Stefan Elliott: Which Avalanche Defenseman Will He Replace

Kevin GoffContributor IDecember 1, 2011

Stefan Elliott: Which Avalanche Defenseman Will He Replace

0 of 8

    Stefan Elliott has long been a touted prospect of the Colorado Avalanche.

    His junior career was one that grabbed the attention of many Avalanche fans, and his first three games in the NHL have turned even more heads.

    Elliott has three points in three games (2 goals, 1 assist) and his aggressive offensive style has been a spark for the team.

    With this fantastic play, one has to believe that he has earned a spot on this team.

    If that is the case, and Sacco would be crazy to send him down, then that does mean the Avalanche are going to have to make a tough decision about one of their other defenders.

    So here is a look at each of the Avalanche defenders, and whom Elliott will replace.

Matt Hunwick

1 of 8

    Matt Hunwick hasn't played that many games this year, which should come as a great relief to any and all Avalanche fans.

    Given his performance last season, I know that I was stunned when Hunwick was retained after his horrendous on-ice performance.

    Elliott has already shown that he is more effective offensively and more responsible defensively than Hunwick has ever been.

    Hunwick is now completely and totally expendable.

Erik Johnson

2 of 8

    Erik Johnson has had a rough season to date.

    He was expected to come into the Avalanche and anchor their blue line, play a big physical game in the defensive zone and play a meaningful part in the offense.

    Thus far in the season, EJ has not lived up to his expectations.

    Johnson has only nine assists thus far and has yet to score a goal.

    As far as the defensive side of things, EJ is -12. I know how people tend to dismiss the +/- stat, but for a top level defender on a team, to see your +/- dip down this low is not a good thing.

    Nonetheless, Erik Johnson has far too much invested in him to take any playing time away from him.

    When he comes back from injury, don't expect to see EJ lose too much ice time.

Jan Hejda

3 of 8

    Jan Hejda was the biggest signing that the Avalanche made in the offseason that didn't involve trading draft picks away.

    He was expected to come in and add a lot of toughness and grit to the blue line.

    After a rough start, Hejda has started to really find his niche in the Avalanche lineup.

    He is currently a team worst -13, but has been much better in the last couple of weeks, even pitching in a couple of goals.

    Given his improved play, I wouldn't count on Hejda losing any ice time either.

Kyle Quincey

4 of 8

    Kyle Quincey has been fantastic ever since returning at the start of the season from his shoulder injury that had him sit out most of last year.

    He's bigger, stronger and better than a season ago.

    He's playing very well defensively and is leading the Avalanche defenders in point production.

    Kyle Quincey has probably been the best Avalanche defender all year, he'll be sticking around.

Shane O'Brien

5 of 8

    I have loved Shane O'Brien as a member of the Avalanche.

    He has brought a lot of toughness to the blue line and has brought some great leadership to the Avalanche as a whole.

    In the game against the Islanders, the Avalanche were playing pretty horrible hockey, until O'Brien really laid into the team on the bench.

    Something crazy happened after that, the team erased a 3-0 deficit and won the game.

    Even if O'Brien isn't producing awesome numbers or logging incredibly amounts of ice time, his presence has been felt and his leadership should keep him on this team.

Ryan O'Byrne

6 of 8

    Ryan O'Byrne has been a bit of an enigma for the Avalanche.

    Sometimes he is on the ice and is playing physical, getting dirty and really helping out his goalie.

    Other times he kind of looks a little bit lost out there. I'm not certain whether or not that is him being actually lost on the ice, or just a symptom of bad coaching, but it's a big difference.

    O'Byrne has been playing better of late and seems to have found a pretty good chemistry with Jan Hejda.

    It's hard to say if the Avalanche would sit him, but it seems like it could be a possibility.

Ryan Wilson

7 of 8

    Wilson has been a very bright spot for the Avalanche this year.

    He has continued to be the guy on the Avalanche that can deliver a timely big hit that can change momentum, just ask Taylor Hall, and has also managed to find some offensive mojo in his game.

    Wilson led the Avalanche in +/- for a while, but has fallen back down a bit more in that particular statistic lately.

    Wilson has actually been playing with Elliott during his first three games, so I highly doubt that Wilson would be the one to lose the playing time.

In Conclusion

8 of 8

    The Avalanche defense has been a lot better overall in the past couple of weeks, even if the win totals don't always show it.

    They have given up fewer goals and are active in the offensive game for the Avalanche as well.

    Stefan Elliott has sent a shock-wave through this team and has demonstrated that he belongs in the NHL with the Avalanche.

    With Elliott's performance, once Erik Johnson comes back into the lineup, somebody is going to have to become the healthy scratch.

    There are really two possible scenarios in my mind.

    One, the Avalanche will rotate defenders in and out based off of who is playing best at the moment.

    At this point, O'Byrne would probably be the first one to sit out.

    Two—and this is the one that I think is more likely—the Avalanche will look to trade some of the extra defenders to fill other holes on the team.

    Exactly which player would be traded is a completely different subject to discuss.

    Whichever thing happens, the Avalanche have found that offensive defenseman that they have been lacking this season. Elliott is here to stay.

     

    Kevin Goff is a Featured Columnist for the Colorado Avalanche and NHL on Bleacher Report. For more NHL news and discussion, 

    Follow <span class=