Colorado Avalanche: 2011 Projected Depth Chart w/ Free Agents and Draft Picks
The Colorado Avalanche are a very different team today than they were three months ago, and they are an incredibly different team than they were at the start of last season.
The Avalanche have two new goalies, a brand new franchise winger, a couple new faces on the blue line and several people who will be returning from long stretches of injury.
The Avalanche have definitely done a lot to upgrade their shortcomings from a year ago and might take a bit for the fans and the hockey world to get used to.
So what will the lines look like? Here's what I'm thinking
Goalies: Varlamov, Backed Up by Giguere
Let's start off in net.
You know how in the NFL you hear a lot about the hot rookie quarterback that is on the sideline but is being paid about three times the money the current veteran starter is being paid.
They always say that you're paying this guy so much to just stand there? Need to put him in to make it worth your while.
Well, this is kind of a similar situation in the sense that the Avalanche paid a very hefty price in order to trade for Varlamov, giving up a first-rounder and a second-rounder. The Avalanche seem to have stated, just with the picks they gave up, that Varlamov is going to be the guy.
Plus, the Avalanche brass have stated they believe that Varlamov is their No. 1 not just for next year, but for many years down the road.
Giguere seems to be in the place of the aging senior citizen that will be sharing his invaluable knowledge and life experiences with the young fellow who is about to run him out of the job he's had for several years.
Where's John Wayne when you need him?
Defense Pairing 3: Ryan Wilson and Stefan Elliott
One of the reasons the Avalanche felt that they could trade long-time Avalanche blueliner, John-Michael Liles, is because Stefan Elliott shows such amazing promise.
Elliott won the WHL defenseman of the year last season and absolutely dominated offensively (31 goals, 50 assists).
He will likely be eased into the lineup so that he can make a transition into the pace and style of the NHL.
Ryan Wilson will probably stick in his third pairing that he has manned over the past couple of seasons, and has done well with.
Wilson's third year in the league will probably see him playing with a combination of Elliott, Barrie, Hunwick and Cumiskey, depending on who is in Sacco's doghouse at the time.
By the end of the year, I would expect to see Elliott in the lineup far more often than not.
Defense Pairing 2: Kyle Quincey and Ryan O'Byrne
Ryan O'Byrne and Kyle Quincey are two very big guys that will complement each other pretty well, in my opinion.
O'Byrne is more the stay-at-home type of defenseman, whereas Quincey can occasionally be found jumping into the play or pinching to try and keep the play alive in the offensive zone.
Both guys have pretty decent shots, as well, and are veterans that will develop a chemistry together and create solid breakout passes that will lead to chances off of the transition game.
Both like to hit, as well. Hopefully, if one starts to see the other play physically, things will begin to rub off. There were times for both of these guys last season where they seemed a bit hesitant to play with that nasty edge.
Hopefully, that nastiness will return, and these two will become a fearsome duo in their own end.
Defense Pairing 1: Erik Johnson and Jan Hejda
This year will be Erik Johnson's year, in my opinion. Once he was acquired by the Avalanche, just before the deadline, Johnson began logging tons of minutes on the ice and really did thrive, for the most part.
Johnson will have a very reliable partner with him for perhaps the first time in his career (I admittedly am not terribly familiar about who he was partnered with in St. Louis), in Jan Hejda.
Hejda and Johnson are both very big bodies that can play very physically in their own end.
Johnson seemed to have a tendency to get a little cute with the puck in his own end from time to time, but I really think that's because he didn't feel comfortable with his partner. Hejda will change that for him.
Hejda is a savvy guy who played pretty well defensively for a team that was never very good, Columbus, and I think will relish the opportunity to play with a guy like Johnson.
Hejda will also do the same thing for EJ that O'Byrne does for Quincey. Providing that stay at home presence so that EJ can feel free to jump up into the rush, as he is capable of doing.
I personally am a big fan of what the top defensive pairings look like for the Colorado Avalanche.
Forward Line 4: Joakim Lindstrom, Jay McClement, Daniel Winnik
Daniel Winnik was one of the biggest bright spots for the Avalanche last season. He not only proved to be one of the team's best penalty killers, but he played great in five-on-five situations and even had a career year offensively.
