After being one of the worst teams in the league in 2016-17, the Colorado Avalanche rebounded in a big way and made the playoffs.
While they got knocked out in the first round by the league’s best team in the Nashville Predators, it was still an impressive season and one that they need to build off of in order to compete in the ever-tight Western Conference.
For that to happen, forward Nathan MacKinnon needs to continue his terrific play from last season and lead this team on the ice. MacKinnon, 23, was a machine last season as he led the team with 97 points and was every bit the offensive specimen that they drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in 2013.
MacKinnon really stepped up his play once Matt Duchene got traded. Before he as traded, Duchene was looked at as the guy who would provide a lot of offense. That all changed when he was dealt and MacKinnon ran with it.
Mikko Rantanen was another guy that was awesome last season. He finished the year with 84 points and at just 21 years of age, is going to get even better.
While those two guys were great last season, the rest of the team’s offense is going to need to be better. Guys like Landeskog, Alexander Kerfoot, Carl Soderberg, and the rest of the team’s offense need to step up and provide more support to MacKinnon and Rantanen.
Defensively, they definitely need to better in front of their goaltenders. This is a club that gives up a ton of shots and going into this year, they will need to do a better job of protecting their netminders.
One defenseman who was great for the Avs last season was Tyson Barrie. He had 57 points last season and while his plus/minus was still pretty awful at -15, that was actually 19 better than what he did the season before.
The team is hoping that bringing on a veteran blueline in Ian Cole will help steady things in their own zone. He may still be just 29-years-old, but he already has 405 games under his belt and has proven to be an extremely reliable defenseman.
That leaves us with the club’s goaltending. When healthy, Semyon Varlamov is still an extremely good goaltender. He won 24 games last season while posting a respectable 2.68 GAA, a .920 save percentage and two shutouts.
The main concern with Varly is that he is extremely fragile. He can’t seem to stay healthy and he goes down, the rest of the team’s play declines.
The franchise is hoping to change that with the acquisition of 26-year-old Philipp Grubauer from the Washington Capitals. When Caps’ starter Braden Holtby struggled last season, Grubauer stepped in and played 35 games and played extremely well in them going 15-10-3 with a 2.35 GAA, a .923 save percentage and three shutouts.
Grubauer wants to be the main man between the pipes for the Avs. Unfortunately for Grubauer, he is going to have to steal it from Varly and that will not be an easy task.
It’s tough to say whether or not this team can make the postseason this year. A lot of the teams in the West got better and some of them even managed to thrust themselves into elite status.
It will be up for the Avs to create their own opportunity by being consistent, getting more scoring from guys other than MacKinnon and Rantanen, playing better defensively and getting reliable goaltending. If they can do all of those things, they may be able to sneak into the dance for the Cup.
Photo: Denver Post