2011-12 NHL Season Preview: Colorado Avalanche

Key Offseason Additions: J.S. Giguere, Semyon Varlamov, Jan Hejda, Shane O’Brien, Chuck Kobasew

Key Offseason Losses: Brian Elliot, Peter Budaj, John Michael Liles, Tomas Fleishmann

Last Season Ranking: 14th in the West

Offense: Colorado has a wealth of good, young talent throughout their roster, but the Western Conference remains tightly contested and Colorado may have a tough time cracking the playoffs with a lack of experience.

The Avs are strong down the middle with Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny leading the team one-two in points last season. Both are exceptional players and will likely lead the team in scoring again this year. Along with right wing Milan Hejduk, who seems to defy age with his consistent play even at 35-years-old, these three form the nucleus of the team’s offense.

David Jones had a breakout season last year with 45 points in 77 games. Jones will likely see time in the top-six and should improve upon last season’s totals. A healthy and concussion-free Peter Mueller could also pay huge dividends offensively for Colorado. Mueller posted point-per-game numbers with the Avs two years ago before being sidelined by concussions that kept him out all of last season. Look for a big bounce back year from Mueller, who could see time on the top line with Duchene this season if training camp lines are any indication of what’s to come.

The player to watch this season will be Gabriel Landeskog, the 2nd overall selection from June’s NHL Entry Draft. Landeskog was widely viewed as the most NHL-ready player atop the draft. With his size and skill he could be thrust into the mix immediately for Colorado. Keep an eye on him to see how he fairs in his first NHL season.

Only three of Colorado’s forwards are signed beyond this season. While the team has the cap space to retain the majority of them, pending free agents will need to utilize this season to make an impression and show that they belong with the Avs as the team looks to build a contender for the future.

Defense: Colorado needs to be better in their own zone and better at keeping the puck out of their net. None of the defenseman who will likely make the opening night roster finished with a positive plus-minus rating last season. Colorado also finished with a league-worst average of 3.5 goals against per game. This stat alone needs to improve if Colorado intends to make a chase at the playoffs.

Erik Johnson, a mid-season acquisition from the St. Louis Blues and former number-one overall draft pick in 2006, has a lot to prove and will get every opportunity to do so with Colorado. Johnson is capable of chipping in offensively and could be a pivot on the power play this year. After scoring 10 points in 22 games last season for Colorado, are 40 or more points out of the question?

Kyle Quincey is capable of eating up top-end minutes on the blue line and has solid puck-moving skills. Injuries hampered him last season, but a healthy season this year should pay immediate dividends for Colorado.

The addition of Jan Hejda will give the blue line depth and a veteran presence while Shane O’Brien helps provide some grit and toughness, if not necessarily quality defending.

Goaltending: After trading Craig Anderson at the trade deadline last season and losing Brian Elliott to free agency, the Avalanche did a good job of restocking with a mix of upcoming talent and a veteran presence.

At only 23-years-old, Semyon Varlamov already has a few NHL seasons under his belt with the Washington Capitals, including some playoff experience. However, his inconsistencies in net prevented him from consistently keeping the number one job. A change of scenery could do some good, but he will still need to be more consistent in net to show that he deserves to be the starter.

Varlamov should also benefit from having a veteran netminder around to help him learn and grow. The Avalanche signed J.S. Giguere to a two year contract on July 1. Giguere, a former Stanley Cup winner, will not only help push Varlamov for playing time, but he should also serve as a mentor to the young goalie and help him with the mental aspects of the game.

Giguere has some injury trouble last season, but he played well enough on a Toronto team that was soft defensively during his two years with the Leafs. If Varlamov struggles, Giguere could take over the number one spot. He still has the size, agility and skill to be a top goaltender.

The Avalanche will be arguable most improved in net this season with the additions of Varlamov and Giguere, but expect some healthy competition throughout the season between these two until one emerges as the number one goalie.

Playoff Prediction: Colorado has a lot of reasons to be excited for the future with their skilled young players. Unfortunately, stiff competition in the West will keep the Avs out of the playoff picture again this year.

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