The high-powered Avalanche offense stands a good chance of improving on its 272 goals from a year ago. There’s a formidable combination of experience and youth, speed, creativity and balance.
Even if future Hall of Famer Joe Sakic never scored another goal in the NHL, his legacy would be secure. But the 38-year-old captain is far from finished writing his name in the hockey history books, though, as he showed by scoring 36 goals and posting his first 100 point season since 2000-01. His wrist shot remains arguably the best in the world, and his ability to make the players around him better is as strong as ever.
The addition of Ryan Smyth (36 goals, 68 points with Edmonton and the Islanders) adds yet another weapon to the Colorado arsenal, especially on the power play. He gets to the net and makes life miserable for opposing goalies and defensemen.
Andrew Brunette has heard a lot through the years about the things he doesn’t do well, but seems to find ways to answer for it with what he does do well. Coming off a career-high 27 goals and 83 points, the Avalanche can still safely pencil him in for 20-plus goals and 70-plus points. He scored nine power-play goals last season and dished out 56 helpers. Brunette is also a remarkably durable player. He’s missed just one game in the last five seasons.
After a down year by his standards in 2005-06, Milan Hejduk rebounded last year after a slow start in the first half. The 31-year-old Czech star racked up 35 goals (a dozen on the power play) and cracked the 70-point mark for the fifth time in his NHL career. He is also a solid two-way player and a very good penalty killer.
Hejduk exhibited strong chemistry with young center Paul Stastny last year, and that should continue in 2007-08. Hejduk, who has an uncanny ability to find open ice and get rid of the shot in a flash, thrived when teamed with the creative Stastny.
If Paul Stastny felt any pressure to live up to his famous last name, he didn’t show it. Most years, a rookie’s 28 goals, 50 assists and 78 points in a second-line role would make him a shoo-in for the Calder Trophy. Stastny just had the misfortune of debuting the same year as Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin. Stastny had six game winning goals and 11 powerplay goals. He was a force down the stretch as the Avs made their near-miss push for the playoffs. His 20-game scoring streak was a record for NHL rookies.
Stastny’s fellow Avs sophomore, Wojtek Wolski, got off to fast start last year on his way to 22 goals and 50 points. His production fell off after returning from a concussion. Marek Svatos (15 goals, eight power-play goals, 30 points in 66 games) fell victim to the sophomore jinx last season, falling from 32 goals and 50 points in 60 games as a rookie. Groin problems played a significant role in the 25-year-old’s production slip, but the player also seemed lost at times when he wasn’t playing on Sakic’s line.
Center Tyler Arnason (16 goals, 49 points) put up offensive strong numbers for a third-line player but needs to improve in the areas that are primary importance for a player in this role.
The Avalanche had a fearsome power play and leaky penalty kill last year. The power play stands to be even more potent this year, while the penalty kill remains a question mark.
When the Avs are on the man advantage, maestro Sakic and company move the puck around as well as almost any team in the League. With Smyth causing havoc in front of the net – a role generally assigned to Brunette last year – any shot on net has a chance to go in cleanly, get deflected home or produce a rebound.
On the penalty kill, Brad Richardson will likely remain the club’s primary shorthanded scoring threat. Of greater importance will be the team’s ability to seal off the passing lanes and give their own goaltender a chance to make the saves.
Up and Coming
T.J. Hensick -- Selected by Colorado in the third round (No. 88 overall), Hensick is coming off a team MVP season at the University of Michigan, where he scored 23 goals, and 66 points. A Hobey Baker Award finalist in 2006-07, he was only the third player in CCHA history to earn first- or second-team All-Star honors in all four college seasons.
Chris Stewart -- Selected by Colorado in the first round (No.18 overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Stewart was signed by the Avs to a three-year contract earlier this year. Stewart played five regular-season AHL games last spring with Albany. He is the younger brother of Florida power forward prospect Anthony Stewart.
Ryan Stoa -- Selected by Colorado in the second round (No. 34 overall) of the 2005 Entry Draft, Stoa is a 6- 3, 215-pound power forward. In 2006-07, Stoa posted 12 goals and 24 points as a sophomore at University of Michigan.
Brandon Yip -- Selected by Colorado in the eighth round (No. 239 overall) of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Yip won the 2005-06 Hockey East Rookie of the Year and All-Rookie Team Honors, but was limited by shoulder and ankle injures to 18 games as a sophomore last year (5 goals, 11 points).
Jaroslav Hlinka -- The Avs signed veteran the Czech Extraliga star in the off-season after he led that league in scoring for repeat champion Sparta Prague. The 31-year-old center has always been a playmaker; but he’s not about to take playing time away from Sakic or Stastny. He’s also capable of playing wing, but has only topped the 20-goal mark once in his European career. He lacks size, but makes up for it with creativity. It remains to be seen what his role would be with Colorado and whether he can translate his game to the North American rink at this advanced stage of his career.