With injuries to captain Adam Foote, Ryan Wilson, Kyle Cumiskey, and Kyle Quincey, Avalanche coach Joe Sacco has been forced to turn to rookies to play big minutes. Among them are Jonas Holos, Kevin Shattenkirk, Colby Cohen, and David Liffiton.
The defense performed admirably with all four rookies in the line-up; in fact, it was a breath of fresh air to see some new faces on the Avalanche blue line.
However, Adam Foote and Ryan Wilson returned to the line-up in last nights win against the St. Louis Blues, and the two Kyles won't be out forever. Including recent acquisition Ryan O'Byrne, this gives the Avalanche a total of eleven defensemen who's played for them this season.
Colby Cohen and David Liffiton have already been re-assigned to Lake Erie of the AHL, so that number is knocked down to nine. The most defensemen Colorado has dressed in a single game is seven, so huge decisions are on the way.
Rookie's Kevin Shattenkirk and Jonas Holos will likely be on the hot seat, given that they're both rookies with two-way contracts (ineligible for waivers).
Removing one, or both from the roster would be insanity.
Holos has brought a steady two way game to the Avalanche's lineup since his debut six games into the season. He's been solid in his won end, and has the skating ability to join the rush—which he's done frequently.
Shattenkirk, on the other hand, is the Avalanche's top prospect, a player they invested a first round draft pick in during the 2007 NHL entry draft. He's only 21 years of age, so there will be defensive mistakes; but his poise with the puck in both zones makes him a no brainer to keep on the roster.
And after all, isn't this team supposed to be rebuilding? There's no sense in depriving a great young player of quality ice time in favor of a lesser skilled player just because that player has is older or makes more money.
Of the defense, the jobs of Scott Hannan, Adam Foote, the recently acquired Ryan O'Byrne, and John-Michael Liles—aka the second coming of Scott Neidermayer—appear to be safe.
Kyle Cumiskey is a favorite of Sacco's, regularly leading the team in ice time before his injury. However, it can be argued that Cumiskey was used so frequently because of his skating and puck control abilities, both of which—as well as his questionable decision making with the puck—are inferior to that of Shattenkirk, who Sacco has shown faith in.
Ryan Wilson has had a fairly decent season given his skill set, but the acquisition of O'Byrne—who's played a larger role than Wilson in his first three games with the Avalanche—makes one wonder if Wilson will have a secured spot on the line-up.
Lastly, we come to Kyle Quincey. A great start to his Avalanche career has deteriorated from good, to bad, to awful since winter last season. To make matters worse, over the summer the Avalanche re-signed him to a two year contract which averages over 3 million dollars a season.
But money should be irrelevant. His play has been noticeably bad this season, and he hasn't earned a spot on the defense.
If Sacco goes with the guys who have played the best in 2010-2011, he'll end up with a defense of Liles, O'Byrne, Hannan, Holos, Foote, and Shattenkirk.