Every year, players come to training camp with something to prove. This year will be no different for the Colorado Avalanche.
As for what those players have to prove, that varies. Some have to earn back trust, some have to show they can stay healthy, and some just have to show that last year was not a fluke.
Who on the Avalanche have to most to prove to start next year? Your list might be different, but this is mine.
Because we’ve discussed at length how much some of the new acquisitions have to prove, we’re leaving them off the list and sticking with current Avalanche players.
3. Alexandar Georgiev
I’m a Georgiev believer. His athleticism is off the charts, and in his first year as a starting goaltender in the NHL, he handled the workload like a champ. Perhaps most importantly, he seems to have the mental make-up to be a starting goalie in this league. That became evident after several conversations with him.
But in this league, you can’t rest on your laurels. We’ve seen plenty of goaltenders come through with one big season, only to fall off. He’s only been a starter for one season, and until he does it again, some people will always have a little bit of doubt that he can be “the guy.” It’s up to him to show that last season was not a fluke. I’m confident he can do that, but I’ve been burned by goalies before.
2. Bowen Byram
The recipient of a new 2-year contract this off-season, no one really questions Byram’s talent level. He scored at a 20 goal pace last season, and a lot of that goal production came at even strength. For Byram, it really just comes down to one thing.
When the playoffs have rolled around the last two seasons, he’s been healthy, and that matters a lot, but we haven’t seen him over the course of a full regular season. The good news is that last years absence had nothing to do with concussions, but you know the saying – availability is the best ability. If he goes through another regular season where he’s out of the lineup as much as he’s in it, you have definite concerns moving forward (if you don’t already).
One big reason why is the contract status of Devon Toews. I think there’s still a chance a Toews extension gets done before camp starts, but if it doesn’t, all eyes will be on both Toews and Byram. If, for whatever reason, they can’t get an extension done with Toews, a lot falls on Byram to be the guy to replace him on the top pair. It’s hard to put that responsibility on someone who is struggling to stay in the lineup.
A healthy season from Byram would erase a lot of doubts.
1. Valeri Nichushkin
At no point last season was Nichushkin healthy. After off-season surgery, he just never got right. And it wasn’t just his foot/ankle, as he battled little things here and there during the season. Even through all the injuries, he put up 47 points in 53 games.
When Nichushkin is in the lineup, the Avalanche are a very different team. The team lost just 14 of the 53 games he played. That’s a remarkable stat. The difference in the team when he’s in and out of the lineup is, quite honestly, staggering.
So when he disappeared before Game Three of the playoffs, we should have known the team was in trouble.
To be honest, there is very little to prove for Nichushkin on the ice. Over the last two seasons, he’s been one of the best two-way forwards in the league. He might have been the teams best player against Tampa Bay in the Stanley Cup Final.
What Nichushkin has to prove is that he can be trusted again. We know he will be at training camp, and he’s been remarkably active on social media this summer. For all we know, he’s talked to all of his teammates and has their trust again after disappearing at the most important time of the season. I wouldn’t doubt that’s already happened. His absence was certainly felt against the Kraken.
If he hasn’t already, can he earn back his teammates trust? Can he earn back the trust of the fans? With seven years left on his $49 million contract, the expectation is that Nichushkin will be here for the long haul.
The details of the incident in Seattle are sensitive in nature, and all of the details may never come out, but he’ll have to answer difficult questions. To date, he has not made a statement, and the team has not really commented, other than to say he left the team for “personal reasons.”
Given how the season ended, this will likely be the biggest story when the team hits the ice on September 21. How everything is handled will be fascinating.