Season Preview: Colorado
By Spike Coffman, TheFourthPeriod.com
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.