The Colorado Avalanche enter the playoffs establishing more than just the team’s first back-to-backs postseason appearance in a decade. They are winning on a number of fronts beyond the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Avalanche Win at the Draft Lottery
The Avalanche acquired the Ottawa Senators first-round draft pick in the Matt Duchene trade in Nov. 2017. They finally get to cash that chip in.
While the lottery gods did not favor the Avalanche in the actual draw, Colorado still walks away with the fourth-overall pick in the draft (from Ottawa) as well as the 16th pick. Two first round picks in a quality draft pool – not a bad way to enter the postseason.
Avalanche Win at College
The Avalanche drafted one of the better players in 2017, Cale Makar, who was also a fourth-overall pick. Makar elected to stay and play his second season with UMass and it has paid big dividends already.
UMass ran a struggling hockey program when Makar first enrolled. However, this season they are playing in their first ever Frozen Four Thursday night (6:30 pm MST) against the DU Pioneers. It is the school’s second NCAA Tournament appearance ever.
Makar made the second season worth the wait. He racked up 48 points and a plus-32 over the course of 39 college games, contributing to a third of the team’s goals and led the league in scoring. He was also the NCAA’s third highest scorer in his sophomore season.
The 20-year-old Makar was named the Hockey East Player of the Year, selected for the Hockey East First All-Star Team and is one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award (which goes to college hockey’s top player and will be awarded Friday, April 12). ESPN also named him the number one NHL-affiliated prospect.
He could join the Avalanche as soon as the Frozen Four ends.
Avalanche Win With Prospects
Colorado also managed to win by bringing in two of their promising prospects into their organization this spring.
Shane Bowers, the talented forward from Boston University. signed an entry-level contract (ELC) starting July 1s with the Avalanche. In the meantime, he joined their AHL affiliate the Colorado Eagles on an amateur try out contract (ATO). Bowers was acquired from Ottawa as one of the pieces in the Duchene trade.
The 19-year-old center had an impressive freshman year but his numbers tailed off some this season as the entire team failed to live up to expectations. He was the sixth player from BU to leave the program for the NHL. He tallied 21 points over 37 contests this season.
But he’s not alone. The Avalanche also signed their 2017 fourth-round pick, Nick Henry, who is also a 19-year-old forward. Henry, though, rose up through the ranks of the Western Hockey League (WHL) where he combined for 83 points this season. He finished the WHL season seventh in the league for scoring.
Avalanche Win With Their Affiliates
The Colorado Eagles, the Avalanche’s AHL affiliate, is pressing in for one of the final playoff spots themselves. It’s quite a feat considering this is the Eagles first season in the AHL and that last season’s affiliate – the San Antonio Rampage – had finished dead last in their division last season.
The Eagles were promoted from the ECHL where they had been conference champions two years in a row. But it’s a big jump from ECHL to the AHL and they have managed to adjust remarkably well. The Eagles kept their staff from their ECHL days with the addition of a new head coach Greg Cronin.
But the Eagles aren’t the only affiliate having success this season. The Avalanche added the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies to replace the Eagles. The Grizzlies have already booked their ticket to the Kelly Cup Playoffs which starts Friday, April 12.
The Grizzlies also picked up Colorado College’s number one goaltender, Alec Leclerc. The college junior played his first game with the Grizzlies April 5t. He will also be able to graduate this May, needing only three years to get his degree.
Winning appears to be attracting talent. Who knew?
Avalanche Win Back-to-Back Playoff Spots
The Avalanche heading to the postseason marks the first time in over a decade the organization has had consecutive playoff appearances. It’s a huge step for a team that has struggled to find any consistency. It’s also an incredible experience for the younger players to build on.
As the second youngest team in the league, the Avalanche players haven’t had much experience playing for the Stanley Cup. Last season, most prognosticators expected the Nashville Predators to dominate Colorado and sweep the series.
The Avalanche had other ideas, even though they ended up having to ice their third string goaltender, an AHL defenseman and two other defensemen who played with shoulder injuries that needed surgery. They pushed the series to six games before getting eliminated and earned some respect.
While that respect hasn’t carried over into this season’s playoff predictions, the fact the Avalanche made the playoffs, going on an 8-1-2 run down the stretch without some of their top players, is significant. Goaltending improved dramatically from the disastrous January where neither netminder managed to get to a .900 save percentage. Secondary scoring kicked it up a notch. And the defensemen found ways to contribute to scoring as well as play solid defense.
The Avalanche will have the opportunity to enter this season’s playoffs with something new – a healthy lineup. And make no mistake, the fans have noticed. The Pepsi Center has filled with Avalanche fans over the course of the season, getting sellouts without relying on opposing teams fanbases. That’s a big win.
Avalanche Win Training Camp
The Avalanche will have the opportunity to have five first round picks at training camp. Martin Kaut, Makar, Bowers and both picks from this year’s draft. It’s a big step for a program which recognized they needed to rebuild the organization from the ground up six years ago.
The organization opened themselves up to acquiring players from college. The Avalanche picked up forward Alexander Kerfoot after he graduated Harvard and became a free agent. J.T. Compher and Tyson Jost also spent time in college.
The Avalanche also showed a willingness to take some risks with drafting players from oversees, adding them to their pipeline. Kaut played in the Czech league, goaltender Pavel Francouz – while having played for the Czech national team – also played in the KHL.
The organization also drafted Nikoali Kovalenko, Igor Shvyrev, Andrei Mironov and acquired Vladislav Kamenev in a trade, all of whom played in the KHL. From Sweden, they picked up Adam Werner, Gustav Olhaver and added Anton Lindholm. From Finland, they drafted young goaltender Justus Annunen in 2018.
Avalanche Are Building a Culture of Winning
The organization improved their scouting, at least in terms of first round picks, which should pay dividends for years. Their affiliations are succeeding, which should help player development. Colorado’s youth are getting some valuable playoff opportunities early in their careers. All of which means the Avalanche front office has set the organization on a path where this could be the worst season they have for years to come.
The Avalanche making the playoffs again is a big step. But make no mistake, the organization is building a winning culture all the way around. Winning the first round is merely the next step in the process.
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.