The Colorado Avalanche won the Central Division in 2022-23, but none of that mattered come playoff time, as the Seattle Kraken took them down in 7 games in the first round. That playoff series exposed some of the weaknesses on the team, mainly up front, and forced Chris MacFarland to make some changes.
Gone are J.T. Compher, Denis Malgin, Alex Newhook, Erik Johnson, among others. To replace them, the team acquired Ryan Johansen, Ross Colton, Miles Wood, Jonathan Drouin, and Tomas Tatar.
While changes were made to the team, the core still remains intact, and it’s hard to find a better “Big Three” than Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, and Mikko Rantanen. Because of that, expectations have not changed for the Avalanche. The goal is still the Stanley Cup.
Here’s one question we have for each player heading into the 2023-24 season.
Andrew Cogliano – Is this his final season?
I have no other real questions when it comes to Cogliano. At this point in his career, you know exactly what you’re going to get. He’s a huge part of the leadership group, and no one works harder. You just wonder if this is the final year for the 36 year old.
Ross Colton – Can he make the transition to full-time center?
Colton played a little bit of everything in Tampa Bay, but the Avalanche have made it clear they see him as a center in the NHL. Colton agrees, but he’ll have to show he can handle the responsibilities of playing down the middle in a bigger role than he had in Tampa Bay.
Jonathan Drouin – Will a reunion with Nathan MacKinnon revive his career?
No story will be more fun to watch in training camp, but Drouin isn’t going to just be given a spot next to MacKinnon. He’ll have to earn it. No one questions his talent, but if he wants to stick in the top six, he’ll have to do more than just pick up points here and there.
Ryan Johansen – Is he still capable of being a 2C?
Arguably the most important player on the team heading into the season, as a lot hinges on Johansen handling the second-line center role. He’s been in Denver for almost two months now, and from what I’ve seen, has quickly bonded with his new teammates. If he’s able to have a bounce-back season, the Avalanche will look like geniuses.
Artturi Lehkonen – Is the production from last season repeatable?
You won’t find anyone who is a bigger Lehkonen fan than me. He does everything the right way, but I’m still a little skeptical that he can score at a .79 point-per-game clip again. Even if he doesn’t, there’s a lot more to his game than producing points, and everyone on the team (and in the fanbase) knows that.
Nathan MacKinnon – Is this the year he wins the Hart Trophy?
MacKinnon was a man possessed during the second half last year. He hit a new level and no one could stop him. If that’s the MacKinnon we get for the entire 2023-24 campaign, we might be looking at the MVP of the league.
Ben Meyers/Fredrik Olofsson/Joel Kiviranta/Saku Maenalanen – Who wins the final forward spots?
The top 11 forwards appear to be set for Colorado, but there’s one, maybe two forward spots up for grabs. There will be other players in the mix, but these seem like the most likely players to snag those final spots. Who is it going to be?
Valeri Nichushkin – Take One Guess
I don’t even think I need to say what the question is in regards to Nichushkin. He’ll speak to the media on Thursday after training camp opens. Some people are really interested to hear what he has to say, and some people have already moved on. When healthy, he’s a two-way force, but his disappearance in the first round against Seattle is still the only thing on people’s minds at the moment.
Logan O’Connor – Does he become the #1 PK option for Jared Bednar?
J.T. Compher left town, and wasn’t really replaced as a penalty killer during the offseason. Is LOC about to become the forward that Jared Bednar leans on the most when his team is shorthanded?
Mikko Rantanen – Can he drop 50 goals again?
It’s hard to score goals in this league, but for most of last season, Mikko Rantanen made it look very, very easy. With more depth heading into a new season, the Avalanche shouldn’t have to depend on him as much as they did, but wouldn’t it be fun to see Rantanen join Joe Sakic as the only Avalanche players to score 50 goals multiple times?
Tomas Tatar – Is this the year he figures it out in the playoffs?
Tatar is a good NHL player during the regular season. When the playoffs roll around, he disappears. The Avalanche intend to make a run for the Stanley Cup, and Tatar figuring things out in the playoffs would only increase their chances of reaching the top of the mountain again.
Miles Wood – Can he handle the increased role?
Colorado made a long commitment to Wood this summer, a player who was a fourth liner in New Jersey last season. The contract would seem to indicate they see him as more than a fourth line player, so he’ll have to show he can handle the increase in ice-time.
Bowen Byram – Can he stay healthy?
A healthy Bowen Byram is one heck of a defenseman, but he’s never even come close to playing a full NHL season. If he can do that this season, he’s a prime candidate for a breakout year.
Samuel Girard – Will he get the credit he deserves?
Is Sam a top pair defenseman? No, but he’s not nearly as bad some fans seem to make him out to be. He’s a good NHL defenseman, and there’s a reason the coaching staff for the Avalanche trust him so much. Maybe this is the season he converts the haters.
Brad Hunt – Can they risk losing him to waivers?
Last year, I didn’t think anyone would take Hunt on waivers because he had another year on his contract. This year, that won’t be an issue. I’m not sure this team is deep enough on defense to risk losing him for nothing, but with the team tight to the cap, they might not be able to keep another defenseman on the roster.
Jack Johnson – How much is left in the tank?
I’m a little skeptical heading into the year with Johnson as the clear #6 defenseman, given his age. The coaching staff trusts him, but if/when injuries inevitably hit, the team will have to lean on him a little more. Can the soon-to-be 37 year old handle that for another season?
Kurtis MacDermid – Can he do enough to earn the trust of the coaching staff late in the season?
No one works harder than MacDermid. He spent all summer in Colorado, sometimes skating all by himself at Family Sports, trying to get better. He mostly played defense last season, but the last two years, the staff has made it clear with their lineup choices that they don’t trust him when the games become more important. We’ll see if that changes this season.
Cale Makar – Can he score 30 goals?
You know that he has it in him, and he got pretty darn close during the 2021-22 campaign. Makar dropping 30 goals next season would almost certainly mean a second Norris Trophy for the young defenseman, but from an entertainment point-of-view, wouldn’t it just be fun to see?
Josh Manson – Has he recovered from offseason surgery?
Manson isn’t the best defenseman on the team, but he provides a very unique skillset that no other defenseman on Colorado brings. That was sorely missed for most of last season. He’s been skating hard the last few days, and the hope is he’ll be ready when camp starts. That’s a good thing, because they’ll need him healthy.
Devon Toews – Will he sign an extension?
You know what you’re going to get with Toews. He’s as steady a defenseman as there is in the league, but will this be his last year in Colorado? He’s been on a sweetheart deal the last three seasons, and is probably looking for a well-earned payday. With their current salary cap situation, the Avalanche might not be able to give him that payday.
Justus Annunen – Can he take the next step to become an NHL goalie?
It’s been two decades since the Avalanche drafted and developed an NHL goalie. Annunen’s numbers improved in the AHL last season, but this is a big year for him. Can he take another step with Francouz entering the final year of his contract?
Alexandar Georgiev – Can he repeat last season’s success?
Georgiev was incredible last season, but what separates elite NHL goalies from the rest is their consistency. I’m confident he can do it again, but it will be a story to watch.
Pavel Francouz – Will he be healthy enough to play 20-30 games?
Unfortunately, we might already know the answer to this one, as it doesn’t seem like Francouz will be healthy to start camp. The Avalanche may be in the market for a new backup goaltender, as I’m not sure how much they can depend on Francouz at the moment.