Colorado Avalanche: 7 Things to Be Thankful For

James CriderCorrespondent INovember 24, 2010

Colorado Avalanche: 7 Things to Be Thankful For

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    With Thanksgiving right around the corner, fans of the Colorado Avalanche should have a lot to be thankful for.

    After all, despite being the youngest team in the NHL and battling through long term injuries to their starting goaltender and four of their top six defenseman, Colorado sits third in the Western Conference, leading the Northwest Division with 25 points.

    However, the Avalanche wouldn't be so fortunate without a few outstanding individual efforts. without further ado, here are the top seven things Avalanche fans should be thankful for heading into the holiday weekend.

Trading with Phoenix

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    Unfortunately, forward Peter Mueller has missed all 20 of the Avalanche's games with a concussion, and remains out indefinitely.

    However, Kevin Porter—the "other" player the Avalanche acquired in a trade that sent forward Wojtek Wolski to Phoenix—has been a godsend.

    After a rough start in which he was a frequent healthy scratch, Porter has been the Avalanche's best forward in November, scoring a team-high five goals. A key player in the clutch, Porter scored a beautiful goal in overtime to defeat the San Jose Sharks 4-3 and followed it up with the shootout-winning goal against Dallas two games later, helping the Avalanche leapfrog the Vancouver Canucks for first place in the Northwest Division.

Young Defenseman Stepping In

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    If losing starting goaltender Craig Anderson wasn't enough, the Avalanche lost defensemen Adam Foote, Kyle Cumiskey, Kyle Quincey and Ryan Wilson simultaneously due to various injuries.

    Luckily, the Avalanche have one of the best defensive prospect pools in the NHL, and rookies Colby Cohen, Jonas Holos, David Liffiton and Kevin Shattenkirk were able to step in and not only fill in, but improve the defense as a whole. Cohen, Holos and Liffiton have been assigned to the AHL, but Shattenkirk has stuck with the big club, and will remain a big part of the Avalanche's defense for the rest of the season and into the future.

David Jones' Health

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    After missing 59 games due to a torn ACL last season, winger David Jones has been a godsend for the Colorado Avalanche.

    In 17 games, he's scored nine goals, and also leads all Avalanche forwards with a plus-nine rating. If Jones can stay healthy for the balance of the season, he'll be in line for a long-term contract when he becomes a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

Trading with Phoenix...Again

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    At the cost of only a fourth-round draft choice in the upcoming draft, the Avalanche acquired winger Daniel Winnik, who's been Bert to Ryan O'Reilly's Ernie.

    Playing on the Avalanche's checking line with O'Reilly, Winnik has already scored more goals (five) than he had all of last season with Phoenix (four), while second among Avalanche forwards in average ice time on the penalty kill (3:11).

Chris Stewart's Emergence

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    What can you say about Chris Stewart?

    A year ago, he was looking like a dud of a first round draft pick. Stewart had only scored one goal in the first 20 games of the season, and at one point was sent to the AHL due to poor play.

    But in the 77 games that have followed, Stewart has been one of the NHL's most prolific scorers, lighting the lamp a whopping 39 times.

    Through 2010-11, Stewart's 11 tallies is good enough for sixth-best in the NHL, and his 24 points tie him with reigning Art Ross Trophy winner Henrik Sedin.

Peter Budaj's Work Ethic

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    When Craig Anderson unexpectedly went down with a knee injury during warm-ups—a game in which he was slated to be the Avalanche's backup—many thought Colorado would be fortunate to split the games that Anderson sat out.

    Instead, long time back-up Peter Budaj gave the Avalanche a big spark in net, and the team was able to go 6-3-0 in the nine games Anderson missed. Overall, Budaj has gone 8-3-1, and his strong play will earn him more starts down the stretch—where Anderson's play deteriorated last season after starting a franchise record 71 games.

John-Michael Liles Domination

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    Declaring him a Norris Trophy candidate is a bit premature, but there's no doubt John-Michael Liles has been one of the best defenseman in the NHL through the first 20 games.

    Liles leads all defenseman in the NHL with 20 points, and leads all Avalanche players with a plus—11 rating (a career high). Quite the turnaround for a player who was seemingly playing himself out of town less than a season ago. Luckily, the Avalanche decided to stick with Liles, and it's paying dividends.