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Experience, Leadership And Depth Key For Avs

by Ryan Boulding / Colorado Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche had needs to address entering the start of free agency on Wednesday, and the club did exactly that.

Leadership, experience and depth were items the Avs checked off their list as the team signed veteran defenseman Francois Beauchemin and forward Blake Comeau in short order, wrapping up the day’s activities before lunch.

“We’ve addressed what we feel are our needs, what we were looking to do today,” Avalanche executive vice president and general Manager Joe Sakic said on a conference call. “We’re excited to add Beauchemin and Comeau to our group. We got leadership; we got toughness, guys that play a full 200-foot game.”

For Colorado, bolstering the defensive unit was a major priority. Bringing in a 6-foot-1, 208-pound rear guard that plays more than 22 minutes a night certainly accomplishes that.

“I think with Beauchemin, we’ve got our guy to play with Erik Johnson. He played top minutes with Anaheim, and that was the biggest thing,” Sakic said. “We were looking for somebody to play with E.J. for top minutes, play against the other teams’ top lines. We looked at all the free agents out there, and there was only a handful that we knew could play.

“Francois did a tremendous job for Anaheim, and I know he’s excited to come here and do the same thing here and play with E.J.”

Beauchemin, another former Stanley Cup champion now on the Avs roster, has a combined plus-62 rating through his last three seasons (182 games) and is precisely the type of reliable, heavy-minutes player to accompany Johnson on the back end.

“We wanted someone who we knew could play top minutes against top lines. He brings toughness, leadership. I think he led the Anaheim Ducks in the playoffs in ice time last year, and they’re a very good hockey team,” said Sakic. “We wanted somebody we knew we could trust in that role and playing with E.J. And not to mention he’s also won a cup. That leadership and that experience will really help our team.”

“I’m that defensive-mindset defenseman. I like to play that hard, solid, physical game, and I think by being paired with Erik Johnson we can do a great job of complimenting each other, reading off each other,” Beauchemin said during his own conference call. “That’s been my game for 10 years, and I’m going to keep doing that.”

The 35-year-old rear guard—along with the addition of Nikita Zadorov, who was acquired at the 2015 NHL Draft in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres—gives the Avs a number of options to use on the blue line this season.

“We know we have flexibility. As of right now, this is the eight ‘D’ we’re going with. But we’re always looking to explore our options to improve our hockey club,” said Sakic, keeping the door open for things to come over the remainder of the offseason. “If something comes up, whether it’s in the next couple days or throughout the summer or training camp, if there’s something we can do to improve our club, we’re always going to look to do that. But we’re very happy with what we have right now.”

The Avalanche landing Beauchemin was a bit fortuitous as the club had expected the defenseman to forego free agency and remain with the Pacific-Division champion Ducks.

“I was actually surprised leading up to it—we looked at it a couple weeks ago—and we thought he’d be staying in Anaheim,” Sakic revealed. “[We had] an opportunity to talk to Francois and see about his intentions, what he was going to do and if it was a good fit for him to come here. We knew it was a good fit for us, so we were excited we were able to work something out.

“He was one of the guys… we were targeting.”

Another of those players was Comeau, a 29-year-old forward that put up 31 points (16 goals, 15 assists) in 61 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins last year. At 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds, Comeau provides the Avs with another utility player to plug anywhere in the lineup.

“He’s a guy we really targeted from the get go. He’s versatile. He’s a dependable guy. You can put him anywhere in your lineup,” said Sakic. “He can be on your third line. He can be on your first line. He played with [Penguins forward Evgeni] Malkin last year at times. A good penalty killer, he brings intensity.

“We wanted to add experience, we wanted to add depth, we wanted to add size, and we think we did all that… He can go up and down your lineup, he plays a north-south game, he skates hard, he hits hard, he’s a puck possession guy and he’s good on the penalty kill. He also chips in [offensively]. He can get you 15 goals.”

There are other, more intangible traits that both Beauchemin and Comeau bring with them, the most important of which is a commanding presence.

“Both those guys bring a lot of leadership in your dressing room, and you can never have enough guys like that either,” Sakic said during the call. “Leadership was not a problem [last season], but we were fairly young. What I say about [leaders] is you cannot have enough of them, and both of these guys bring that. They’re leaders on their team. They’re examples on the ice. They’re veterans who come to work every day.

“They expect to win, and that’s important in any locker room.”

Today’s additions to the Colorado roster also leave room for the future, both immediately and down the road. Most importantly, the Avs have projected space for players developing in the system to grow into roles with the big club.

“What we did is both players are [signed for] three years, and we know looking down the line we have some guys that we know are going to be up next year,” said Sakic. “So we wanted flexibility with that, when these guys come up. We didn’t want to sign real long-term deals and down the line be handcuffed with those.”

For the present though, the Avs are happy with the direction of the team.

“Going into the offseason, we knew we wanted to get a little bigger in some areas and be tougher to play against and these guys are going to bring that,” Sakic said. “We like our depth. We like the size that we added to the team and [the] leadership, and we’re excited with what we have right now.”

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