Erik Johnson was drafted first overall in 2006.
The team has had glaring needs for the past couple of seasons and team management has finally shown the willingness to make moves to improve the squad.
The Avalanche, for years, have had a skilled offense capable of scoring goals. Sure, they've shown their youth with frequent mistakes. But the potential is there—forwards like Matt Duchene and David Jones will only continue to improve.
The same could not be said about the blue line. The team tried an experiment with smaller, faster defensemen—an experiment that didn't work at all. While they were quick on their feet and could break out with lighting speed, the team quickly learned that if the opposition can pin you in your own zone for minutes on end, being fleet of foot doesn’t matter.
The defensive corps was far too easy to push around and as a result, the Avalanche made a painful habit of giving up easy goals in critical situations. So the Avs took a risk and paid a steep price for Erik Johnson.
With no hope in sight within their own system, the Avalanche made the bombshell announcement that standouts Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk were being shipped to the Blues for Erik Johnson, Jay McClement and a conditional first-round pick that would later turn into Duncan Siemens, who has been rated one of the toughest D-men to play against in the WHL.
With one move, the Avs changed course. They sacrificed some offensive potency, which is always a hard pill to swallow, to address needs in their own zone.
Let’s not forget that Johnson is a former No. 1 pick. He has the size and skill combination that rarely come together in the same player.
Johnson also brings leadership to the team that just lost its captain with the retirement of Adam Foote. Rumors are that he is in the front running for the captaincy of the young Avs squad.
The Avs next major move would seek to address an issue the team has had since the great Patrick Roy retired in 2003—the lack of a solid starting goaltender. Another significant price—a first and second-round pick—was paid to the Washington Capitals for young goalie Semyon Varlamov.
The young Russian has struggled with injury issues, which could come back to haunt the Avs. But the 23-year-old has been stellar when healthy. With one of the highest save percentages in the league last year (.924), Varlamov brings the ability to steal a game—something Roy proved was essential to success during the Avs' glory years.
If Johnson and Varlamov play to their potential, the Avalanche will have All-Stars playing in positions that haven't been solid in years. Sure, it may not work out that way. The jury is still out and this young team has a lot to prove in the coming year. But what we do have in Denver as a result of these moves is a reason for optimism—a potential for greatness. And that is always worth a shot.