The year 2009-2010 was the year of the forward for the Colorado Avalanche.
Formerly a group where top minutes were given to veterans like Joe Sakic and Ryan Smyth, the Avalanche had almost 100 percent turnovers from the 2008-2009 season. Adding rookies such as Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly, T.J. Galiardi, and Brandon Yip to the roster, as well as a late season trade for Peter Mueller, paid dividends to what was the NHL's 30th ranked offense in 2008-2009, as they leapfrogged to sixth.
The defense was another story.
While youngsters Kyle Cumiskey and Ryan Wilson made progress in their first crack at a full time spot in the NHL, the largely veteran group was one of the worst defenses in the league.
Too old, too slow, and too indecisive with the puck were common theme's of the season for Colorado. They allowed the sixth most shots in the league (second most of the 16 playoff teams). The group was equally as pitiful in the offensive zone, as the Avalanche were one of only five teams that got neither 10 goals nor 40 points from a single defenseman.
Now 2010-2011 will look to reverse those trends.
Though they added no one through free agency, Colorado boasts one of the NHL's most impressive groups of defensive prospects. Leading the way is the Avalanche's top prospect, Kevin Shattenkirk.
Shattenkirk is the byproduct of the Avalanche's 2006-2007 season, in which they missed the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Colorado used the 14th overall pick on him, ahead of talents like David Perron, P.K. Subban, and Jonathan Blum.
For the past three seasons, Shattenkirk played for the Boston University Terriers, where he recorded 78 points in 121 games, won the National Championship in 2009, and captained the team as a junior in 2010.
As a rule of thumb, defensemen take longer to develop than forwards, which is why players such as Matt Duchene and Evander Kane were able to make the jump to the NHL immediately after being drafted. Shattenkirk hasn't stepped on NHL ice in his three years as Avalanche property.
Not only will his $1.3 million cap hit help the Avalanche reach the salary cap floor, but Shattenkirk has the skills to be one of the Avalanche's best defensemen immediately. Most notably, his abilities with the puck will help the Avalanche's transition game out of their own zone. Even though expecting 10 goals or 40 points out of a rookie defenseman is unreasonable, it's likely Shattenkirk can contribute 25-30 points as he eases into a power play quarterback role.
Defensively, he's not Ray Bourque, but he's not as bad as a Liles or Cumiskey either. Even though he only stands at 5'11", Shattenkirk isn't afraid to throw a big hit from time to time, though he can be prone to get caught chasing the puck in the defensive zone.
Lastly, Shattenkirk compares himself to Dan Boyle, which can't be a bad thing given the contributions Boyle has made to the Avalanche in the past.