At the conclusion of the 2011-2012 season, the Colorado Avalanche players, management and fans were unquestionably disappointed at the team's second consecutive season without a playoff berth.
This season, expectations will certainly rise and this young, promising Avalanche team will hope to grow and take the next steps to develop into a solid playoff team within the Western Conference.
The Western Conference and the Northwest Division will be competitive once again, and here are five players who will certainly be difference-makers for the Colorado Avalanche.
You couldn't have asked for much more from Gabriel Landeskog during his rookie season last year.
He led the Avs with 22 goals, had a plus/minus of plus-20 and broke Peter Stastny's all-time franchise record for shots on goal with 270. Oh, and he also captured himself the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year.
After Landeskog's fantastic rookie campaign, expectations will rise and he will hope to take the next steps to become one of the game's premier power forwards.
Landeskog was entrusted by coach Joe Sacco to produce offensively, at even strength and on the power play. He was also given the tasks, unusual for 18-year-old rookies, to kill penalties and play strong defensive hockey. Landy was more than up to the task and always found himself on the ice in crucial moments in games.
With the complete game that Landeskog has established with Colorado in just one short year, he will certainly be an integral part of the Avs' corps of forwards for many years to come.
2011-12 Highlight: Overcoming flu-like symptoms and playing in the game against Anaheim and ultimately scoring the overtime game-winning goal. His falling-down celebration immediately afterward would become the phenomenon known as "Landeskoging."
Ryan O'Reilly established himself as a very reliable defensive center throughout his first two NHL seasons. He was frequently used on the penalty kill and was often counted on to stop opponents' top lines.
Last season, O'Reilly experienced an offensive breakout, increasing his scoring total to a team-leading 55 points, up from 26 points in each of his first two seasons.
While certainly no one would mind if O'Reilly furthered his offensive breakout, his primary objective will be to once again play strong, dependable two-way hockey. He will continue to be one of the team's primary penalty-killing forwards, especially with the loss of Jay McClement.
Known to be one of the hardest-working players in the entire league, O'Reilly's dedication, focus and drive are his keys to success. Look for the player they call "Factor" to once again be a huge one for the Avs.
2011-12 Highlight: Scoring the game-winning goal against Carolina with just 1.2 seconds left in the overtime period.
At the age of 24, some have already declared the former No. 1 overall pick a bust, including his former team, the St. Louis Blues, who shipped him off to Colorado.
After the trade, Johnson was and is determined to prove to the Blues and the world that he can live up to the hype and pressure that comes with being drafted first overall.
The Colorado Avalanche signed Johnson to a four-year extension, making the statement that they want him to be the anchor and leader of their blue-line corps.
He is the Avs' most important defenseman and will be counted on to play hard, physical hockey in his own end, as well as contributing offensively. EJ has a cannon of a shot which he just needs to unleash more, especially from the point of the power play, and the points will subsequently follow.
After two seasons in which he was beginning to establish himself as a very talented offensive center, Duchene experienced a frustrating one in which he was plagued by injuries for much of the year.
He will certainly be looking to rebound and get back on track this year—and the Avs will need him to do just that. Duchene is probably the Avs' most gifted offensive talent and is capable of scoring highlight-reel goals as well as creating plays.
Duchene's greatest asset is his speed, which was clearly hampered by his knee and ankle injuries during the entire second half of last season. With that back, there is no reason why he cannot regain his all-star form and take the next step to becoming a bona fide NHL superstar.
2011-12 Highlight: His goal in Pittsburgh on November 15th was THE goal of the year in the NHL. Period.
A good goaltender can win you Stanley Cups. This is evident by the fact that the past two winners of the Conn Smythe Trophy were both very deserving goalies. Tim Thomas help the B's capture Lord Stanley's prize and Jonathan Quick led the LA Kings on an epic run that helped an eighth seed win it all for the first time ever.
Last summer, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Avs were going to sign the veteran former all-star, Tomas Vokoun.
Instead, Greg Sherman made an unexpected splash and acquired maligned former first-round pick, Semyon Varlamov as the team's goaltender of the future.
While this move cost the Avs two high draft picks, it is capable of reaping much more reward than the short-term Vokoun would have.
Varlamov had a roller coaster ride of a first season with the Avs. Shortly before the season began, a tragic plane crash claimed the lives of many of Varly's former teammates of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. No question, this deeply affected Varlamov.
Varly's stats were up and down throughout the first part of the season and he even began to lose starts to the Avs' veteran backup, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who had a very good season last year.
Down the stretch however, Varly put things into another gear and was the primary reason the Avs were still in the playoff hunt at the end of the season. The Avs will need for him to build on that kind of play in order for the team to be successful.
Varlamov is a very talented goalie. His reflexes are very quick and he has all the tools in place to become a bona fide No. 1 NHL goaltender and an All-star. Once he gains consistency, the sky is the limit for Varly and the Avs.
2011-12 Highlight: In only his second game in an Avalanche sweater, Varlamov shut out the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Boston Bruins in Boston. Varly made 30 saves in the Avs 1-0 victory over the Bruins during their sole meeting of the year.