Avalanche All-Decade Team: Forwards

It’s time for the final piece of the Colorado Avalanche All-Decade team – the forwards. In some ways, this is the most difficult compilation. The past decade saw the Avalanche move away from wily veterans who played during the team’s Stanley Cup days, to forwards who slogged through the mid-decade turbulence, onto those who are part of the team’s new resurgence.

Warning – there are some stars who are left off this list. There may be some surprises in here. But the ranking is about who made significant contributions to the Avalanche this past decade. Legends who had stellar careers elsewhere and then came to finish playing in Colorado aren’t likely to appear here.

Honorable Mentions

Three players made the honorable mention list – for very different reasons. They each represent an important aspect of the Avalanche’s evolution over the decade.

Alex Tanguay

Alex Tanguay returned to Colorado in the 2013-14 season. His final stint with the Avalanche saw him suit up for 148 regular season games where he earned 88 points. However, his entire career with the Avalanche places him 10th on the team for points per game.

Tanguay was an intricate part of the team’s second Stanley Cup win in the previous decade. His re-signing heralded hope for a return to former glory. However, age remains undefeated, and Tanguay was no exception. Despite slowing down, though, Tanguay made a significant impact as a veteran leader. His experience helped equip the new players. Then it was time to say ‘thank you’ and let go of the past, making room for the new.

Alexander Kerfoot

Picking up Alexander Kerfoot showed that general manager Joe Sakic could acquire a quality college graduate in free agency. This was a big turning point for the club as they had shied away from adding players to the NHL via the college route. Kerfoot proved he was worth the risk.

Avalanche center Alexander Kerfoot
Alexander Kerfoot proved to be a quality free agent college player. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

The tenacious forward didn’t mind fighting for position. His 85 points over a mere 157 games put him 32nd in Avalanche history while he’s 34th in goals. He united the Pepsi Center fans in shouting “Shoot!” as Kerfoot tended to hold onto the puck looking for a pass instead of shooting the puck. He helped propel the Avalanche to two postseason appearances. Kerfoot was also an important part of the trade for Nazem Kadri last summer.

Matt Nieto

The Avalanche claimed Matt Nieto off the waiver wire Jan. 5, 2017. It was a dismal season but he was one of the bright spots. The Avalanche proved they could add a quality player off waivers, despite having a few misses that year. 

He still plays for the team and holds a crucial role on the penalty kill. And he has logged 230 games in an Avalanche jersey. Not bad for a waiver pickup.

Gritty Fourth Line

In the past decade, the Avalanche relied on a few key players who didn’t always get the glory, but they made substantial contributions to the team. These players may not be the flashy picks, but they all played key roles.

12. J.T. Compher

A versatile forward, J.T. Compher has 202 games with the Avalanche and is signed with the team through the 2022-23 season. Capable of playing center or wing, Compher doesn’t mind handling the physical side of the game while still being a scoring threat.  

  • Tied for 6th in Avalanche history for shorthanded goals (SHG)
  • 33rd in team points

Compher was a key piece in the trade that sent Ryan O’Reilly to the Buffalo Sabres and also brought defenseman Nikita Zadorov to the Avalanche.

J.T. Compher Colorado Avalanche
J.T. Compher rose up from the AHL to earn a starting spot on the Avalanche roster. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

He played on the team’s American Hockey League squad before earning a shot at the starting roster in March 2017. Compher is one of the few players to successfully advance from the Avalanche’s AHL affiliate to a full-time role on the NHL roster. The hard working forward’s ability to contribute wherever he’s put in the lineup and score timely goals has made him a valuable part of the squad.

11. Blake Comeau

The Avalanche picked up Blake Comeau as a free agent in the summer of 2015. He played a steadying part on the Avalanche, frequently skating as a wing on the second or third line.

Blake Comeau
Blake Comeau showed a young team the value of hard work. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Comeau wasn’t flashy, but he did play with intensity. He was a persistent pest to opponents while unflinchingly taking hard minutes. And while it might feel like he wasn’t on the team for long, he suited up for 237 games.

  • Tied for fourth in shorthanded goals SHG
  • 26th for games played
  • 30th for points

Comeau’s penalty kill skills helped overcome many mistakes by his teammates. His shorthanded goals managed to turn the tide of a few games and bring life back to the Pepsi Center.

10. John Mitchell

John Mitchell racked up 326 games for the Avalanche, all during the past decade.

  • 14th all-time for games played
  • 24th for goals
  • 25th in points

That’s a lot of effort from a guy who didn’t play on a top line. Mitchell was steady and focused. He played through some challenging times for the Avalanche.

