog the apparent best player in the draft.

But, in the first draft conducted by the new regime, they hit pay dirt at #1 with Nathan MacKinnon and stud defensive prospect Chris Bigras who may be NHL ready as early as this fall.

The Avalanche would defy the odds in the 2013/14 season, winning the Central Division before bowing out  to the Wild in the conference semi finals.

Pretty much everyone except the Avs most rabid fans saw that season as Cinderella and predicted a much more rational record in the following season and, of course, the expected happened as the Avs fell from 112 points to 90.

But folks, let’s be honest, a team in only the second year of a rebuild, playing in the toughest division in hockey that can accumulate 90 points is nothing to be easily dismissed.

While it’s true the Avs had the second worst possession record in the league last season, it’s important to remember that the LA Kings had the best record in the league with a SAT% of 55.37 and missed the playoffs while 4 teams that fell below 50% did make the post season.

So, while possession stats tell you something, they don’t tell you everything.

Goaltending was not an issue for the AVs last season as Semyon Varlamov posted a decent .921 SV% and the aforementioned Calvin Pickard was stellar in 16 appearances at .931.

No, the issue was that the Avs gave up too many shots at 33.2/G, one of the worst records in the league.

That fact, coupled with an offence that struggled, especially sophomore Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene to a lesser degree, left the Avs gasping for air.

That leaves us wondering if the management team has addressed those issue in the offseason and it seems they have at least somewhat.

In one of the biggest blockbusters of the offseason, Colorado traded 200 foot demon Ryan O’Reilly whose contract demands were “mile high” for former 1st rounds picks D Nikita Zadorov and C Mikhael Grigorenko, University of Michigan Star JT Compher and the Sabres 31st pick in the draft which they later flipped to San Jose for AJ Greer and 2 – 2016 draft picks.

Picking 10th overall in the 2015 draft, the Avs selected Mikko Rantanen who had played the previous 3 seasons against men in the Finnish league who Bob Mackenzie ranked right in that 10th spot.

The 6’4″ 210 RW is thought to be close to NHL ready.
An exceptionally talented playmaker and always a consistent threat on the ice; Rantanen is a combination of elite-level hockey sense, silky smooth hands, and nimble skating. Needs to improve his shot and physical play, as he doesn’t take advantage of his size in many situations. All-in-all, an intelligent, big-bodied forward that oozes skill.

(Curtis Joe, EP 2014) – See more at: http://www.eliteprospects.com/player.php?player=91186#sthash.Kpm5dZ3D.dpuf

So, if we can agree, as previously mentioned, that the Avs are set in goal, let’s take a look at how they shape up at D and then down the middle.

As well as adding Zadorov in trade, the Avs signed 35 year old Francois Beauchemin to a 3 year contract at $4.5M/season.

Beauchemin has still been very effective but this contract could be a gamble if his play tails off as he ages.

With a top pairing of #1D Erik Johnson and Beauchemin, they should be fine for 20 minutes a night but they will need to find a steady partner for offensive whiz Tyson Barrie who scored an impressive 12 foals and 53 points last season.

The Av’s did not re-sign 37 year old Jan Hejda and Brad Stuart has passed his best before date so, unless Zadorov is ready to step in the #4 role, the team may be gasping agin.

Of course, Chris Bigras may take that spot in camp but there’s not a whole lot behind them on the depth chart although there are some distant bells in the system.

If I were Joe and Patrick, sitting with more than $8M in free cap space, I would have signed Cody Franson weeks ago…hasn’t happened yet.


Down the middle, the Avalanche have an embarrassment of riches even after trading Or’ Reilly.

Nathan MacKinnon

Matt Duchene

Carl Soderburg (signed in the offseason)

Mikail Grigorenko

John Mitchell

Marc Andre Cliche

With Soderburg likely to take a top 6 role, Duchene may find himself playing RW again since it’s an area of weakness for the team so there’s an opportunity for Grigorenko if he is ready to step up.


If Duchene does indeed play on the wing, he’ll be joined by stud Landeskog and the ageless Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay as well as Blake Comeau, Cody McLeod, Patrick Bordeleau and Dennis Everburg.

Hockey’s Future has the Avs ranked 29th in the league in their prospects ranking and I think that’s fair.

Strengths: The Colorado Avalanche boast solid depth on defense in terms of prospects. Chris Bigras has shown excellent growth at the junior level and may be ready to take that next step in his career, while Stefan Elliot and Duncan Siemens are finding their way at the pro level. Will Butcher, Kyle Wood and recent free-agent signing Mason Geertsen add interesting pieces to the organization’s defensive core. Goaltender Calvin Pickard had a very impressive showing with the Avalanche last season, breaking through after three years in the AHL. He should get a chance to improve in the NHL full time next season.

