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January 10, 2013 | 5:44pm ET
Season Preview: Colorado
By Spike Coffman, TheFourthPeriod.com

The freewheeling spending days of the Colorado Avalanche are back, but instead of spending for higher priced free agents, GM Greg Sherman had to make a couple shrewd signings to improve his team. Additions of P.A. Parenteau and Greg Zanon will bring veteran stability to the already young roster which will be captained by 20-year-old Gabriel Landeskog. In the strong Northwest Division, it could create a long year for the Avalanche.

Forwards

The top-three forwards for the Avalanche are a solid group of players. Landeskog came out last year and proved that he belonged in the NHL when he took home the Calder Trophy. Paul Statsny will have to improve his play as some media members in Colorado feel that he's invisible far too often to be the highest paid player on the team. Matt Duchene should come into the season ready to play after bouncing around Europe and last playing for Team Canada in the Spengler Cup. Parenteau put up great numbers for the New York Islanders, but will he be able to put up those numbers playing in the Western Conference and not alongside John Tavares? If he can play to that level, he'll fit in well with this Avalanche team. Milan Hedjuk will still be counted on to score even though he will turn 37 this February.

Defense

Erik Johnson is this team's top defenseman and will be expected to play in all situations. Johnson, who was the first overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, has never lived up to the high expectations that come with being picked first overall. In this short season, he'll have to prove his worth especially offensively as the Colorado defense is not built for moving the puck up the ice. Johnson led the defensive corps with only 26 points last season. Look for Sherman to improve this part of the team as this will add pressure on the offense. Jan Hedja was a solid addition last season and will come in to the season looking to continue his strong defensive play. Against this defense teams have to watch out for two heavy hitters in Shane O'Brien and Ryan Wilson. Both men are not shy when it comes to stepping up to deliver a hard check to knock his opponent off the puck.

Goalies

Semyon Varlamov will again backstop the Avalanche with J.S. Giguere behind the young goaltender. Varlamov has been playing with Lokomotiv in the KHL during the lockout and has a solid 1.74 GAA in his 16 games played. He'll look to continue that as he will be expect to see a lot of action during the season. Giguere again will act as a mentor for Varlamov while still getting himself into a couple games. Giguere had a solid season last year while posting better numbers than Varlamov did, but it is more important for the Avalanche for Giguere to be the backup and let the younger Varlamov run with the starts during the shortened season.

Projected Outcome

Head Coach Joe Sacco was on thin ice at the end of last season and could face the same fate if Colorado has a slow start to the season. They Avalanche will have to improve on its home record this season, as they were only two games over .500 last year. A balanced attack should help the Avs battle this season, but they might be in tough against the rest of the West this campaign, but having Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny play overseas during the lockout could give them a slight advantage out of the gate.

3 Players to Watch
 
P.A. Parenteau
Parenteau will be the most interesting person to watch in his first games as an Av. He will not get the type of minutes and scoring situations that he got under Jack Capuono in New York neither will he be John Tavares. Head Coach Joe Sacco will have to put Parenteau in an area where he could have quick success to keep up his moral early in the year.
Gabriel Landeskog
Landeskog will have to prove himself in his second season in the NHL avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump and proving that at his age he can be a great captain. It's a lot of pressure for the young man but he will prove people wrong as the season goes along.
Semyon Varlamov
Having spent the lockout playing in the KHL will definitely give Varlamov an edge over his goaltending counterparts. He's already in game-ready shape and should be counted on heavily when it matters most this season for the Avs.

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