Avalanche Early Season Observations

To start the new 2018-19 NHL season, the Colorado Avalanche have posted a nice 4-1-2 record through the first seven games. The depth of this young team is impressive. General manager Joe Sakic stated numerous times over the last couple of years that he intended to turn this organization’s fortunes around by getting younger and faster. Sakic has done just that. After some early season observations, it’s clear the returns from the Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly trades are starting to affect the team in a very positive way and that will only continue to grow with time.

Key players from those deals are now playing giant roles with the Avalanche. Players such as Nikita Zadorov, J.T. Compher, and Sam Girard are mainstays in the lineup. Plus others including Vladislav Kamenev, Shane Bowers, and Ottawa’s 2019 first-round draft pick still to come. Obviously, that adds much anticipation and optimism for the future with this already young upcoming squad.

Smart trading, great drafting, and some sneaky good free agent signings and waiver pickups have everyone around the organization excited for the present and future alike.

Offensive Young Guns

From their inaugural season in the mid-90s to the early 2000s, Colorado was famous for their offensive capabilities. Well, those times are back in town once again. Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen, who make up the team’s top line and formed one of if not the best lines in hockey last season, have picked up where they left off. They are absolutely the best line combo the Avs have had since those powerhouse days of Sakic, Milan Hejduk, and Peter Forsberg.

Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen
Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Moving down the lineup, the Avalanche have become much deeper. Alexander Kerfoot, Tyson Jost, Colin Wilson, Compher, Sven Andrighetto, Carl Soderberg, Matt Nieto, Matt Calvert, Gabriel Bourque, Kamenev, and newly acquired Marko Dano make up the rest of the 14 forwards.

Only four of those players are older than 25 years old (Bourque, Wilson, Calvert, Soderberg.) Aside from the top trio, the Avs’ second line has formed some great chemistry with Jost, Kerfoot, and Wilson all finding their game at the right time. Having Soderberg and Compher centering the lines behind, it’s a group of forwards that come to play hard and hungry each night.

The Defensive 180

Back again to the depth of this Avalanche team, I cannot remember an Avs squad that was this solid on the backend since the good old days of Adam Foote, Rob Blake, and Ray Bourque. No, I’m not saying these current players are on the same level as those Hall-of-Famers, but it has been THAT long since we’ve seen a defensive group that is worthy of playoff hockey.

This sound defensive group is usually paired like so:

  1. Erik Johnson – Sam Girard
  2. Ian Cole – Tyson Barrie
  3. Nikita Zadorov – Patrik Nemeth/Mark Barberio/Conor Timmins(recovering from injury)
Avalanche defenseman Samuel Girard
Avalanche defenseman Samuel Girard (Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)

That’s three well-balanced defensive lines with competition added in the form of Barberio and Timmins, not to mention star defenseman Cale Makar, who will be starting for the team sooner rather than later.

From Washington D.C. to Denver, Colorado

Semyon Varlamov and Phillip Grubauer have been chosen to hold down the crease, and, through seven games, though Varlamov has the edge, Grubauer looks to be a great pickup from the Washington Capitals, just as Varlamov was in 2011.

Varly is having a nice bounce-back start, posting a SV% of .948 to go along with a GAA of 1.77 in five games. If he can stay healthy, the Avalanche become much more of a threat. It’ll be hard for Grubauer to get his time if Varlamov keeps those numbers up, but ultimately the plan is for the newest goalie imported from Washington to get plenty of action.

Grubauer and Varlamov form a nice goalie tandem that will push each other to be on top of their game, which is exactly what you want in any position. That’s what the Avalanche now posses throughout their lineup – talent, depth and loads of promise.