The Colorado Avalanche have a number of players in the final year of their contracts, and the one everybody has their eye on is Nathan MacKinnon. That attention is deserved, as MacKinnon is one of the league’s top players and a vital cog in the Avalanche machine. But there are other players facing contract seasons who are at pivotal moments in their careers.
Here is a look at three players aiming for big campaigns in 2022-23:
Alex Newhook will be a restricted free agent following this season, but Colorado needs him to prove something in 2022-23. He played his first full season with the Avalanche in 2021-22, totaling 13 goals and 33 points in 71 games. Newhook was hit or miss in the postseason, playing in just 12 of the team’s 20 playoff games, managing four assists.
Newhook will likely get every chance to succeed. The 21-year-old center could get the opportunity to replace Nazem Kadri – who went to the Calgary Flames in free agency – as Colorado’s second-line center. That would likely put him alongside Artturi Lehkonen and Valeri Nichushkin, who both got contract extensions this offseason. Newhook could flourish in that spot, but he has to find the consistency that was missing much of last season to do so.
The sky might still be the limit for Bowen Byram, but the 21-year-old defenseman has yet to put together anything close to a complete season in his young career. Entering his third campaign, he’s played just 49 games thanks to lingering concussion issues. However, he was a force in Colorado’s run to the Stanley Cup last season, notching nine assists in 20 games. His plus-15 also led the NHL playoffs, tied with teammate Gabriel Landeskog and Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid.
That postseason was great news for Byram moving forward. The concussion woes are no joke and not to be taken lightly, but he was great in 2021-22, posting 17 points in 30 games. That gave him a per 60 rate of 1.81, which ranked only behind Cale Makar and Devon Toews among Avs’ defensemen. Byram has shown resilience in the face of some tough injuries and should be in line for a fantastic 2022-23 if he can remain healthy.
The elder statesman of this group, J.T. Compher, is 27 years old. He’s coming off the best season of his career, posting 18 goals and 33 points – both career highs. Compher has played his entire NHL career with the Avalanche after coming to Colorado in the 2015 trade that sent Ryan O’Reilly to the Buffalo Sabres. He’s evolved into a solid plug-and-play forward who is very good on the penalty kill. Head coach Jared Bednar used Compher all over the ice last season, as he logged considerable ice time with a dozen different line combinations.
Compher played a lot with Newhook in the last campaign, and either of them could replace Kadri as the second-line center. If it wasn’t for an injury early in the season that caused him to miss a month, Compher likely would have had the first 20-goal season of his career. If he gets tabbed to be the second-line center, he could cruise past that number. It’s a big season for Compher. If he comes through with a breakout campaign as Nichushkin did in 2021-22, he could improve his value heading into free agency.
All eyes are on Colorado as the defending Stanley Cup champions, and there will be even more scrutiny because of players entering contract years. Playing for one of the best teams in the NHL, these players will have the chance to succeed, and the Avalanche will need every one of them to perform for them to have a chance at a repeat crown.