While the Colorado Avalanche vie for the top of the Central Division and the Western Conference, many of their players are looking at hitting career scoring records.
The saying goes that a rising tide raises all boats. A successful Avalanche team boasts some interesting players on pace for new career highs. Some jumps are more dramatic than others but the list of players on the rise is diverse.
Returning Avalanche Players
Three forwards who have been with the team awhile are on the verge of chalking up record points.
Nathan MacKinnon has been playing like a man on fire and his scoring numbers reflect it. He’s racked up 72 points for the season through 49 games. He’s third in the league for points scored. Maybe his nickname should be ‘scorcher’ instead of Nate the Great.
His current point pace would project him to reach 120 points. That number may be a reach as teams tighten up their game down the stretch. Still, he’ll likely eclipse last season’s career-high 99 points. What makes this rate more remarkable is MacKinnon tallied these points with a rotating cast of linemates. If that doesn’t earn him Hart Trophy recognition, something is seriously wrong with the NHL.
But MacKinnon is not alone. Thirty-year-old Matt Calvert is very close to surpassing his career marks for a season. He’s one goal shy of his 13-goal high, three assists away from his 15-assist mark, and needs to add only two points to reach his 26-point high. While it’s not as flashy as MacKinnon’s performance, Calvert reaching career highs while in a depth role helps the entire team.
A lesser-known name to many, Vladislav Kamenev has already surpassed last season’s scoring marks. For those who may not remember, Kamenev was one of the pieces in the Duchene trade. He was injured in his first game in an Avalanche uniform and missed the rest of the season. He earned a spot on last season’s roster and played 23 games before getting injured again.
This season, he’s notched a goal and five assists for a total of six points in 23 games, surpassing his five points in 23 contests from 2018-19. Considering he missed the majority of two hockey seasons and has played bottom line minutes, it’s a step in the right direction for the persevering 23-year-old.
New Forwards Shine
A trio of last season’s acquisitions are thriving in their new environment. They offer proof that a change of scenery can be good and finding the right team can improve a player’s scoring.
Andre Burakovsky, formerly of the Washington Capitals, has racked up enough points to sit fourth on the Avalanche in scoring. His 33 points from 15 goals and 18 assists in 46 games have elevated his numbers, approaching career highs of 38 points, 23 assists, and 17 goals.
With 33 games to go, Burakovsky could rocket past those numbers long before the season ends. He’s definitely flourished with the Avalanche, to the entire team’s benefit. Considering he is only 24, one wonders if the best is yet to come for him.
Burakovsky has some good company as a transplant from a successful team. Twenty-seven-year-old veteran Joonas Donskoi came to Colorado after scoring the San Jose Sharks’ game-winning goal in Game 7 last season, sending the Avalanche home after their second-round playoff run.
Donskoi came to Colorado a month before training camp to adjust to the altitude. He showed up to the voluntary practices early and stayed late, doing all he could to prepare for the upcoming season with his new team.
The work has paid off as he’s tallied 29 points off 14 goals and 15 assists. Donskoi’s already matched his career-high in goals so he will definitely surpass that mark. He should have plenty of time to outdo the 25 assists and 37 points that are his career highs.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare seemed an unlikely fit for the Avalanche, a team with a stated goal of going younger and faster. But the 34-year-old veteran from the Vegas Golden Knights has already tied his career highs for goals and exceeded his career marks for points and assists. He still has 33 games to play. His performance has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season to date. He may be the best thing to come from France since brie.
While the forwards have gotten their fair share of scoring glory, they are not alone. This season’s blueliners have shown scary good scoring chops.
Ryan Graves heads the list of surprise efforts from the blue line. He came over last season in a deadline trade that sent former Av Chris Bigras to the New York Rangers. Graves hadn’t played a single NHL game before joining the Avalanche.
This season he’s tallied eight goals and 11 assists for 19 points. Those are his career highs. The team has forwards who haven’t produced that much. To say he was a good value deal is an understatement. Graves has been a steal. And if the swooning teens mean anything, he could give Gabriel Landeskog a run for his money in the hair department.
Samuel Girard’s performance has been less touted but maybe just as important. He’s already tied his personal assist record, sits one point behind his record point total (27) and needs to chalk up three more goals to reach his goal record. Girard managed this while playing top-pairing minutes and being on the second power-play unit. At 21 years old, Girard still has plenty of room to develop his game. He’s an interesting contrast to the other more touted defensemen. But his development over the past three years has been solid.
The first two mentions are young guys finding their scoring game. Ian Cole, however, has shown that old dogs can learn new tricks. Coming off of double hip surgery, most people’s expectations for Cole were cautious. Could he be the player he was before the surgeries?
Cole returned to the ice earlier than projected but it took him some time to re-develop his game. In the past six weeks, Cole has looked like the bionic man. He’s skated in 44 of the team’s games and sits one goal and two assists away from career highs and three points shy of his all-time scoring record. Give that man an aspirin, or a beer. He’s of age.
One blueliner remains – Cale Makar. It’s hard to say Makar’s performance this season is a surprise. He looked even better than the hype when he joined the team midway through the first-round series against the Calgary Flames. Some may question whether Makar belongs on the list as he didn’t play in the regular season last year. But the rookie defenseman is aiming to shatter franchise records.
He broke the franchise record (including totals from when the Avalanche were the Quebec Nordiques) for most goals scored by a rookie defenseman. Makar’s also tied for the franchise lead in points by a defenseman and he sits five assists shy of the current assist record. But his numbers aren’t limited to just the Avalanche/Nordiques. He leads the league in rookie scoring amongst defensemen. Not only that, he missed eight games to injury. Where would he be if he had been healthy the whole time? He’s definitely earned a Slurpee – or two – even though the season isn’t over yet.
Avalanche Scoring Buries Foes
Asking whether the Avalanche are racking up points because players are having career years or whether players are having career years because the team works hard to score, is like asking whether the chicken or the egg came first. Either way, 10 players are on a blistering point pace. Even a star like MacKinnon, a forward already at the top of his game, is on track to best his own scoring records. Someone may need to call the fire department they’re so hot.
The Avalanche sit second in scoring, one goal behind the Florida Panthers, and have combined for 37 goals more than their opponents. The team has elevated its game in unexpected ways. The scoring is just one factor in the wins, but it’s an important one. The final 33 games will reveal whether the team – and the players – can continue racking up the points. Buckle up, the final stretch should be exciting.
J.D. has followed the Colorado Avalanche since the days of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. Blessed to cover the team for nearly 5 seasons, 3 of those at other venues, J.D. enjoys working with the Hockey Writers. Proud parent of three humans and two dogs, you can follow all the escapades @JDKpirate.