John Mitchell (THW Archives)

He started with them in the 2012-13 season and continued with the team through the awful 2016-17 season; when he played his last NHL game. Father time came early and shortened Mitchell’s career. But he was a stalwart on the bottom lines and frequently one of the few players who could stop the bleeding when things fell apart.

Third Line – Stalwart Contributors

The third line consists of players who sacrificed for the team, each in a different manner.

9. Milan Hejduk

Milan Hejduk’s jersey hangs in the rafters for his career with the Avalanche. He played his entire NHL tenure with Colorado. The Czech winger owns impressive career numbers for the Avalanche.

  • 1st for games played in an Avalanche jersey
  • 2nd in total points and goals
  • 3rd in assists
  • Tied for 4th in SHG (with Comeau)
  • 10th in penalty minutes
  • Appeared in 1,000 games with the same club

What many have forgotten is he played 237 games during the past decade along with three postseason contests before injury knocked him out of the playoffs.

Milan Hejduk bridged the gap between the old guard and the new changes. (Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE)

Hejduk became the team captain for the 2011-12 season after Adam Foote retired. His term was brief as he handed over the role to second-year player Gabriel Landeskog the following season.

Injuries eventually took their toll and Hejduk retired in Nov. 2013. But he helped carry the team through most of coach Joe Sacco’s tenure, for which he probably deserves a medal.

8. Carl Soderberg

One-eyed pirate Carl Soderberg took the dicey job of centering the second line on a struggling team. Coming over from the Boston Bruins in a trade right before free agency opened in 2015, he signed a five-year contract with the Avalanche the next day. He stayed with the team through the 2018-19 season before getting traded to the Arizona Coyotes.

Avalanche center Carl Soderberg
Carl Soderberg led by example, taking tough minutes. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

‘Big Carl’ was a stalwart for the Avalanche. He missed only seven regular season games over his four years with the club and played in 321 contests.

  • 15th most games in club history
  • 18th in points
  • 21st in goals

Soderberg played in all 18 playoff games in the past two years. He survived moving from Coach Patrick Roy’s big body play to coach Jared Bednar’s fast and skilled style, making him unique. The Swedish center was a stalwart in the face-off circle and was often one of the few grown-ups in a very young locker room that underwent huge shifts during his tenure. In the midst of the storm, Soderberg stood quietly consistent, something the Avalanche desperately needed.

7. Cody McLeod

Fan favorite Cody McLeod played 531 games in an Avalanche sweater this past decade, 659 games for Colorado overall. 

  • 3rd most games played in Avalanche uniform ever
  • 22nd in points
  • Leads the team in penalty minutes

McLeod was never the most skilled player on the ice. But he was tenacious and gritty and any other adjective one can use to describe the type of player who refuses to get beat. He started his career with the Avalanche back in the 2007-08 season and stayed with them midway through the disastrous 2016-17 season. During his time with the Avalanche, he racked up 1,359 penalty minutes, twice as many as the next highest contender – tough guy Adam Deadmarsh.

Cody McLeod didn’t mind mixing it up in defense of his teammates. (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

While his style of play didn’t suit the new direction under coach Bednar, the Avalanche respected McLeod’s contributions enough to trade him to a contender – the Nashville Predators.

McLeod was loyal to a fault. He’d quickly challenge any player who harassed his teammates (thus his huge number of penalty minutes). His heart and passion earned him a spot as a fan favorite. Even during some dark years, McLeod offered people something to cheer. That’s impressive, especially considering he was never a huge scoring forward.

Second Line – Talent on the Move

The second line features talented forwards who had an impact in Colorado and moved on. All three were considered to be the hope for the team’s future. Yet, all three left to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Ironically, their departures left many fans with a bad taste in their mouths and changed how the Avalanche front office handles contract negotiations.

6. Paul Stastny

Second-generation player Paul Stastny (his dad, Peter, played for the Quebec Nordiques) started his career with the Avalanche and stayed through the 2013-14 season. He played 345 games in an Avalanche jersey this decade and a total of 538 matchups going back to his NHL start. His numbers reflect his duration with the Avalanche.

  • 5th in assists
  • 6th in points
  • 8th for games played
  • 13th all time in penalty minutes
  • One All-Star appearance in the past decade

Stastny started off well with the team, but by the time he entered the last decade, he had plateaued. He racked up 12 game winning goals over those last five seasons and scored an impressive 10 points in their seven-game 2013-14 playoff series. Good numbers, good effort, yet not stellar.

