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Colorado Avalanche: Don't Look Now, but the Avs Are Hockey's Hottest Team

Nick DavisContributor IIIJanuary 5, 2012

Colorado Avalanche: Don't Look Now, but the Avs Are Hockey's Hottest Team

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    The Colorado Avalanche are playing good hockey—really good hockey. The Avalanche have won eight of their last nine games, and have moved themselves into the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference—which is, of course, the final playoff spot. 

    One of the most positive signs for Avalanche fans is that the Avalanche are the third youngest team in hockey, at only .001 average years older than the second-youngest team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.  

    The Avalanche are getting great production not only from veterans like Milan Hejduk and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, but also from players who can't even legally consume alcohol, like Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog.

    We'll be breaking down every position for the Avs to see why this young team is playing so well.

Centers

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    Paul Stastny (Alternate Captain)

    Age: 26

    Salary: $6,600,000

    The young center is fourth on the Avs in points, with 11 goals and 10 assists. Paul is also tied for second in goals with Milan Hejduk, only behind Matt Duchene. 

    Paul is 10th all-time in scoring for the Avalanche after passing Mats Sundin back in November.

    There have been rumors that Stastny may be moved before the trade deadline, but if the Avalanche keep up the good play, they may turn from sellers to buyers.

     

    Matt Duchene (Injured)

    Age: 20

    Salary: $900,000

    As the third overall pick in 2009, Matt has big expectations to live up to. And to this point of his career, I believe he has done so. Matt has done some impressive things in only 200 games as a professional. He became only the second Avalanche player to record a hat trick before his 21st birthday, as well as the youngest player in franchise history to lead the team in scoring, when he recorded 67 points in 80 games last season. 

    Unfortunately, Matt will be out for up to a month after he injured his knee Dec. 29 against the Coyotes

     

    Ryan O'Reilly

    Age: 20

    Salary: $900,000

    Taken with the 33rd pick in the 2009, Ryan O'Reilly has had big expectations as well. His stellar play as of late has put him in position for a breakthrough season this year. Ryan has already gotten credit for more points in 41 games this season, with 29, than in each of his other two seasons (he recorded 26 in both 2009 and 2010).

    Ryan currently leads the team in both assists, with 19, and points, with the aforementioned 29.  Ryan leads the league with 55 takeaways, and was the NHL's second star for the week of Nov 28 to Dec 4, after he had seven points, four goals and three assists during the week. Ryan also clipped three consecutive multi-point games and a plus-six rating.

     

    Jay McClement (Alternate Captain) 

    Age: 28

    Salary: $1,500,000

    In his first full season with the Avalanche, Jay McClement has become one of the Avalanche's best penalty killers, leading the team with an average of 3:25 of short-handed time a game. 

     

    Kevin Porter

    Age: 25

    Salary: $850,000

    One of the players acquired in the Wojtek Wolski trade, Porter has been hampered with injuries and stints in the AHL, but has been tallied five points this season. The 25-year-old is averaging about five minutes a game, usually with the fourth line.

Forwards

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    Milan Hejduk

    Age: 35

    Salary: $2,600,000

    Ranking fourth in goals and assists in franchise history, Milan Hejduk is undoubtedly one of the best players to play for the franchise. Milan was awarded with the "C" on Nov 14, to become the Colorado Avalanche's third captain since they've moved to Colorado. 

    Milan has been with the Avalanche since 1998, and has scored 368 goals and gathered 414 assists. In 112 playoffs games, Milan has racked up 76 points. 

    This season, Milan is third on the team in assists, with 14, and second on the team in points, with 25.

     

    Gabriel Landeskog

    Age: 19

    Salary: $925,000

    Landeskog has quickly become a fan favorite in his first year with the Avalanche.

    As the second overall pick in last year's entry draft, Gabriel Landeskog has the most expectations of anyone on the team. Gabriel has proven that he can do it all—he is leading the Avalanche in plus/minus (plus-eight), shots-on-goal (118) and hits (100), and is tied for first in game-winning goals with two.

     

    Daniel Winnik

    Age: 26

    Salary: $1,000,000

    Winnik, who was acquired from the Coyotes for a draft pick, is in his second season with the team, and has scored 39 points in his season-and-a-half with the team.

    Winnik is second on the club in short-handed ice time at 3:15 per game; he's also second on the team in shots, but has only netted five goals.

     

    T.J. Galiardi

    Age: 23

    Salary: $700,000

    Galiardi can fly when he laces up the skates; he is not only one of the fastest players on the Avalanche, but is also possibly one of the fastest in the NHL. This season, Galiardi has 10 points in 38 games of action.

    Galiardi was the 55th pick in the 2007 draft, and has been very important to the Avalanche in the 154 games he has appeared in. 

     

    David Jones

    Age: 27

    Salary: $2,500,000

    David Jones has emerged as a goal scorer for the Avalanche, scoring 27 goals last season. Jones's production has declined this season, as he has only scored seven goals in 33 games. 

    Jones is the lowest draft pick by the Avalanche to reach the NHL—he was the 288th pick back in 2003.

