The Avalanche made significant moves at the NHL level this past year, but past NHL regulars could face some stiff competition for roster spots from players coming up through the team's prospect system.
The battle will be especially intense at center and on defense. The talent in the Avalanche system, combined with the inconsistency of the team last season, means that very few players can say, "My job is safe," as we approach training camp.
Here is a look at some Colorado prospects who have a shot to crack the opening night roster.
Team: Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
2010-11 Stats: 37G, 50A, 87 points in 50 games played. Finished the season plus-16.
Joey Hishon was drafted in the first round by the Avs in 2010 (17th overall). He is a highly-skilled center who put up a 1.74 points per game average during the regular season last year.
He has shown a Chris Drury-like knack for scoring big goals in key situations. Hishon has also demonstrated good decision-making skills in his own end, playing key minutes on the penalty kill for the Attack.
He has been criticized for being undersized at 5' 10" and weighing 170 pounds. He has overcome that downside at the OHL level, but will have to pack on a few pounds and demonstrate that he'll be able to compete in the NHL.
The Avs are deep at center, with regulars Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly, Kevin Porter and Jay McClement on the roster to begin the season. Still, if Hishon has a solid preseason, he could see playing time with the Avalanche this year.
Team: University of North Dakota (WCHA)
2010-11 Stats: 16G, 24A, 40 points in 43 games played.
Malone is a gritty forward with offensive capability. In addition to chipping in 40 regular season points for the Fighting Sioux, he spent 108 minutes in the penalty box through 43 games.
He is rather infamous in the Denver area—his hit on University of Denver player Jesse Martin last season left Martin with a broken neck. This was the one dark spot in a great senior season for Malone.
In all likelihood, Malone will spend this season with the Lake Erie Monsters. If he can demonstrate consistency, he could be given a shot with the Avs checking lines. At 6'2", 207 pounds, he has the size to be NHL-ready. He brings a bruising style of play to training camp that no other Avs center can match.
Team: Lake Erie Monsters (AHL)
2010-11 Stats: 2G, 20A, 22 points in 61 games played. Also had one goal in 11 games with the Avalanche last season.
Cameron Gaunce made his NHL debut in 2011, playing 11 games for the Avalanche to cover for injuries or roster moves. He is a 6'1", 203-pound defensive presence. While he is not known for his offensive abilities, he demonstrated last year that he could play positionally-sound defensive hockey.
Chances are that Gaunce will spend the majority of this season with Lake Erie as he continues to bring his game up to speed with the pace of the NHL. He is a reliable call-up option for the Avalanche, though, and will probably see some time at the Pepsi Center at some point this year.
Team: Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
2010-11 Stats: 5G, 38A, 43 points in 72 games played. He also logged 121 penalty minutes.
Duncan Siemens was the 11th overall pick in the 2011 entry draft—a pick the Avalanche received from the St. Louis Blues as part of the Erik Johnson trade. Billed as one of the toughest defensemen to play against in the WHL, his style has been compared to former New Jersey Devils shutdown defenseman Scott Stevens.
Conveniently, he has been paired with Avs' prospect Stefan Elliott for a good part of his time with the Blades. Pre-existing chemistry will only help the two in their quest to make the Avs roster.
At only 17 years of age, Siemens could use another year or two in the WHL to fill out physically and work up to the speed of the NHL game. With a stellar preseason, though, we could see him in an Avalanche jersey on opening night. In the Avs' quest to be a tougher team to play against, Siemens will be an integral piece to the puzzle.
Team: Lake Erie Monsters (AHL)
2010-11 Stats: 23G, 17A, 40 points in 58 games played. He also scored nine points in 18 games with the Avalanche last year.
Mark Olver, the former Northern Michigan University standout, made his debut with the Avalanche last year. He tallied nine points in 18 games for the Burgundy and Blue and had a successful year with Lake Erie. Olver adds another skilled center to the Avalanche list—a list that is deep heading into training camp.
With Joey Hishon, Ryan Malone and newcomer Joakim Lindstrom competing for roster spots behind the Avs regulars, it will be a challenge for him to earn ice time in Denver this season. Nevertheless, he has shown his ability to contribute at the NHL level. It isn't out of the question that we could see more of Mark Olver this year.
Team: Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
2010-11 Stats: 31G, 50A, 81 points in 71 games played. Finished the regular season plus-62.
The WHL's defensive player of the year has a good chance at cracking the Avs' blue line roster this year, but he'll have his work cut out for him in training camp.
His numbers speak for themselves—he blew up the WHL record for scoring as a defenseman and was solid in his own zone, ending the season with a plus-62 rating.
If he can carry that type of production into training camp, he could earn a roster spot in place of John Michael Liles—the team's former power-play quarterback. The Avalanche are deep at defense, with Erik Johnson, Jan Hejda, Shane O'Brien and Ryan O'Byrne all but guaranteed roster spots. Kyle Cumiskey, Kyle Quincey, Ryan Wilson, and Matt Hunwick will be competing with Elliott for remaining ice time.
Quincey, Wilson and Hunwick were inconsistent last year. Hunwick in particular had a very bad year with the Avalanche, finishing the season with a minus-19 rating. Elliott could give these NHL regulars a run for their money.
Click here for a Bleacher Report profile on Stefan Elliott.
Team: Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
2010-11 Stats: 11G, 47A, 58 points in 54 games played. Finished the regular season plus-5.
While Stefan Elliott won the WHL's defenseman of the year honor in 2011, Tyson Barrie held the title in 2010. During the 2009-10 season, he tallied 72 points in 63 games for the defending WHL champions.
Hockey's Future reports that while Barrie doesn't have an overpowering shot, "it is consistently accurate and he has the knack of sifting the puck through traffic." With the ability to contribute offensively and his confident handling of the puck in his own zone, Barrie will make a solid addition in Denver.
Realistically, look for Barrie to start this season in Lake Erie. With injuries or less-than-inspiring performances from the Avs' defensive group, though, we could see him wearing the "A" this year.
Team: Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
2010-11 Stats: 36G, 30A, 66 points in 53 games played. Ended the season plus-27.
By far the top prospect in Colorado's system, expect to see Landeskog become an immediate contributor this year.
The captain of the Kitchener Rangers was drafted second overall by the Avalanche in 2011 and has the size and skill to play on one of the top two forward lines this season. With the Avs already running thin at left wing, the 18-year-old shouldn't have a problem locking up a roster spot.
Everyone from OHL coaches to NHL scouts have rated him the most NHL-ready player available in this year's entry draft—even more so than No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
For a more in-depth look at Gabriel Landeskog, click here.