Going into the 2018-19 season, the Colorado Avalanche is looking to further develop and expand on the success it had last year.
Colorado finished the 2017-18 campaign with 95 points--increasing its production by 47 points from the year prior--and qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2014.
Avalanche executive vice president and general manager Joe Sakic is focused on how his team can progress in the upcoming campaign.
"We are looking to have a great start to the season," Sakic said ahead of opening night. "Obviously you want to be in the mix. We got a tough conference, our goal is to make the playoffs, but the most important thing for us is to see the growth of this group. Still a young team, only a year older than last year. There is room for growth, and we are excited to see who makes that next jump."
The Avs ended 2017-18 as the NHL's youngest team with an average age of 25.8 years. Although the mean age of teams fluctuate daily, Colorado dressed one of the youngest squads for much of the regular season.
The Avalanche utilized 11 different rookies, the most in Colorado history and the second highest in the NHL. The group combined for 419 games, tops in the league and almost all of those players are entering their sophomore seasons in the league.
"Up front you got your (J.T.) Comphers, your (Tyson) Josts, your (Alexander) Kerfoots, they all had good years last year, and hopefully with a year of experience they get a little better," said Sakic. "On the backend, you are probably looking at Sam Girard, see what next level he can go, Nikita Zadorov, he made a big stride last year, see if he can make another step.
"Just in general our team, we are excited. We feel we got better as the camp went on and the guys are excited to get going here and start. It's funny, you get to training camp and everyone looks forward to training camp, but about three days into it you can't wait for the regular season to start. We are here and there is nothing better than the first game."
Colorado's 2018 training camp and preseason is now in the books, and the Avalanche will open the campaign on Thursday against the Central Division-rival Minnesota Wild at Pepsi Center.
In one of the toughest divisions in hockey, the task won't be easy to make it back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it is an undertaking the Avalanche will face head-on.
"It's going to be a challenge, it's always a tough division (the Central), the Pacific [Division] got tougher," Sakic added. "You are going to have at the end of the year, two, three, maybe four really good teams miss the playoffs.
"That's what makes it so exciting, so great. The Western Conference, our division--every night is a tough night, so it's going to be exciting. It's going to be a great run."
LOOKING TO THE 2019 NHL DRAFT
Sakic has noted multiple times throughout the last year that he and his staff want the Avalanche to continue to get younger and add high-end prospects to its system.
At the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft, Colorado will have more opportunity to add just that as it presently holds two first-round selections, but that is not affecting how the club approaches the season.
"We have [the Ottawa Senators' first-round] pick, so we are invested in what they do, but I am not going to be paying attention to what Ottawa is doing to be honest with you," said Sakic. "We are worried about what we are doing, that's what we are focusing on is how good we can become. That is what we care about."
TAKING TIME WITH TIMMINS
Conor Timmins, Colorado's second selection (32nd overall) at the 2017 NHL Draft, is among the Avalanche's up-and-coming prospects.
He is beginning the 2018-19 campaign listed as injured non-roster after he experienced concussion symptoms at the end of last season. Timmins did not participate in training camp but has been skating on his own recently.
"We are going to take it really slow with him. He is progressing, he was doing well, had a setback and he's getting back to that," Sakic said of Timmins. "He is starting to skate more now. He is a guy that we are going to be very careful with… Once he is really 100 percent ready, we got to get him training and get him almost that summer workout program. We plan on taking our time with him and when he is really ready to go, then he is going to start playing."
Video: Joe Sakic discusses the upcoming 2018-19 season