The Colorado Avalanche's top scorer, Nathan MacKinnon, is contending for league MVP. Cale Makar, second on the team in points, has emerged as a candidate for the Calder Trophy, awarded to the NHL's most outstanding rookie. And Mikko Rantanen's return has paid immediate dividends, as he's recorded 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in his first 10 games back from a lower-body injury. All three players have justifiably earned national praise.
But quietly rounding out Colorado's list of top six producers and aiding the NHL's most prolific offense (3.54 goals per game) are three free-agent additions--Joonas Donskoi, Andre Burakovsky and Nazem Kadri--who have eased into featured roles and taken advantage of their ice time.
Donskoi has 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists), Burakovsky has 24 (13 goals, 11 assists) and Kadri has 22 (11 goals, 11 assists).
"They've come in, they like it here, they feel comfortable," said head coach Jared Bednar of the trio. "They're getting a little bit more of an opportunity, and all of them are really playing well and making an impact for us. No real surprises, but we're pleased with what they've been doing."
Perhaps their success shouldn't come as a surprise.
Kadri was drafted No. 7 overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2009 and recorded at least 40 points in his last seven seasons with the team. Burakovsky, a first-round pick in 2013 (No. 23), struggled to earn significant minutes on a veteran Washington Capitals club but still showed flashes of his ability in his first five years in the league. And Donskoi increased his production in each of his last three seasons with the San Jose Sharks, foreshadowing a breakout year.
For the latter two players, the only roadblock on their previous squads seemed to be a lack of playing time.
The Avalanche has cleared the path--both by design and because of earlier injuries to Gabriel Landeskog and Rantanen--thrusting Burakovsky and Donskoi into larger roles. After a third of the way through the season, they've rewarded management's trust.
"I was trying to come in (to Colorado) and do the work and be more offensive than I had been in the past," Burakovsky said. "I know I have it inside me."
"Obviously, I'm playing with really skilled players," he added. "I (also) get a lot of ice time--power play, 4-on-4, overtime--stuff I didn't see in Washington. That just helps your confidence to feel comfortable whenever you're out there."
Donskoi echoed that assessment for his own improvement in Colorado, noting his time on special teams (he's already more than doubled his power-play minutes from last season).
"I knew I was probably going to get the opportunity to play a bigger role than I was playing in San Jose," Donskoi said. "And that's what I was looking for. I wanted to take the next step in my career. I've been happy with the way I've been playing, but I think I can still be better."
Burakovsky skated a career-low 11:08 minutes per game last year. Averaging a career-high 15:11 so far this season, he's surpassed his goal total from 2018-19 (12) in 45 fewer games and needs just two more points to break his previous mark of 25 (12 goals, 13 assists) from last season
Donskoi is skating 17:14 with the Avs, up from 13:25 last year in San Jose, and needs 11 more points to set a new career high. Even Kadri has seen more minutes (17:46) than he has in the last three years. The veteran center has five more points now (22 through 32 games) than he did through the same number of outings last season (17).
All three skaters agreed that joining a talented, welcoming roster has played a huge part in their immediate success in Colorado. But so has their common circumstance, as first-year Avs, allowing them to grow together in a new environment and feed off each other's play.
"There were a few new faces in the dressing room, and I think it made it easier for us new guys to come in and interact with all the guys who have been here and just really gel as a team," Kadri said.
"I know I speak for all the new guys who came in here and wanted to contribute right away, whether it was faceoffs, points, goals, blocked shots, anything to help our team win. The team has done a great job of allowing us to fit in and making us feel like we've been here a lot longer than we have, so I'm thankful for that."
Added Donskoi: "Both of them (Burakovsky and Kadri) are amazing players. I feel like we found chemistry right off the bat, and it's been a lot of fun playing with those two guys."