Last season was a huge disappointment by anyone’s standards—so now the question becomes, “Can one offseason really make that much of a difference?”
I submit that the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Here are five solid reasons for Avalanche fans to be excited about hockey this year.
Matt Duchene scores for the Avalanche
Last year's Avalanche were all about speed, and they scored some beautiful goals as a result. The problem is, they didn't score enough of them. This year's team provides a much more balanced attack—with an even blend of skill and physical presence, the Avs offense looks to be a potent one this season.
Former first-round draft pick Peter Mueller looked good in training camp. Mueller put up 20 points in 15 games for the Avs before being sidelined by a concussion two seasons ago. He has shown great chemistry with Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk.
Gabriel Landeskog brings a physical presence that was lacking after the departure of Chris Stewart. He has shown his willingness to go to the tough areas in front of the net and in the corners to make tough plays. The Avs also have the makings of a great power forward in David Jones, and T.J. Galiardi has had a very solid camp.
Matt Duchene has been progressively improving throughout the last few seasons and seems primed to have a breakout offensive year, especially with the increase in skill around him.
The dark horse contributor to this group could come from the Avs' most unheralded signing of the offseason—Joakim Lindstrom. Lindstrom had a very average career up until last season, when he had a breakout year for Skelleftea HC of the Swedish Elite League. He put up 64 points in 54 games to lead the SEL in scoring. So far, Lindstrom has had a monster training camp. He has looked more like a first-line, elite forward than a backup.
Kyle Quincey puts a hit on Raffi Torres
The Avalanche got pushed around last year with a defense that was small and couldn’t win the tough battles in their own zone. The result was a dismal goals against average.
This year’s squad is going to be far tougher to play against. With the additions of Erik Johnson, Jan Hejda, Ryan O’Byrne and Shane O’Brien, the Avalanche defense now averages well over 6 feet tall and 200 pounds. Kyle Quincey is back from injury and had a very solid training camp.
The Avs are looking at an experienced, reliable, tough-to-move group of defensemen. All of those things were lacking last season. In addition, reports from training camp indicate that the group still looks quick on their feet. It seems not much speed was sacrificed through bulking up.
Last season, Colorado got manhandled by injuries. While it isn’t the sole reason for a horrible season, it had a lot to do with it. The Avalanche lost well over 400 man-games to injury last year and had a constant parade of new faces streaming through the dressing room.
A common comment from those attending this year’s training camp is that players look stronger. Players like Semyon Varlamov changed their workout routines over the summer to address injury issues. The Denver Post reports that T.J. Galiardi has packed on about 20 pounds of muscle over the offseason and looks much faster and stronger than last year.
With Peter Mueller finally ready to go after a lengthy concussion and an Avalanche squad at full strength for the first time in recent history, we’ll get a chance to see just what this team can do.
If injuries don’t play a major role this year, the added skill and team chemistry will pull this team out of the NHL basement and back into the playoff hunt.
JS Giguere will suit up for the Avalanche this season.
There are still questions about Semyon Varlamov's ability to handle a full season as the starting goalie of an NHL team. There are concerns about Jean-Sebastien Giguere's age and fitness. The thing to remember, though, is where the Avalanche have been.
The team has had a nightmare of a time finding consistency between the pipes since the retirement of Patrick Roy. The latest edition of netminders included an inconsistent Craig Anderson, an awful Brian Elliott and eternal backup Peter Budaj filling in the gaps.
For the first time in years, Colorado fans have the potential to see star-caliber players manning the crease. Giguere is claiming to feel the best that he has in years after surgery in the offseason. Varlamov, for the moment, is healthy and has had a very solid training camp.
Nobody will claim that Varlamov and Giguere are the best goaltending duo in the league. But they are a drastic improvement over what has been. And they will win games for Colorado this season.
Duncan Siemens adds toughness and skill to the Avs' prospect system
We are just starting to realize the type of depth that the Colorado Avalanche have in their prospects system. Players are emerging who are truly dominating minor league hockey. This year, if injury should occur and call-ups become necessary, the Avs have some exciting talent to fill the gaps.
Colorado has two defensemen in Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott who have won defenseman of the year honors in the WHL for the past two years. Recent draft pick Duncan Siemens has had a great training camp and brings a Scott Stevens-type of shutdown defensive presence to the ice.
On the offensive, Joey Hishon (currently battling concussion problems) has shown his scoring ability by putting up 87 points in 50 regular-season games last year for the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL. He might have challenged for a roster spot this year if it wasn't for injury. Gabriel Landeskog will undoubtedly stay in the NHL this season, while forwards like Marc Olver and Brad Malone provide very solid backup options.
One of the most exciting goalies to watch in training camp has been Sami Aittokaillio, a 19-year-old prospect from Finland, who has done more than hold his own against the Avs' top lines.
Assuming these guys don't crack the opening night roster, which is still entirely possible, the Avalanche head into this season with one of the most talented groups of reserves in the league. The future is very bright for this franchise.