Chris MacFarland has been busy this summer reshaping the Colorado Avalanche.
Change is inevitable in the NHL, especially when you go out in round one, but the forward group for the Avalanche is going to look very different next season. After the secondary scoring let the team down against the Seattle Kraken, you knew changes were coming, and those changes weren’t going to be to arguably the best defense in the league.
If the season were to begin today, the Avalanche would have 5 new forwards skating on opening night. That means over 40% of the group has changed from when we last saw the team in April. Pretty significant.
So, of those new acquisitions, who is the most important to Colorado’s success next season? Let’s count them down in terms of importance going into the season.
5. Fredrik Olofsson
The Avalanche clearly like the guy, as they went out of their way to acquire him, even though he was a pending UFA. And the people I’ve talked to think he can be a nice depth addition for Colorado. But that’s what he is – a depth player. He makes league minimum, so if it doesn’t work out, they can easily waive him and try someone else. With just 28 career NHL games, he’ll have to come in and earn a job just like everyone else, but he likely has a step up on the competition.
4. Jonathan Drouin
Everyone hopes that the Halifax reunion works out for the Avalanche, and if it does, you’re getting tremendous value at $825,000 for Drouin. The team, however, is not banking everything on the 28 year old forward. He’s making nearly league minimum, and while he almost certainly will get a shot to play with MacKinnon, he’ll have to play well to stay in that position.
I’ve been watching film of Drouin from last year, and there is still plenty of skill present in his game, but it’s the rest of his game that will determine how well everything goes. He’ll have to show value in other ways to keep a job, because it wouldn’t be hard for Colorado to move on from that contract.
3. Miles Wood
With a 6-year contract, he has time to figure things out, but he’s clearly someone the organization has faith in. Yes, they went up to 6 years to get the AAV of the contract down, but you only do that if you feel comfortable with the player. Wood will be important, and he’ll have to be good if the Avalanche want to advance beyond the first round.
It was secondary scoring that was a problem in the playoffs, and Wood is someone they hope is part of the solution. He’s an important piece for next season, but he’s a winger, which I place less importance on than someone playing down the middle.
2. Ross Colton
To be honest, I debated putting Colton at 1. This is someone they targeted in a trade, gave good money and term to, and is someone they feel so comfortable with that they have no concerns about his ability to transition back to playing center. To be honest, I don’t have many concerns about that either, but there’s a little bit of risk with it. He’s obviously someone they have a lot of faith in.
Would it surprise anyone if Colton moves around the lineup a lot next season? The team has made it pretty clear that they see him at center. MacFarland called him a “hard-working, two-way center with a championship pedigree.” But it’s not going to take much for him to become the Bednar’s new Swiss-Army knife, replacing J.T. Compher.
He’s played both wing and center at the NHL level, and has averaged .247 goals per game. That’s a 20 goal pace over the course of his career. If Drouin flounders, Colton could move to the wing in the top six. If Johansen doesn’t work out, Colton may find himself at 2C. And if anyone gets hurt, he could easily be the guy that moves up.
A good 3C can be more valuable to a team than a good winger, and Colton will be very important for the Avalanche next season.
We’ve heard it since Nazem Kadri signed with the Flames – this team won’t go anywhere without a good 2C. They may have acquired Johansen for absolutely nothing, but they made it clear after the trade they see him in the top six. He’s certainly not replacing Nathan MacKinnon, so that puts him in the 2C position.
Does he still have the ability to be a 2C? He’s just one year removed from a 63 point season, but that year is an outlier when you look at his last four seasons. Removing that one year from the equation, he’s averaged .5 points-per-game in recent years. Not bad by any stretch, but you usually expect a little more out of your 2C.
Colorado has talent on the wing in the top six, and can insulate him pretty well by surrounding him with Lehkonen, Nichushkin, and/or Rantanen. He’ll be given every opportunity to show he can still play well in that role. If he doesn’t, you’re then looking at other players to step into roles they’ve never filled in their careers. That impacts your team up and down the lineup, so that’s why I’ve got Johansen as the most important of the new acquisitions.