Jay McClement played very solid defense for the Avalanche after coming over from St. Louis with Erik Johnson and will hold down that fourth line and also provide the Avalanche with a good defensive zone center that can consistently win important draws.
Joakim Lindstrom is the wild card here. He played in the NHL before but never really had that much success, so he went and played in the Swedish Elite League, where he led the league in scoring this past season.
Lindstrom could work his way up to the third line, but my bet is he settles in as a fourth-line checker that can put the puck in the net from time to time.
All in all, I find this a very solid fourth line.
Cody McLeod has a possibility of making this line, as well, but I think he'll be beaten out this year, and may be more of a reserve.
Never know, maybe he beats out one of the guys on the third line.
Forward Line 3: T.J. Galiardi, Ryan O'Reilly, Kevin Porter/Chuck Kobasew
Ryan O'Reilly showed the Avalanche a lot last season when he saw a lot of time on the second line because of injuries.
Not only did he continue to play his solid defensive game, but he showed flashes of great offensive potential that could stay with him in this coming season.
O'Reilly has played most of his time in his first two seasons with T.J. Galiardi on one of his wings, though Galiardi was out due to injury most of last season, and it doesn't seem to me like this year will be any different.
Galiardi plays a very solid defensive game with some very deceptive offensive abilities. He is also a great pest that can sucker opponents into stupid penalties without doing anything Avery-like.
Kevin Porter was put in a role, last season, that really just doesn't fit him. He's not an NHL top six forward, he's a third-line guy who needs to play with other tenacious forecheckers.
Porter forechecks very well and is capable of playing a good physical game for his size. He can cause turnovers and can bury the puck but don't ask him to make a skilled passing play, because it will be going the other way fast.
I like him a lot more as a crash the boards and go right to the net kind of guy.
A young, but very talented and capable, third line.
Porter does need to watch out though, as a guy like Joey Hishon or Mark Olver could end up taking his roster spot with a good camp.
Chuck Kobasew, whom the Avalanche signed on free agent frenzy day, also seems to fit on this line. He might get bounced around between the third and fourth line for a little bit until he finds a place where he has some chemistry, but count on seeing him on the big squad either way.
Forward Line 2: Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, Peter Mueller
That's right Avalanche fans, you're going to see the two highest draft picks that the Avalanche have taken since their move to Colorado playing on the same line together this year, and what a beautiful sight it is going to be.
Duchene is going to turn into an elite player for the Avalanche this year and could threaten the 80-point mark, which could very easily include 30 goals.
His speed and skill is beautifully complimented by the power and precision that Landeskog brings with his game.
There two are going to make sweet music together for many years, and Duchene will help Landeskog along in winning the rookie of the year this season. Oh, bet on it.
Oh yeah, and Peter Mueller is expected to be ready to go at the start of the season and has been fitted with a special helmet that is meant to help prevent concussions.
When Mueller came over to the Avalanche at the deadline a couple years ago, he was very productive and was great for the Avalanche on the power play, as well.
If he can stay healthy, his production could end up being very big for the team, as well.
I also wouldn't be horribly shocked if this line became the top line before the end of the season.
Forward Line 1: David Jones, Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk
David Jones really began to emerge as a great power forward for the Avalanche last year as he tied for the team lead in goals, with 27.
I think this is going to earn him a spot on the top line with Paul Stastny, who will continue to serve as the team's primary set-up man.
Stastny did do a pretty good job, especially earlier in the year, or shooting more than he had in the past, and it definitely was paying some dividends.
Then there's old reliable, Milan Hejduk. Hejduk has tallied 20 or more goal in 11 straight seasons now and will be looking to take sole possession of that franchise record that he currently shares with Joe Sakic.
The combination of these three really does blend everything that you need. Speed, size, power, skill, scorer's touch and great passing. If these three can find a good chemistry, watch out.
It's because of this lineup that I believe the Avalanche, if they are able to stay healthy, could very seriously become playoff contenders.
Injuries killed this team, so maintaining consistency with this starting lineup will be essential to the success of the team.
Questions, Comments, Concerns?
Kevin Goff is a Colorado Avalanche Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and is an official member of Bleacher Report's 2011 NHL Draft team. For more NHL news, updates, and discussion: