September 30, 2010 // 9:35pm ET
Avs rolling three solid lines
By Ryan Boulding, TheFourthPeriod.com

DENVER, CO -- With Colorado Avalanche training camp wrapped up and the pre-season in full swing, the focus on the team moving forward isn't about what prospect has a minute shot at making this position or that; instead it is about what great strides the players from last season have made in their off-season development.

One of the youngest teams in the NHL last season, Colorado hit the ground running and proved to everyone what they could accomplish with a lineup leaning towards the fresh faces. Once again the young blood has come out of the gate guns-a-blazing and they don't plan on looking back.
 

Chris Stewart, one of the last of Colorado's free agents to land a contract, seems to have found more speed and has good chemistry with fellow line mates Paul Stastny and TJ Galiardi.

Speaking of Galiardi, the kid seems to have bulked up a bit over the summer. Not only is he solid and seemingly immoveable on his feet but he is beginning to make the heads up type of plays that have solidified him a seat on the top line. Let’s not forget that glorious “get-under-your-skin” charisma that the kid possesses.

The second line poised looks poised for a breakout season. Led by a bulkier and arguably swifter Matt Duchene, the Avalanche has an outstanding one-two punch in store for this season.

Milan Hejduk brings veteran leadership, on ice awareness, and superb stick-handling to join Duchene and Peter Mueller. Mueller has recovered from his season ending concussion and seems ready to make things happen. It is less exciting to consider him playing with Duchene and Hejduk as it is to place him on the power play with John-Michael Liles at the points. Those two have a rapport that paid off frequently last year.

But wait, there is still more for opposing teams to worry about.

Once head coach Joe Sacco has decided who to match against both lines, he has to consider what to do with Ryan O’Reilly.

O’Reilly, known for his ambitious drive but in need to hone his skill, has clearly made strides in that arena. His shot precision is no doubt the envy of many older players and he is still a serious playmaker. Place David Jones and Brandon Yip beside him and the Avs finally have a third line that can wreck some havoc against poorly matched lines. The speed, grit, and cohesion of this pairing is outstanding.

With both Dan Winnik and Cody McLeod floating around the fourth line, one has to consider that one of the two will have to serve on another line for talent protection but that isn’t to say that they won’t produce. Winnik is surprisingly calm with the puck under pressure and isn’t afraid to get to work down low.

The real question here becomes: Who will find a home on the fourth line? With only a few chances left, Colorado's prospects will really have to battle it out if they want a chance in the show.

On the other side of the ice lies the key to Colorado’s early exit last postseason. Glaring holes in defense are the obvious remedy to a team that was plagued with third period failures.

Prospect Kevin Shattenkirk seems to have become the Avalanche’s equivalent of Tim Tebow (Denver Broncos backup Quarterback) - a lot of buzz and speculation abounded prior to him ever taking the ice. While it took some time for Shattenkirk to warm up, he is someone likely to shore up the defense sooner than later if he can beat out Colby Cohen, his former defensive partner at Boston University.

Cohen made an impression early, and despite a potentially troubled pairing last week with Liles, is poised to fill that backup role. He could even fill in for someone like Kyle Cumiskey or Ryan Wilson. Cumiskey has missed camp with a groin injury and Wilson hasn’t looked fantastic throughout this warm up grace period.

It is too early to predict the outcome of the roster and how this team will really do but based on the performances so far, it does appear that this still young team is poised to build on last season’s successes as well as the failures.

Ryan Boulding covers the Colorado Avalanche for TheFourthPeriod.com


 


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