With the existence of the salary cap and the heavy roster turnover that comes with it, it’s hard to project how NHL rosters will look one year from now, let alone five. The Colorado Avalanche know that fact all too well, having missed the playoffs five times in the eight seasons since the cap was instated. (They had never missed the playoffs beforehand since moving from Quebec.)
The good news? Thanks to savvy drafting and a handful of decent trades, the key cogs are in place for the Avs to be competitive for years to come.
Everybody knows about offensive star Matt Duchene, team captain Gabriel Landeskog and stalwart goaltender Semyon Varlamov, and of course their presences have been accounted for on this list. But who else will shine for the Avalanche in the coming years?
Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog have the potential to be the Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg for a new generation in Colorado. The Canadian center and Swedish left winger form a formidable first-line tandem.
Sure, it’s the Swede wearing the captain’s C this time instead of the Canadian, but that doesn’t make Duchene’s presence any less important, as he performs many of the leadership duties both on and off the ice. He’s a natural-born leader as well as a top-tier scorer in today’s NHL, and if Patrick Roy has his way, he’ll be wearing burgundy and blue for the duration of his career.
The youngest captain in NHL history, Landeskog follows in the footsteps of Joe Sakic, Adam Foote and Milan Hejduk, the only other captains in the history of the Avalanche organization.
Two have seen their numbers retired by the team and the third most likely will as well, and while it’s much too easy to tell if Landeskog will see the same fate someday, he’s certainly got the same type of mental toughness. He moved to Canada alone at age 16 to play in the Ontario Hockey League, and one year later, he became the first European captain in the 40-plus year history of the Kitchener Rangers.
Players like that are hard to come by, and with a contract that extends into the 2020s, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to lead the Avalanche to the promised land.
It’s tempting to say that Ryan O’Reilly will be the Avs’ best right wing for years to come, but after his stalemate with management on a contract offer last season, it’s possible that Colorado accepts compensation for the restricted free agent this offseason. Enter MacKinnon, the first overall draft pick this past June and the youngest player to ever dress for the franchise.
Having impressed current Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy while both were in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (MacKinnon a star player for Halifax, Roy the coach for Quebec), he appears to have Roy’s absolute faith and should well into the future.
The only question is if MacKinnon continues to play at right wing, as he has on occasion this year, or moves back to center, his natural position but an area where the Avs have a lot of depth.
At 6'4", 236 pounds, Johnson is an imposing physical presence and former first overall draft pick of the St. Louis Blues. A frequent United States roster player in both the IIHF World Championships and Olympic Games, 2013-14 has seen him score seven points in 22 games (compared to only four in 31 games last season) and post a plus-13 rating (compared to a minus-31 career rating coming into the season).
Under the tutelage of Adam Foote, a similarly sized defensive presence during his time as an Avs player, Johnson has had perhaps his best season this year. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2016, but at this rate, Colorado won’t want to lose him for anything.
In a city whose best players have traditionally been great leaders (why else would Patrick Roy and Adam Foote have been brought back as coaches?), Barrie, an ex-Kelowna Rockets captain, should fit right in as soon as he permanently establishes himself in the lineup.
The former third-round pick spent some time in the AHL with Lake Erie to get more playing time this season, but he returned to the major league roster recently and has seen some power-play time.
With Varlamov a restricted free agent in the offseason, the Avalanche have first dibs on re-signing the goalie who won 12 of his first 16 starts this season. A top-tier goalie with a 2.09 goals-against average and .934 save percentage (as of Tuesday), there’s a good chance Colorado will give him a contract similar to Tuukka Rask’s $56 million mega-deal that he signed with Boston.
At only 25 years old, it’s almost a certainty that Varlamov has many good years of goaltending ahead of him. The real question is whether or not he will face deportation for his arrest earlier this year, as Eric Macramalla of CBS Sports suggests. While the Avs have great goaltending depth waiting in the wings, can any of them be stars or game-stealers like Varlamov?
That's a question that Colorado brass, especially Roy, won't want to answer for a long time, if they can help it.
Chris Leone has written for Bleacher Report since 2008 in multiple capacities. Follow him on Twitter: @christopherlion.