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West Division Preview: Colorado Avalanche present a new challenge

Eight games against one of the top teams in the West makes a playoff push that much more difficult.

Ryan Graves #27 of the Colorado Avalanche shoots against the Anaheim Ducks at Pepsi Center on March 04, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

Let’s face it: no one wanted the Colorado Avalanche to move out of the Central Division — except, probably, the Avs themselves. They’re a team with a fairly young core, depth for days and a goaltender who performs consistently well.

The Avalanche are in their Cup window, which means it’s a bad time to be playing them eight times in a season. Match that with intradivisional play through the second round of playoffs, and Colorado’s path through the West is as easy as they want to make it for themselves.

Also personally, I never got over the Joonas Donskoi signing, so I’m gonna have a bad time.

Where we left off

The 2019-20 Colorado Avalanche were in the midst of a difficult March, neck and neck with the St. Louis Blues for first place in the Western Conference when the season paused due to the coronavirus pandemic. They weren’t making it any easier on themselves to run away with the division title while losing to teams that were at the bottom of the division, especially so close to what would have been the season’s end.

Still, the Avalanche were a lock for the postseason with a 42-20-8 record and 92 points in the standings. Their .657 points percentage ranked them second in the Western Conference when the NHL returned to play in late summer, where they clinched second place in the seeding round with five our of six possible points.

The team went on to win their first-round series against the Arizona Coyotes 4-1, but fell in the second round to the Dallas Stars. To the team’s credit, they fought back from a 2-0 deficit to push the series to seven games.

Once again, Nathan MacKinnon was a powerhouse for Colorado, leading the team in all three scoring measures with 35 goals, 58 assists and 93 points during the 2020 regular season. Behind MacKinnon in points and assists was rookie defender Cale Makar, with 38 assists and 50 points. Injuries through the season tested the organization’s depth, spreading scoring throughout the lineup.

As a team, at 5-on-5, their 51.60 percent Corsi (unblocked shots + shot attempts) ranked eight in the league, while they were first in goal for percentage with 58.48 percent. The Avalanche’s 1,776 5-on-5 shots ranked sixth.

The Anaheim Ducks met the Avalanche three times in 2019-20. The Ducks took the first meeting in October, 5-2. The next time they met, it was close, but Colorado secured a 1-0 victory. Shortly before the season paused, the Ducks beat the Avalanche in overtime, 4-3.

2020 NHL Draft

This wasn’t a huge draft year for the Avalanche. They walked away with five new prospects: one defender, three centers and one right-winger.

They used their first-round selection, 25th overall, to pick defender Justin Barron. Barron’s an athletic defender for the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL and will serve as their captain this season. He also played for Canada at the 2021 World Juniors Championship, putting up two assists on the way to a Silver Medal. The pick was a bit of a reach, though Health concerns may have played a factor in his rankings (he missed part of last season due to a blot clot).

It’s unlikely we’ll see any of the 2020 draft class anytime soon, but Jean-Luc Foudy and Colby Ambrosio are two other picks who could make some noice in the organization in a couple of years.

Roster

Here’s the Avalanche’s 40-man training camp roster. Players marked with an asterisk were placed on waivers on Friday morning, likely to re-assign them to the AHL:

Forwards

Miikka Salomaki*, Matt Calvert, Jayson Megna*, Valeri Nichushkin, Shane Bowers, Sheldon Dries*, Tyson Jost, Mike Vecchione*, Brandon Saad, Logan O’Connor, Nathan MacKinnon, T.J. Tynan*, J.T. Compher, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Kiefer Sherwood, Martin Kaut, Nick Henry, Joonas Donskoi, Nazem Kadri, Gabriel Landeskog, Andre Burakovsky, Mikko Rantanen

Defenders

Bowen Byram, Dan Renouf*, Erik Johnson, Devon Toews, Cale Makar, Dennis Gilbert, Conor Timmins, Ryan Graves, Ian Cole, Jacob MacDonald*, Samuel Girard, Peter Tischke, Keaton Middleton, Kyle Burroughs*

Goaltenders

Philipp Grubauer, Pavel Francouz, Hunter Miska, Adam Werner

Among some of the moves you might have missed during the weird off-season, the Chicago Blackhawks traded forward Brandon Saad and defensive prospect Dennis Gilbert to the Avalanche in October. The 28-year-old Saad has regularly put up 20+ goals nearly every season, making him a respectable depth winger for the Avalanche. Adding Devon Toews gives their defense a scoring touch, too.

What can we expect in 2021?

The Avalanche stand to gain a lot by the NHL’s realignment. The old Central Division was a tough division, and though the West Division absorbed the St. Louis Blues, too, now Colorado gets to take advantage of the several teams in the West who are in some kind of rebuild or turnaround season.

Staying healthy is a challenge for all teams this year, but the Avalanche had a rotating chorus on their injured reserve last season and with the tight scheduling this season, even day-to-day injuries could means significant games lost.