3 Best Surprises For the Avalanche in October

The first month of the season for the Colorado Avalanche was about as predictable as, well, a Colorado snowstorm. Even though the first few games weren’t what they hoped, the Avs have righted the ship a bit, winning three of their last four, including a road win against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, and a couple of victories against rivals.

While some of the big guns were missing for part of it – Nathan MacKinnon due to COVID, and Gabriel Landeskog due to suspension – those two are still topping the team in scoring. But not all of the surprises were bad news.

Here are three unexpected events from the first month of the season that are great news for the Avalanche going forward:

Compher’s Scorching Start

The Avalanche knew they had some scoring to replace from last season. Joonas Donskoi and Brandon Saad combined for 32 goals last season, but both departed in the offseason. While the scenery changed for those two, it was a familiar face that has stepped up to replace that offense in veteran J.T. Compher.

Colorado Avalanche J.T. Compher
Colorado Avalanche left wing J.T. Compher (Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)

Playing in his sixth season with the Avalanche, the 26-year-old winger looks ready for a breakout season. His four goals and four assists are tied with Landeskog for second on the team in points, and he looks poised to demolish almost all of his career marks this season. His previous best season was in 2018-19, when he racked up 16 goals and 16 assists in 66 games. He’s one point away from half his point total of last season, and has recorded eight points through eight games in 2021-22. It took him 26 games to hit that same total a season ago.

Related: Avalanche Youth Needs to Replace Lost Veterans

More importantly, he’s playing all of the time. It doesn’t matter if the Avalanche are even strength, a man up, or a man down, Compher has been out there. He’s one of only eight players in the NHL to score a short-handed goal, a power-play goal and an even-strength goal this season. The increased responsibility has landed him an average of 19:35 of ice time, which is more than two minutes higher per game than any season in his career.

O’Connor Earns Time in Top Six

Logan O’Connor emerged as a fan favorite with the Avalanche last season due to his engine that never quits, and his penchant for landing a timely play that got his teammates going – whether it be a goal, an assist, hitting an opponent, or hitting a crossbar – last season. After spending the last three seasons on a yo-yo string between the NHL and the AHL, it looks like he’s here to stay.

Logan O'Connor Colorado Avalanche
Logan O’Connor of the Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

O’Connor has started on the second line alongside veteran Nazem Kadri and rookie Sampo Ranta for the last two games. That might change when Mikko Rantanen returns from injury, but he’s proving that he won’t be a liability even if he’s playing more minutes with more responsibility. He only has two assists on the season, but one was on Nazem Kadri’s goal in the Oct. 28 win over the St. Louis Blues. That wound up being a huge goal as the Blues furiously came back in the third period. He also logged a career high 16:09 of ice time in that game.

The most games O’Connor has played in a season is 22 – in last season’s COVID-shortened schedule – and many thought he could have appeared more often. He had just three goals and two assists during that 2020-21 campaign, which were both career highs. He’s matched the two assists this season and is waiting for his first goal, but the trust Avalanche coach Jared Bednar has put in O’Connor to put him (and Ranta) on the second line speaks volumes. O’Connor is going to shatter his career bests this season, and don’t be surprised if his infectious energy gets him even more minutes.

Byram Breaks Out

Ok, this might not be a super surprise, but it has been pleasant to see the highly-touted prospect Bowen Byram walk into his sophomore campaign like he owned the place. Many thought a breakout was coming, but he’s been a different player from his brief stint with the NHL club last season.

Bowen Byram, Colorado Avalanche
Bowen Byram, Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Byram has a goal and four assists through the first eight games of the season. That goal (the first of his career) came on opening night, when he also added an assist. That gave him as many points in his first 16:33 of ice time this season as he scored during his 19 games in the last campaign. His five points put him sixth on the team in points.

More importantly, they’re trusting him more. He has spent time on the top pairing with Cale Makar, and looks like he belongs. Only goaltender Darcy Kuemper and Makar have spent more minutes on this ice for the Avalanche this season than Byram. He’s still not logging many minutes with special teams (just 1:09 per game on the power play, and 0:28 per game short-handed), but look at the rest of the roster. Makar’s almost always going to be the option on the power play. Short-handed, the experience of Jack Johnson and Erik Johnson lead the team, and both of them were in the league when Byram was six years old. Byram’s time will come, and the early returns from this season show that time is arriving sooner rather than later.

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