Paul Stastny in happier days with the Avalanche. (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

Any talk of Stastny’s impact also must include how he left the team. His unexpected departure shifted the Avalanche’s approach to subsequent contracts. During his final contract year with the team, Sakic planned to trade Stastny for a free agent as he was concerned about Stastny’s asking price. Stastny promised to offer a “Hometown Discount” if the Avalanche kept him through their playoff run.

When the season ended after a first-round exit, Stastny changed his mind and reneged on the discount. Instead, he signed with the highest bidder – the St. Louis Blues. It left a scar with the front office. They lost a top tier player and got nothing in return.

5. Ryan O’Reilly

Ryan O’Reilly began with the Avalanche in the 2009-10 season and stayed with them through the 2014-15 season.

The man nicknamed “the factor” played 427 games with the team and was pretty impactful.

  • 11th most games in Avalanche jersey
  • 11th in points
  • 14th in team goals
  • Lady Byng Memorial Trophy winner 2013-14 for gentlemanly conduct

He developed into the team’s best defensive center and key penalty killer. In his third season, his scoring chops erupted as he doubled his points. However, O’Reilly ended up arguing for more money, resulting in extended contract talks with the Avalanche. The lockout, his extended time in Russia, and an ankle injury all led to him eventually signing an offer sheet with the Calgary Flames in the lockout-shortened season. The Avalanche matched the Flames offer and O’Reilly returned to Colorado.

Ryan O’Reilly played well for the Colorado Avalanche but money got in the way. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The saga continued. Knowing their previous contentious contract discussions, the Avalanche elected to seek salary arbitration for his subsequent deal. Both reached an amicable compromise and the Avalanche traded O’Reilly the following summer, aware they weren’t going to meet his contract demands.

O’Reilly went to the Buffalo Sabres in a package deal that brought Nikita Zadorov and J.T. Compher to Colorado. The Avalanche learned from their mistake with Stastny. If O’Reilly was leaving, they were going to get something in return.

4. Matt Duchene

Matt Duchene started his career in Colorado and logged 586 games in an Avalanche jersey. He exhibited substantial scoring ability.

  • 6th on the team for games played
  • 6th in goals
  • Tied for 6th in game winning goals (with Landeskog)
  • 7th in assists
  • 9th in power play goals
  • 14th in points per game
  • Two All-Star appearances

Duchene began his Avalanche tenure at the same time as O’Reilly. He scored the game-winning goal to send the team to the playoffs in his rookie season. Unfortunately, he would only see one other postseason run with the Avalanche, in 2013-14. The team lost in the first round.

Matt Duchene Avalanche
Matt Duchene shortly before his big trade to the Ottawa Senators.(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

All of Duchene’s numbers, his nifty scoring ability paired with frustrating hot and cold spells tend to get lost in the hubbub surrounding his eventual trade to the Ottawa Senators. Word leaked out that Duchene wanted a trade after the Avalanche’s 48-point season. He didn’t show up for the voluntary captain skates when the following season was about to get underway. Rumors circulated he might not show up for the start of the regular season.

Duchene did decide to play for the Avalanche at the start of the 2017-18 season but it was obvious he was not interested in staying with the team. Stories emerged that he wanted to play for a winning team and not be part of a rebuild, that he no longer changed in the team’s locker room, and that he had asked for a trade BEFORE the losing season and the new coach. At that point, Duchene lost some fans.

Sakic, in one of the better GM moves of the decade, waited out the right offer. He ended up trading Duchene to Ottawa for defenseman Sam Girard, center Vladislav Kamenev, forward Shane Bowers, and draft picks that led to the acquisition of Justus Annunen (the Finnish goaltender who made a big impression at World Juniors), Russian defenseman Danila Zhuravlyov, and Calder contending rookie defenseman Cale Makar. The significant return makes the trade an unqualified win for the Avalanche.

Stellar Top Line

The top line is actually the Avalanche’s current top line. Why? Because the Avalanche haven’t had a top line in over a decade. The amazing threesome also propelled the team to two consecutive playoff runs for the first time in a decade. Last year’s hotly contested second round battle was the first time the Avalanche advanced past the first round since 2007-08.

Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen
Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen are not only the Avalanches’ top line, they are the top line of the decade. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The trio survived the dismal 48-point season and instead of making excuses, leveraged it to build something better. It’s the kind of leadership and drivenness that builds successful teams and ushers in hope for many Stanley Cup runs.

3. Mikko Rantanen

The dynamic Mikko Rantanen is currently playing in his fourth season for the Avalanche. He already has 272 regular season games in an Avalanche sweater, good enough for 23rd in the team’s history.

Despite his relatively short time on the team, he’s also got some other pretty good numbers.

