The Colorado Avalanche are in the middle of unchartered territory coming into this season. With Joe Sakic retiring over the summer, Colorado has lost pretty much every connection to the almost unbeatable franchise that dominated the hockey world in the mid-to-late 90’s. While things may look gloomy in Colorado this season, the team looks to have a promising future.
Milan Hejduk, the 33-year-old right wing who has been with the Avs since 1998, will come into this season and be counted on to help lead this team both on and off the ice. While Hejduk is no pushover on the ice and is capable of producing 50-70 points this season, the real budding stars of this team is 23-year-old Paul Stastny. In three years with the club, Stastny has accumulated 185 points in 193 games, including 63 goals. This kid has talent and can play both sides of the puck, finishing last season with a plus-17 rating. Already sporting the assistant captains “A”, Stastny very well could be next in line for the “C” when veteran Adam Foote retires.
Wojtek Wolski is another up-and-comer making a name for himself in the NHL. In three seasons with the Avs, Wolski has put up 40 or more points in each season and once reached 50. But he needs to be better at both ends as he sported a minus-13 rating last season. He has moves and he likes to show them off during shootouts. It will be interesting to see how he performs this year when there is more pressure on him to produce.
Defense is probably where the Avalanche looks strongest right now. Adam Foote, Ruslan Salei, John-Michael Liles and Tom Preissing are all veteran names setting up shop on the blue line this season. Kyle Quincey, the much-traveled defenseman who is with his third team in two seasons, enjoyed a breakout year when the Detroit Red Wings dealt him to the Los Angeles Kings at the beginning of last season. With the Kings, Quincy put up 38 points in 72 games. Not bad for a rookie. Quincey should enjoy continued success with the Avalanche this season, especially playing with some of the veteran names listed above.
Craig Anderson will definitely be an upgrade in goal over Peter Budaj, who struggles heavily with consistency. A career backup goaltender, Anderson has proven himself worthy of a number one spot and Colorado gave him his chance. The defense in front of him will be better than he dealt with in Florida, where he spent the last three seasons, so expect Anderson to have a pretty decent year in Colorado.
The X-factor coming into this season may very well be Matt Duchene, the 3rd overall draft pick from this past summers NHL draft. At only 18 years of age, Duchene is fighting hard to make the roster and show what he’s capable of. While it might be advantageous to give him a year or two in the minors to improve his skill, Duchene had a great training camp and has played well in the preseason, too. Expect Duchene to stay with the club for the first few games of the regular season. If he shines, he’ll be up for good. If not, he’s a great asset only a few years away from the big time.
Colorado is used to success, but in the midst of the rebuilding process, success might still be a few years away. The foundation is there for this team to succeed, and once management adds a few more key pieces they could be set for deep runs into the post season. This season may not be their season, but they have a bright future that seems to be in good hands.