Weaknesses: Skill. Colorado has quantity in prospects who could fill bottom-six roles in the NHL, but the organization is low on high-end, skilled prospects. Connor Bleackley will turn pro after back-to-back point-per-game campaigns in the WHL, but the center projects more as a high-energy, third-line pivot.

Top 5 Prospects: 1. Chris Bigras, D; 2. Connor Bleackley, C; 3. Calvin Pickard, G; 4. Stefan Elliot, D; 5. Duncan Siemens, D.

With goal and centre pretty much locked in, they will need at least one D prospect to step in a help right away.

If they hope to finish their rebuild anytime soon, they may have to spend some of that cap space to acquire a couple of skill players to replace the elders in the lineup sooner rather than later. but Rantanen may be able to help in that regard.

Playing in the Central, where I see 5 teams making the playoffs, I doubt they will be contenders this upcoming season but, with some prudent moves in the next 12 months, when many teams will be forced to dump players due to a declining cap, perhaps the best strategy it to wait and pounce when the time is right.

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Young Guns

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Increasingly, the NHL is a young man’s game.

Take a gander at the top 30 scorers in the NHL this season and you’ll notice a boat load of under 25 players producing at a high level.

So, who are the best Young Guns early in the 2014/15 season?

1) It’s pretty hard to argue against Tyler Seguin as being the best of the bunch considering he is leading the entire league in scoring and is on pace for a 60 goal 133 point season. Dallas coach Lindy Ruff has moved Jason Spezza to his first line with Seguin and Jamie Benn and the line has been all but unstoppable.

2) And then there is Tyler Toffoli. Toffoli was a 2nd round pick in the 2010 draft and has been a revelation since joining the Kings last season. Toffoli blossomed during last season’s march to the cup by the Kings and he hasn’t looked back. Now on a line with Jeff Carter and our 3rd pick of the Young Guns rundown, Tanner Pearson, Toffoli is surging into the stratosphere as a scorer.

3) Tanner Pearson was drafted 30th overall in 2012 and is beginning to make the 29 teams that passed on him look pretty stupid. Pearson is on pace for a 70 goal season and, while he may not get there, I would’t bet a whole lot of money that he won’t score 50. Oh, and by the way, Pearson just turned 22 in August.

4) We tend to forget that John Tavares just turned 24. He may not be the consummate goal scorer that Steven Stamkos is but he’s pretty much a lock for 80+ points if he remains healthy.

5) Steven Stamkos is off to a relatively slow start by his standards but he’s on pace for 55 goals and I have little doubt he will get there if he remains healthy.

6) Ryan Johansen has picked up right where he left off last season despite an acrimonious off season where he didn’t get a contract until late and missed training camp. Johansen is 7th in league scoring at the moment and is on pace for 51 goals and 112 points. Boy, that next contract is going to be a doozy!

7) Watch out for Jonathan Drouin. The youngster suffered a broken thumb in training camp and missed the pre-season and the Lightning’s first 5 games of the season. He’s been moved to play on the 1st line with Stamkos and has produced 3 points in 4 games. I expect he’ll give Pearson a run for rookie of the year before all is said and done.

8) Taylor Hall has had a decent start to the season with 7 points in 8 games. He’s on pace for 41 goals and 71 points but that won’t cut it in this group. It’s also worth mentioning that the Oilers have been blessed with a schedule laced with EC opponents and the team is 0-4-1 against the WC. The sledding is about to get much tougher.

9) Tyler Johnson is quietly putting up a pretty nice season for the Bolts with 8 points in 9 games. Only 1 goal though so he’ll likely stay under the radar.

10) Alex Galchenyuk is starting to make the drafting of Nail Yakupov 1st overall look like a whiff. Galchenyuk has 3 goals and 7 points in 8 games played and I would imagine he’ll thrive in Montreal.

The Rest

The Colorado Avalanche quartet of Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O’Reilly has struggled to score so far this season but I don’t expect that to last very long. Just too much talent so we’ll have to revisit this half way through the season.

Nail Yakupov, the 1st overall pick in 2012, continues to struggle to find a place in the lineup and despite a severe zone start push and sheltering is not producing anywhere near someone with his draft pedigree. I expect he’ll be traded or return to the KHL before the Oilers have to sign him to his next contract.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is another player who is not meeting his draft pedigree. Although he has some nice 2 way skills, his scoring does not meet expectations.

Jonathan Huberdeau, who was selected 3rd in the same draft as Hopkins and Landeskog has also been very underwhelming.

The performance of Ryan Johansen over the past season and a bit shows that some players take a little longer for the light to go on but, increasingly, young players tend to bolt out of the gate and are up and running by at least their 3rd season.

Those that don’t can become suspects pretty quickly.