  • 6th in average points per games played
  • 10th in power play goals
  • 11th in assists
  • 12th in points
  • 13th in goals
  • 2018-19 All-Star appearance

Rantanen, though, is more than his stats sheet. At 23 years old, he is one of the more dynamic wings in hockey. He’s not afraid to use his size to make room for his speed and slick puck skills. And he has figured out how to play with his linemates to create a dynamic trio. Skills alone don’t always do that, as Avalanche fans know well from the O’Reilly, Duchene, and Stastny days.

Colorado Avalanche Mikko Rantanen
Big Moose Mikko Rantanen worked his way onto the Avalanche’s top line. (AP Photo/Craig Lassig, File)

Rantanen has struggled this season with both an injury and having missed training camp while finalizing his new contract. Despite that, he’s still third on the team in points even though he missed 16 games. He’s earning over a point per contest. Rantanen is also tied for the team lead in game winning goals this season. That’s a little crazy for a guy who skates like a big moose and is prone to falling awkwardly while still winning the puck. Oh, and he’s signed through 2024-25.

2. Nathan Mackinnon

Nathan MacKinnon has erupted in the past few years to surpass all expectations. Yet, he’s number two for the past decade. Still, he already has some pretty impressive numbers in Avalanche history and looks primed to earn many more.

His Avalanche milestones are noteworthy.

  • 4th in power play goals
  • 4th in average points per game played
  • 5th in total points
  • 5th in goals
  • 6th in assists
  • 10th for games played
  • Calder Memorial Trophy for Rookie of the Year
  • Four All-Star appearances, including two as the Central Division captain

Nate the Great also has amazing stats across the NHL board. He’s already hit 30 goals for this season, sits third for total points and fourth for goals. MacKinnon has been in contention for most valuable player award – the Hart Memorial Trophy – and the Art Ross Trophy for most points scored for the past two seasons and looks poised to make another run. This season, he’s also proved he can rack up points with a variety of linemates.

Nathan MacKinnon, Mika Zibanejad
Nathan MacKinnon drives down the ice with the puck, leaving opponents scattered behind him. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/David Zalubowski)

MacKinnon skates like the wind while still being powerful enough to not get pushed off his edges. He excels at protecting the puck and can score from anywhere on the ice. The Avalanche haven’t seen a player like this in one of their sweaters in a very long time. It’s just a matter of time before he challenges some of Joe Sakic’s records. His future is bright. Oh yeah, he’s also 24 years old. He future isn’t just bright, it’s long.

1. Gabriel Landeskog

Yes, the captain, Gabriel Landeskog gets the number one spot. Why? For many reasons. As the previous rankings show, it’s not all about the scoring, although Landeskog has very good numbers. It’s also about the intangibles a player has brought to the team this past decade. And no one, no one has done more for the Avalanche over that time frame.

Along the way, he’s racked up some remarkable numbers in Avalanche history.

  • 4th for games played
  • 4th in goals
  • 5th in power play goals
  • Tied for 6th in SHG (with Compher)
  • 7th in penalty minutes
  • 7th in points
  • 8th in assists
  • 16th in points per game
  • Calder Memorial Trophy for Rookie of the Year
  • 2018-19 All-Star appearance

Landeskog started with the Avalanche in the 2011-12 season, at the age of 18. The following year he was named captain, taking over from an Avalanche legend in Hejduk.  At the time, he was the youngest NHL player to be named to a captaincy.

He’s been the captain during three very different coaches – Joe Sacco, Patrick Roy, and Jared Bednar. Despite his youth, Landeskog kept the team together through a huge shift in styles during the 48-point season and helped the team thrive after Duchene was traded.

Colorado Avalanche Gabriel Landeskog
Captain Gabriel Landeskog helped his team become a cohesive unit. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

Somehow, Landeskog managed to navigate all the turmoil over the course of the decade to help build a cohesive team that has returned to playoff contention.  He even managed to get attend both Ryan O’Reilly’s and Matt Duchene’s weddings, after they had left the team. That’s some top tier leadership skills.

At 27 years old, Landeskog is moving into the sweet spot as a captain. Young enough to still have scary good skills and mature enough to know how to handle players. He’s already done an amazing job through some tough times. Now, he can hopefully enjoy the fruits of his labors.

That wraps up the Avalanche All-Decade Team. Colorado hasn’t had an easy decade but they certainly managed to find quality players to ride out some of the rougher spots. And in the midst of their worst season, they assembled a core that could propel the team to new heights. Who knows? Perhaps in another decade, people will look back and say this is when they laid the foundation for a rich history of success.