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Avalanche season preview: Experienced group eyes run at Stanley Cup

Expect Kadri, Makar to make impact after reaching second round of playoffs

by Rick Sadowski / Independent Correspondent

The 2019-20 NHL season begins Oct. 2. With training camps open, is taking a look at the five keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Colorado Avalanche.


Coach: Jared Bednar (fourth season)

Last season: 38-30-14; fifth place Central Division, lost to San Jose Sharks in Western Conference Second Round




1. Expand on playoff success

The Avalanche have high expectations after qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two seasons as the second wild card from the Western Conference. The goal is to earn home-ice advantage for the first time since 2014 to give them a better chance of competing for the Cup.

Center Nathan MacKinnon said he is tired of being an underdog and embraces being a championship contender. Time will tell how the Avalanche handle increased expectations.

Video: Top 10 plays of 2018-19: MacKinnon


2. Kadri's impact

Nazem Kadri is being counted on to produce as the second-line center and support the top line of MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and restricted free agent Mikko Rantanen, who remains unsigned.

Kadri, who was acquired July 1 in a trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs with defenseman Calle Rosen and a third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft for defenseman Tyson Barrie, forward Alexander Kerfoot and a sixth-round pick in 2020, had 44 points (16 goals, 28 assists) in a third-line role last season. He scored 32 goals in each of the two previous seasons when he played in Toronto's top six.


3. Grubauer's increased workload

Philipp Grubauer begins his second season in Colorado and first as the No. 1 goalie after unseating Semyon Varlamov late last season. Varlamov ended an eight-season stay, signing a four-year contract with the New York Islanders on July 1.

Grubauer can expect the heaviest workload of his NHL career. He played in an NHL career-high 37 games (33 starts) last season, going 18-9-5 with a 2.64 goals-against average, a .917 save percentage and three shutouts before starting all 12 games in the playoffs. 
Pavel Francouz is expected to back up Grubauer. The 29-year-old from the Czech Republic made his North American debut with the Colorado Eagles of the American Hockey League last season and made two relief appearances with the Avalanche.


4. Young defensemen provide offense

Cale Makar, 20, and Samuel Girard, 21, are expected to replace the offense provided by Barrie, the highest-scoring defenseman in Avalanche history. Makar, the No. 4 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, played with poise in his first NHL games in the playoffs and had six points (one goal, five assists) in 10 games after winning the Hobey Baker Award voted as the best player in NCAA men's hockey as a University of Massachusetts sophomore. Girard signed a seven-year contract extension July 31 after he had an NHL career-high 27 points (four goals, 23 assists) in 82 games and two assists in nine playoff games. 

Erik Johnson (shoulder surgery) may not be ready for the Oct. 3 opener against the Calgary Flames, and Ian Cole (surgery on each hip) is expected to miss at least the first two months of the season. Cole's absence might afford Bowen Byram, 18, the chance to open the season with the Avalanche. The No. 4 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft had 71 points (26 goals, 45 assists) in 67 games with Vancouver of the Western Hockey League last season.

Video: Cale Makar checks in at No. 3 on the list


5. Better forward depth

Along with acquiring Kadri, the Avalanche added Andre Burakovsky in a trade from the Washington Capitals on June 28 and signed unrestricted free agents Joonas Donskoi and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on July 1, and Valeri Nichushkin on Aug. 19.

Burakovsky and Donskoi are top-six candidates. Burakovsky had 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists) in 76 games last season. Donskoi had an NHL career-high 37 points (14 goals, 23 assists) in 80 games with the Sharks. Bellemare, Colorado's oldest player at 34, will anchor the fourth line, take face-offs and kill penalties after he had 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 76 games with the Vegas Golden Knights. Nichushkin had 10 assists in 57 games with the Dallas Stars, who bought out the final year of his contract.




Making the cut

Sheldon Dries, Vladislav Kamenev, Logan O'Connor and Nichushkin are candidates as extra forwards. Dries had six points (three goals, three assists) in 40 games with the Avalanche and finished last season with Colorado of the AHL. Kamenev missed the final 52 games with a shoulder injury after missing 50 with a broken arm in 2017-18. O'Connor had 42 points (19 goals, 23 assists) in 64 games in the minors. Nichushkin was Dallas' first-round pick (No. 10) in the 2013 NHL Draft.

The Avalanche return Makar, Girard, Johnson and Nikita Zadorov at defenseman, with Cole expected back in December. In addition to Bowen and Rosen, who had 46 points (seven goals, 39 assists) in 54 games with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL last season, the following players will compete to make the opening night roster: Kevin Connauton, who was acquired in a June 25 trade from the Arizona Coyotes; Mark Barberio, who missed 41 games with various injuries last season; and Ryan Graves, who made his NHL debut and had five points (three goals, two assists) in 26 games.

Video: 31 in 31: Colorado Avalanche 2019-20 season preview


Most intriguing addition

Burakovsky, Washington's first-round pick (No. 23) in the 2013 NHL Draft, has been playing in place of Rantanen, who did not report to camp, on the top line. He had NHL career-highs in goals (17) and points (38) in 79 games with the Capitals in 2015-16.


Biggest potential surprise

This could be Nichushkin's final chance to land a roster spot in the NHL. He did not score a goal last season and has 74 points (23 goals, 51 assists) in 223 NHL games, interrupted by two seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League.


Ready to break through

Forward Tyson Jost enters his third NHL season and will compete for a top-six role. Colorado's first-round pick (No. 10) in 2016, the 21-year-old had an NHL career-high 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) in 70 games last season and four points (three goals, one assist) in 12 playoff games.

Video: SJS@COL, Gm6: Jost roofs Compher's cross-ice pass


Fantasy sleeper

Girard (average draft position: 173.4) has an outside chance to gain first power-play exposure to elite forwards MacKinnon, Rantanen and Landeskog after the Barrie trade and is attainable much later than top-ranked rookie Makar (ADP: 112.4). -- Pete Jensen



Gabriel Landeskog -- Nathan MacKinnon -- Mikko Rantanen

Tyson Jost -- Nazem Kadri -- Andre Burakovsky

Colin Wilson -- J.T. Compher -- Joonas Donskoi

Matt Nieto -- Pierre-Edouard Bellemare -- Matt Calvert

Samuel Girard -- Cale Makar

Nikita Zadorov -- Erik Johnson

Mark Barberio -- Kevin Connauton

Philipp Grubauer

Pavel Francouz

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