With the calendar turning to September, we’re nearing the return of Colorado Avalanche hockey. A handful of players have gotten into town, including new guys like Ryan Johansen and Jonathan Drouin, and the rest of them should start showing up soon.
Later this week, we’ll be digging into a bigger question…are they actually better than last year’s squad? That will mostly be my opinion, and not everyone will agree with it. For now, we’ll take a look at the five biggest questions heading into training camp, which starts in a less than three weeks.
This is a summer where Chris MacFarland really put his stamp on the team. In year one, he kind of tinkered around the outskirts of the roster, avoiding the big moves. After a first round exit, that wasn’t an option anymore. Changes were made, especially up front, and I’m not sure he’s done. With some wiggle room under the cap, the Avalanche could be waiting in the wings to snag a free agent or two for cheap before camp.
Nonetheless, the Avalanche will have quite a few questions to answer when they hit the ice on Sep. 21. Here are five of the most pressing:
1. Is Ryan Johansen still a 2C?
I’ve already shared my thoughts on what I saw from Ryan Johansen last year, but I’m open to the idea of him bouncing back with the Avalanche. After all, the pro scouting staff is good at identifying players who will fit the system the team runs. He’s a talented player, and Colorado has the players to put him in the right position to succeed.
To his credit, Johansen has been in town for a few weeks now, skating with his future teammates. He should have all the motivation in the world to show he still has what it takes to be a 2C, and now he’ll be in the same division as the team that is paying him to play for the Avalanche.
2. Is the team actually going to be healthy?
This year? Well, we know Landeskog won’t be there, but this year, they could plan for that. By all accounts, Nichushkin will be there, but I don’t think injury is the concern there.
Will everyone else show up healthy and ready to go after a long summer to heal their wounds? That’s kind of the benefit of going out in round one – you get the extra time to recover for the next season. We’ll see if that makes a difference.
3. Who rounds out the forward core?
If you were looking at the Avalanche roster right now, the top 10 forwards on the team would likely be set in stone. Some combination of MacKinnon, Lehkonen, Rantanen, Nichushkin, Johansen, Drouin, Wood, Colton, O’Connor and Cogliano. After that, there are spots to be had.
Ben Meyers should have the inside track on the 4C job, but he didn’t do anything last year to cement that spot. Fredrik Olofsson is someone the Avalanche targeted early in the summer, but at 27, he has a whopping 30 games of NHL experience. Could either of the PTO’s win a job? Perhaps a youngster? Or is someone not currently on the roster an answer to this question?
4. Can Drouin and MacKinnon rekindle their chemistry?
Yeah, there are more important players to watch at training camp, but the funnest storyline will definitely be whether or not the two former Halifax linemates can work their magic together at the NHL level.
Obviously, there is no doubt about who Nathan MacKinnon is. All the questions surround Jonathan Drouin. He’s already in town skating, so that shows a level of commitment to his new team.
It wouldn’t surprise me if he dazzles in training camp, simply because he’s super skilled and it’s easy for that skill to shine through in drills. The real questions will be how he handles game situations. Yes, he’s got the talent, but can he battle enough in other areas to earn ice-time with Jared Bednar? That’s what I’ll be looking for.
5. Can a Devon Toews extension get done?
The reality is, if you can get an extension done before the season starts, you feel a lot better. Last year, Nathan MacKinnon signed during the charity golf tournament that takes place right before camp. Could it happen again this year with Toews?
Everyone knew a MacKinnon extension was going to happen. With Toews, there’s a bit more uncertainty. I’m not sure how you let a top pairing defenseman walk, but the salary cap situation for the Avalanche just makes things trickier. You can’t keep everyone, but I’m sure Toews is a priority for the team. Can the two parties find a deal that works for both sides?