With the start of the NHL season finally just around the corner, there is a lot of excitement for hockey in the Mile High City. The Avalanche have one of the most exciting young rosters in the NHL and are just becoming ready to live up to their potential. Consistency is one of the things that the Avalanche have struggled with, but this is the year it will begin to come together. So here are some bold predictions for the Avalanche this season.
Matt Duchene will lead the team in goals and scoring.
Matt Duchene had a rough year last season with career lows in goals and points and had to deal with an extended injury for the first time in his career. Duchene could have handled this a couple of ways, he could have gone through his offseason in the regular fashion and just hoped that things wouldn’t happen the same way again. It’s possible he could have been just fine; but, then again, it’s possible he would be just that much more susceptible to injury again. Or he could take the route he ended up taking and use the offseason to improve himself.
Rather than sit back and just go through the offseason in the same fashion he had been, Matt Duchene decided that the physical shape he was in was not good enough and decided to do something about it. A lot of you might remember seeing Matt Duchene sharing a suite with Sidney Crosby during the Stanley Cup Finals. The reason these two guys were together during their offseason was because Matt Duchene went to work with Sidney Crosby’s strength and conditioning coach in Los Angeles. Duchene took it upon himself to improve his physical conditioning so that he will be more durable and more effective throughout the season. This will pay off and Duchene will lead the Avalanche in scoring and goals this year.
Ryan O’Reilly will be a Selke finalist.
Ryan O’Reilly had a breakout year last season, leading the Avalanche in goals and in scoring. He also received some consideration for the Selke Trophy, given the NHL’s best defensive forward, finishing in 14th. Part of this you can blame on the fact that the Avalanche didn’t receive a lot of national attention, outside of Gabriel Landeskog’s sensational rookie year. Now that O’Reilly has become more of a household name, should he even come close to duplicating his production from a season ago, both offensively and defensively, he should easily be considered a finalist.
Just to give you a taste, the winner of this award a season ago was Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins. Bergeron had 55 takeaways a season ago, O’Reilly had 101 and led the entire NHL. They were separated by only nine points offensively and really had similar seasons. The biggest difference between the two, and one of the biggest reasons Bergeron absolutely deserved it, was the plus/minus rating and face-off percentages. O’Reilly will improve in both areas and will help his candidacy as a result.
Semyon Varlamov will win 20 games this year.
This one is definitely a bold prediction, especially considering the fact that the season will only be 48 games this year. I’m sure Giguere will get plenty of action because of the condensed schedule in an effort to keep everybody as fresh as possible, but Varlamov is the clear starter and will see most of the action.
Varlamov was on a tear at the end of last season and carried that through to the IIHF World Championships and into the start of the KHL season. He’s ready to take that next step into the top-tier of NHL goalies and this season he will do it.
P.A. Parenteau will score more points than Zach Parise this season.
Zach Parise was the big prize of free agency this past season, and for good reason; but, Parise will quickly learn that life in Minnesota isn’t exactly one that will help you in the offensive statistics column. Dany Heatley learned that after coming over from the high-scoring San Jose Sharks and Parise will discover the same. P.A. Parenteau was signed to a much more reasonable contract yet was only separated from Parise by two points. True, Parise was a 30-goal scorer, but scoring 30 goals is not Parenteau’s primary function. Parenteau was an underrated signing that will be heralded as one of the best signings of the offseason by the end of this season.
The Avalanche will be a playoff team as a 5 seed.
I’m not going to go out on a limb and say that the Avalanche will be atop the Northwest Division again, but they are absolutely in position to make a strong run at a good playoff seed this year. They will have to turn the page and figure out how to be a consistent team in order to make it this far, but this is a challenge that this team is ready to finally overcome. They are to the point where the only thing that can really hold them back from the consistency that they want is coaching, which has also been a question mark in Denver for the last few years.