     

    Chuck Kobasew

    Age: 29

    Salary: $1,250,000

    Kobasew, new to the Avalanche this season, has produced, with four goals and 22 PIM. The Avalanche are familiar with Kobasew, as he spent the last two seasons with the Wild; before that, Kobasew suited up for the Bruins and Flames.

Defensemen

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    Erik Johnson 

    Age: 23

    Salary: $3,000,000

    The Colorado Avalanche acquired the former first overall pick from the St. Louis Blues, along with Jay McClement, midway through last season for Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk. At the time, it appeared that the Avalanche were entering a rebuilding stage, trading away one of their best goal scorers in Chris Stewart.

    But looking back on the trade, it has been very beneficial for the Avalanche, as they acquired a great young defenseman and an alternate captain.

    This season, Erik has 14 points in 36 games—yet his scoring does not tell the story. He is known for his defensive skills as one of the defensemen on the Avalanche's first line, and ranks second on the team in ice time, at 21:38 a game.  

     

    Stefan Elliott

    Age: 20

    Stefan Elliot has become one of the great stories as far as the team is concerned. Elliott was a second-round pick by the Avalanche back in the 2009 draft, and was expected to make the opening day roster—yet failed to.

    Elliott has taken advantage of his opportunities since his call-up, scoring four goals and receiving credit for four assists in only 19 games this season. His four-goal total ties him for 10th on the team.

     

    Shane O'Brien

    Age: 28

    Salary: $1,100,000

    Shane O'Brien has proven that he can dish the "burnt biscuit," with 12 assists in his 41 games with the team. O'Brien's career high in assists is only 17, which came in his 21-point season with the Lightning back in 2007-2008.

    Shane ranks second in penalty minutes with 57, showing that the Avalanche have faith in his defensive penalty-killing ability.

    Shane is with his fifth team in eight years; we'll see if he can take advantage of his time with the Avalanche and stick around for a while—or receive a larger contract from a team elsewhere. 

     

    Kyle Quincey

    Age: 26

    Salary: $3,250,000

    Kyle Quincey doesn't like to sit. The Avalanche defenseman was unhappy with being a healthy scratch after he returned from injury. He does have a point—the 26-year-old defenseman ranks first on the team in time on the ice and sixth on the team in points (first for defensemen).

    Quincey was held out of the lineup while the Avalanche were riding a winning streak. Quincey said it was hard rooting for the team, just because it meant he wasn't going to play. Quincey did return to the lineup on Dec 29, when he received an assist in 18:39 of ice time.

    In the two games following, Kyle scored a goal and tallied an assist.  

     

    Jan Hejda

    Age: 33

    Salary: $3,250,000

    Jan Hejda is entering his first season with the Avalanche, and sixth year professionally. Jan has 12 points on the season, with four goals and eight assists. Jan is already only one goal away from tying his career high in goals, which came when he scored five last season for the Blue Jackets. Jan is tied for the team lead in blocks with 69.

     

    Ryan O'Byrne

    Age: 27

    Salary: $1,600,000

    This season, Ryan has already tied a career-high in goals—only one. Ryan is tied with fellow defenseman Jan Hejda in blocks, and is second in hits with 101. 

    Ryan has appeared in all 41 games with the Avalanche, and the team will continue to look for production from one of the veteran defensemen on the team.

Goaltenders

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    Semyon Varlamov

    Age: 23

    Salary: $2,500,000

    Semyon Varlamov is entering his first season with the Avalanche, and is the team's goalie of the future. Varlamov has a career 2.57 GAA, which is slightly better than he has clipped this season. This season, Varlamov has a 2.96 GAA, with 13 wins and 14 losses (one of those losses came in overtime). Semyon is 32nd in the league in GAA and is 20th in wins, yet has won his last three decisions.

    The Avalanche will look for continued improvement from their No. 1 goaltender as he continues to mature.

     

    Jean-Sebastien Giguere

    Age: 34

    Salary: $1,250,000

    Giguere has emerged as the real No. 1 goaltender for the Avalanche, netting a glossy 1.96 GAA in 16 games this season, which ranks him fourth in the league in that category. His 1.96 GAA is the best of his career, which is saying something, considering he is a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner and Stanley Cup champion.

    Giguere knows that he is not the No. 1 goaltender, even if his numbers say he should be. Giguere knows that he has reached the point of his career at which his purpose is to win games and help the team. Mostly, he is there to help Semyon improve and to be a leader in the locker room.

    In my opinion, JS Giguere is far and away the best $1.25 million that the Avalanche have invested this season.  

     


Notes

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    Don't mess with the Avalanche in a shootout. They've been a part of seven shootouts and have won all seven. Yes, you read it right—the Avalanche have won all seven of the shootouts that they have taken part in.

    There is a problem with that. The Avalanche have 22 wins at this point in the season., meaning that they've only won 15 games that didn't end in shootouts. It's always good to get those two points, yet the Avalanche need to find a way to start winning in regulation. 

    The Avalanche have also played five more games at home than they have on the road. They've gone 13-10 at the Pepsi Center this season, but had won eight straight at home before losing, 4-1, to the Jets on Tuesday, Dec 27.

    The Avalanche have allowed the third most goals in the Western Conference, but have scored the fourth most goals. 

    The Avalanche are young and playing good hockey. Only time will tell if they can keep the wins coming.

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