With the NHL at a standstill and the future of the season still up in the air, what better time to look at the Colorado Avalanche’s success this season and who’s most responsible for that success. Before the league began its hiatus, the Avalanche were nipping at the heels of the reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, sitting two points back with a game in hand for the top seed in the Western Conference.
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Unfortunately, the injuries have piled up in 2019-20, with a total of 222 man-games lost, fifth highest in the league. The team has taken the ‘next man up approach’ to another level while battling this adversity. Here are the five players whose breakout seasons are most responsible for keeping the Avalanche within reach of the number one seed in the west.
5. Samuel Girard, D
Stats: Games Played (GP): 70, 4 Goals (G) – 30 Assists (A) – 34 Points (P)
Girard was one of the main pieces that came to the Avs in the trade that sent Matt Duchene to the Ottawa Senators, and he has developed nicely in each passing season. He has been paired alongside veteran blueliner Erik Johnson which allows Girard to focus on creating offense which has translated to a jump in his point total from last season.
The Quebec native has been durable playing in 68 games or more over the last three seasons. The Avalanche defense has been able to shut things down defensively, and Girard is doing his share of the heavy lifting on the offensive side, especially in the absence of the team’s top point producers.
4. Ryan Graves, D
Stats: GP: 69, 9G – 17A – 26P
Graves has been a staple on the Avalanche’s blue line since the start of the 2019-20 season. He was acquired in 2018 from the New York Rangers in exchange for Chris Bigras. After being an AHL regular most of his career, he has appeared in a career-high 69 NHL games and hasn’t looked out of place. His physical presence on the blue line provides stability to a young defensive core.
He has never been known as an offensive defenceman but has chipped in 26 points and a league-leading plus-40 rating. Although he is only 24 years old, his maturity and experience in the defensive zone and his ability to block shots has been irreplaceable on the Avs’ blue line.
3. Andre Burakovsky, LW
Stats: GP: 58, 20G – 25A – 45P
The former Washington Capital forward never made the jump everyone hoped he would during his time in D.C., and it appears a fresh start has paid dividends for the 24-year-old Austrian. He has put up career highs this season in goals, assists, and points despite missing a handful of games to injury earlier in the season.
He was the primary beneficiary when Mikko Rantanen went down with an injury and showed he can produce at a high level offensively. Unfortunately, he is out with a lower-body injury, joining a long list of Colorado forwards who are on the mend. The former first-round pick should continue to be a great secondary scoring option once he has fully recovered.
2. Pavel Francouz, G
Stats: GP: 34, 21-7-4 record, 2.41 goals-against average, .923 save percentage
The Czech Republic native was signed in 2018 and has shown in North America that his accomplishments in the KHL were no fluke. Lingering injuries have caused Philipp Grubauer to miss many games this season which has forced Francouz into the starting role, and he did more than just keep the team afloat.
He has played two fewer games than his German counterpart, putting up a great record, and he provided stability in net in Grubauer’s absence. Without Francouz this season might have been lost before it started, but instead, he has answered the bell and kept the team within arm’s reach of the top seed in the Western Conference, and he has earned himself a two-year contract extension in the process.
1. Cale Makar, D
Stats: GP: 57, 12G – 38A – 50P
By far the Avalanche’s biggest breakout this season is Cale Makar who burst on the scene as a legitimate number one defenceman at only 21 years of age. The team moved Tyson Barrie to the Toronto Maple Leafs before the season, an indication that the organization knew Makar was ready to fill the void. The former fourth-overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft has put up astounding offensive numbers and broke the franchise record for points by a rookie defenceman.
He is second in team scoring this season, despite missing five games and the rest of the season should it not resume. Either way, Makar has been a force on the blue line this season and is a strong contender to win the Calder trophy this season to no surprise. Makar is on the rise to be a top defenceman in this league for years to come and a future Norris Trophy winner.
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The timing of this hiatus could not have come at a better time for the Avalanche. If this season were to resume, several of the Avs core pieces should be fully recovered and take a large load off the players who have been carrying the weight in their absence. These five players’ contributions have given the team a great opportunity to take over the top spot in the conference from the Blues.
I am a graduate of Seneca Colleges Civil Engineering Technology Program and have turned my obsession for sports into a lifestyle. I have been covering the Edmonton Oilers here on The Hockey Writers since 2019. I love fantasy sports, collecting sports memorabilia and listening to classic rock with a cold one or a coffee in my hand.