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Avs once again expected to be a young bunch

by Rick Sadowski /
DENVER -- Youth will be served again on a Colorado Avalanche team that boasted 10 rookies a season ago while improving by 26 points in the NHL standings.
How young and relatively inexperienced does the 2010-11 edition of the Avalanche promise to be? Center Paul Stastny, who begins his fifth season in Colorado, is the fifth-most experienced player on the roster, having played 274 regular-season games. And Stastny won't turn 25 until Dec. 27.
"I kind of feel old," he told "But I'm only 24, so I hope I have a lot left in me. It's good to have some experience. I can try and help some of the younger guys. I kind of take it in stride. I know I'm looked upon to step it up. Every year you see guys coming in younger and I can try and teach them a few things."
Only three players on the roster have reached age 30 -- captain Adam Foote, 39; right wing Milan Hejduk, 34; and defenseman Scott Hannan, 31.
"The young guys seem to keep getting better," Foote said. "Every group that comes in seems better and ready to go at a younger age. I think that's where the NHL is headed and probably pro sports in general."
The Avalanche could begin the season with a minimum of 13 players age 25 or younger: Stastny; Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly, both 19; T.J. Galiardi, Peter Mueller and Chris Stewart, all 22; Kyle Cumiskey, Ryan Stoa and Ryan Wilson, all 23; Kevin Porter, 24; and Kyle Quincey, Daniel Winnik and Brandon Yip, all 25.
Craig Anderson, David Koci and John-Michael Liles are 29; Peter Budaj 28; and David Jones and Cody McLeod are 26.
"Last year we were young and we didn't have much experience," said O'Reilly, who had 8 goals and 18 assists in 81 games as a rookie and was a key member of the Avalanche's penalty-killing units. "Now we have lot more experience, and that should help us. I can't believe that I've already played 81 games."
So has Colorado's other teen-aged phenom, Duchene. He was a Calder Trophy finalist last season after he collected 24 goals and led all NHL rookies in points with 55.
"Matty just has to keep improving," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "It was a good start for him last year. He certainly showed that he's a good player in this league, but he's still very young. As long as he can keep improving and getting better ... we feel he is the real deal. He will do it year after year. When you get those types of players and you can build that into your team, that's what we're looking for."
Unlike previous offseasons, when the Avalanche made a major trade or free-agent signing, the team chose to continue with its emphasis on youth and to build from within. Except for Foote, who signed a new one-year, $1.25 million contract that includes incentives, Colorado wasn't interested in hanging onto veteran free agents and didn't re-sign Brett Clark, Ruslan Salei, Marek Svatos, Darcy Tucker or Stephane Yelle.
There appear to be one or two open spots on defense that need to be filled, and the most serious candidates are Jonas Holos, 23; Colby Cohen and Kevin Shattenkirk, both 21; and Cameron Gaunce, 20.
Winnik, who was acquired from Phoenix in June for a 2012 fourth-round pick, will kill penalties and likely skate on the fourth line. Greg Mauldin, 28, who has bounced around the minors and in Europe since turning pro in 2004, was signed as a free agent and is vying for a spot as a role player.
"We are a young team again, no question," Sacco said. "We may be a younger team than we were last year with still a good mix of leadership and experience."
Hannan's 752 games of NHL experience rank him third on the Avalanche behind Foote (1,107) and Hejduk (839). He's embarking on his 12th NHL season and fourth in Colorado, and will be counted on to help mentor the younger defensemen.
"You try and pass on what you've learned over the years," Hannan said. "The kids were great. They took what the older guys said and tried to take it for what it was worth. I think it showed in the way they performed and in the way we performed as a team.

"The experience they got from being in the playoffs last year, the playoff stretch and playing a full season ... you can't teach that. It's something you have to experience. That's invaluable and I think it'll really show this year. Having Dutchie and O'Reilly and all the other young guys ... they played key, big minutes. It was surprising that so many players came up and played as well as they did and played key roles for us in so many different ways. But after a while you came to expect it and they didn't let us down."

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