The 2018-19 Colorado Avalanche team showed quite a bit of skill, but depth and consistency were major issues. With a few key offseason moves, the club just tightened up the areas needed to be Stanley Cup contenders.
The most obvious concern for the team and fans is the absence of Mikko Rantanen’s signature on a long-term contract. Aside from that, executive vice president and general manager, Joe Sakic, didn’t hesitate to make some moves. Most notable for the team is acquiring Nazem Kadri from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Granted, they shipped off fan favorites Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot, but received a solid second-line center in Kadri and a young defenseman with Calle Rosen.
Speaking of Offense
Kadri, who played his entire NHL career with Toronto, brings depth and experience, tallying 357 points in 561 games with the organization. He also scored 10 points in 19 playoff games, which is advantageous to a young, playoff-inexperienced Avalanche roster.
Colorado struggled with posting points from their secondary lines outside of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Rantanen. Kadri played third-line minutes in Toronto behind first- and second-line centers, John Tavares and Auston Matthews, respectively. He’s expected to anchor the second line in Colorado with Tyson Jost and newly-acquired Andre Burakovsky.
The only concern for the Avalanche is Kadri’s conduct on and off the ice. He served multiple suspensions for illegal cross-checks to the face, boarding and diving, including his most recent suspension during the first round of the playoffs in the spring. Four years ago, he was late to practice and missed a meeting earning him a two-game team-imposed suspension. No doubt he knows how to get under other players’ skin, but there is a line and his new team will have to wait and see if the change of scenery altered that for him.
Coming from the 2017-18 Stanley Cup-winning Washington Capitals, left-wing Burakovsky is a fast, skilled and experienced player. At only 24 years old, he notched 6 points in 13 postseason games with the Caps and should prove valuable on the wing for the team. His ability to play either wing as well as his talented passing game are assets to a team needing a solid secondary line. He’s a big player (6-foot-3, 201 pounds) fueled to play a physical game and prove his worth in Colorado.
Veteran center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare may not have put up big numbers in his two years with the Vegas Golden Knights but is an important addition to the Avalanche locker room. At 34 years old, he’s now the oldest player on the team and is expected to influence his teammates with his experience and leadership. Bellemare’s stick-handling ability and speedy skating will play a key role on the fourth line. His penalty killing and faceoff wins are additional holes filled in the Avalanche roster.
Right winger Joonas Donskoi was a steal for the Avalanche coming off a career-high season with 37 points in 80 games for the San Jose Sharks. He scored a total 122 points in 283 games and 21 points in 50 playoff appearances with the Sharks. He’s a fast skater with a clean style, versatility and manages to draw penalties from opposing players. He will add to the arsenal of assist leaders with stellar passing and sharp eyes.
Another recent addition to the offense is right winger Valeri Nichushkin from the Dallas Stars. Although a gamble for the Avalanche, as the Russian failed to record a single goal last season, he has potential that Sakic sees worthy of exploring. With his CSKA club in Moscow, he scored 51 points in 86 games. He’s only 24 years old and has plenty of hockey to play. He is a big player at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, and could add depth to the third or fourth lines. If he makes the Avalanche roster, the team hopes he’ll fit in their system better than he did in Dallas.
Depth on Defense
The offense was clearly the most crucial component for the Avalanche in the offseason. Even as stacked as the defense is with Ian Cole, Erik Johnson and Hobey Baker winner Cale Makar, Sakic and company added Jacob MacDonald from the Florida Panthers. Only having suited up for two games with the team last season, he led his AHL team with 43 points in 72 games. Look for this new player to add some scoring power from the blue line and fill the void while Cole and Johnson are recovering from offseason surgeries, if he makes the roster. He may spend some time with the AHL Colorado Eagles to start.
No doubt the Avalanche have been building this team for a while. This club has added veteran presence, stockpiled young talent and signed an extended contract with coach Jared Bednar, so they have faith in the group as a whole. Indubitably this will be an exciting team to watch this season. It may be a fuzzy start figuring out which lines work best together. Stay tuned and the picture should sharpen up in no time.