It’s no secret to anyone who is a hockey fan: the Colorado Avalanche are not the team they used once were. The last retirement of Peter Forsberg, seemingly at least, has finally brought around a sense of change in an organization that seemed content to live in the past. Everyone knows the Avalanche were one of three most dominant teams in the NHL when they moved to Denver in 1996, along with the Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils.
According to ESPN.com, during their first ten seasons in Denver, the club set an NHL record with 10 straight division titles, an NHL record 487 consecutive sellouts, made the Western Conference finals 6 out of their first 7 seasons, and won 2 Stanley Cups in 1996 and 2001.
Then, with Patrick Roy’s retirement after losing their first round playoff series to the Minnesota Wild, the Avalanche began to decline. Since 2005, The team has missed the playoffs every other year, winning two playoff series, and the attendance numbers have plummeted. As of January 23, Colorado ranks 23rd in the league in home attendance numbers, yet they sit in 8th place in the Western conference. There is a lack of buzz around the team without former superstars like Sakic, Roy, and Forsberg. However, what many fans of the team and around the league don’t know yet it is how much exciting, young talent the organization has. Most fans know Milan Hejduk, the last of the Avalanche past success, and Paul Stastny, who has a usual place among the top scorers in the league. What they don’t know is that a new core is forming for one of the youngest teams in the league, that could promise a revival of the franchise in the next few years
Matt Duchene- Even though he rather quietly named to the All-Star team last year, Duchene is still relatively unknown in the public eye. Duchene represents the start of Colorado’s rebuilding stage, as he was their first lottery pick, going 3rd overall in the 2009 entry draft. He has been with the team since day one, and actually led the Avs in scoring last year with 67 points. He continues to dazzle with his quick speed and soft hands. At the age of 21, there’s still much room for improvement in his game, but the organization is glad to have a player with his abilities to help return them to former glory.
Ryan O’Reilly- Colorado’s second pick in the 2009 draft became “the factor”, Ryan O’Reilly. He spent much of his first two seasons playing third line minutes and in defensive situations for the team. This season, however, he currently leads the Avalanche with 36 points, and has been very effective in the face-off dots as well. With Duchene out with injuries the last month, the team has rallied around O’Reilly and his energetic play style to still compete for the 8th seed in the Western conference.
Peter Mueller- One of the first cases of the current concussion debate in the NHL, Mueller was traded from Phoenix for forward Wojtek Wolski in the 2009-2010 season. A formal 8th overall pick for the Coyotes, his game came to life once he reached Denver. However, it was a short stint, as he began a two-year battle with concussion syndromes. He finally seems healthy once more, and when Mueller has played for Colorado, he has 24 points in 23 career regular season games. The combination of these three young forwards, as well as Stastny and first round pick in 2011 Gabriel Landeskog , and the Avalanche have a very young (Besides Hejduk, Stastny is the oldest at 26 years old) and talented core being developed.
Erik Johnson- A former lottery pick of the St. Louis Blues, he was involved in a surprising trade deadline move last year that sent Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk to the Blues in exchange for Johnson and Jay McClement. A very good offensive defensemen, Johnson has given the Avs some stability along the blue line, something they really had lacked the previous few seasons. Although the plus/minus stat is a little off, Johnson has been very valuable to the powerplay and in some crucial situations for the Avs.
Kyle Quincey- Formerly a member of the Detroit Red Wings and Los Angeles Kings, Quincey, much like Johnson, has become a huge part of the defensive core in Colorado. He leads the team in time on ice, and the defense in points. He is one of the key reasons why the Avalanche have gone from 32nd to 18th in goals allowed per game this season.
Ryan Wilson- and undrafted player in 2008, Wilson eventually found his way to the Colorado Avalanche in the 2009 season. He is the only Avalanche defenseman with in the plus side of the stat , at a plus 5. Along with rookie Stefan Elliot, their great play as young defensemen, which isn’t easy, has really helped the Avalanche, who have had problems scoring so far this season
Semyon Varlamov- Drafted 23rd overall by the Washington Capitals in 2006, Varlamov showed immediate brilliance in a playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins (although the team did end up losing that series). Colorado traded a first round draft pick this off-season for Varly, passing up on free agent goaltenders such as Tomas Vokoun. Varlamov has had a rough time so far this season, posting a 3.00 GAA, and only a .899 save percentage. Although it may seem bad, it can be attributed to a very talented but inconsistent young team. He has shown signs of brilliance over the course of the season, it’s just a matter of experience for a team this young.
These are just a few examples of the talent the new Colorado Avalanche have on their roster. In the next couple years, this team should take huge leaps towards being a contender for the Stanley Cup again, something most fans and organization members feel they should be doing every season. It definitely is a new look in Denver, but this new core could be every bit as good as the last.
Aspiring journalist at Oakland University. Hockey is a way of life, and I look forward to sharing it with everyone.