Monday, August 29, 2011

Colorado Avalanche 2011-12 Preview

Can the Avs stay healthy and compete in the ultra-tough Western Conference?

Duchene to lead by example?  Last season, the Colorado Avalanche started the season on fire, only to fall flat on their face and stumble mightily the rest of the way.  Some trades, namely the deal sending Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk to St. Louis for Erik Johnson and Jay McClement, has been criticized widely.  Will it pay off?



This year, the Avalanche are in a weak division, and may be able to sneak into the playoffs if they can beat up on Calgary, Edmonton and Minnesota.  Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny must step up and lead the team’s offense.

On defence, the Avs will rely heavily on Erik Johnson and hope he evolves into the defender many think he can be.  There are some new faces in goal as well. Simyeon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere will ensure some more consistent goaltending this year—hopefully.

From a fantasy perspective, the Avalanche have a cornucopia of forwards to choose from, and some question marks on defense.  There are plenty of sleepers and breakout players, but also plenty of potential misses.

Brandon Yip and Peter Mueller could be influential players this year, or make little to no impact.  Due to youth and lack of depth on defense, when all is said and done, the Avs will probably be on the outside looking in.


Forwards
Colorado has seen a lot of turnover this off-season.  They have a lot of youth and a lot of positions up for grabs.
 

Matt Duchene
The youngster uses speed and skill to challenge opposing defenders.  Duchene should increase his point totals from last year based on his own evolution and a better supporting cast.  70 points should be a breeze this year.

Paul Stastny 
Stastny’s progress has stalled a bit after a few tremendous years to begin his career.  Still, the talent is there.  With a better supporting cast, Stastny should regain his form.  Having a scoring winger will definitely help his odds.  Expect 70+ points if he can avoid injury.

Milan Hejduk 
The slick Czech still has some moves left, but he isn’t the player he once was.  25 goals and 50 points are well within reach. One of the few veterans up front, he’ll be leaned on to contribute as much as possible.


TJ Galiardi
Galiardi’s season was ended prematurely due to injury.  A pesky player with a surprising amount of offensive ability, he can put up points in various situations and uses his speed to his advantage. 
David Jones
The Vancouver native is a late bloomer, but has really demonstrated his ability in the past two seasons.  His 27 goals last year may be an indication of things to come, especially with some spots on the wing available next to Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny.  Another 25 goals and 45 points are very possible.


Joakim Lindstrom
Lindstrom made an impact with Phoenix in the past and is looking to do the same in Colorado.  With so much youth on their roster, spots are up for grabs.  If Lindstrom acquits himself well, his skill will be made evident. 

Ryan O’Reilly
The versatile forward has traditionally centered the third line behind Duchene and Stastny.  New arrivals may push him to the wing, which should only do good things for his productivity.  The 20 year old has a lot more to show.


Gabriel Landeskog
The rookie Landeskog made a big splash in the OHL last season and was the number two selection in the NHL entry draft.  He is a skilled and versatile player who appears mature beyond his years.  If he makes the team, he’ll play with a good center and could score immediately.


Defence
Erik Johnson

The former #1 overall pick never really hit his stride in St. Louis.  Injuries derailed him, but he still shows potential to be the dominant player the Blues thought they drafted.  Upon arrival in Colorado, Johnson played well.  He will be under the microscope due to the assets used to acquire him, but also because he’s by far the best defender given the loss of John Michael Liles in the off-season.  Anything less than 50 points would be a disappointment.


Stefan Elliott
The reigning WHL Defenseman of the year has some serious talent.  Given the lack of offensive flair on the Avs back end right now, Elliott appears first in line to fill that void.  30 points are a possibility, but him earning that role is not a guarantee.


Goaltending
Simyeon Varlamov
The young Russian will look to earn and keep the starting role over JS Giguere this season.  Varlamov has what it takes to be a starter but he has yet to put it all together on a consistent basis.  Expect some bi-polar play to continue 

Prediction -  17 Wins 

JS Giguere
The former Conn Smythe winner can be solid, but has spent too many years playing for mediocre teams recently.  With less pressure on him in Colorado, Jiggy may thrive.

Prediction -  21 wins


TOP SLEEPER

Matt Duchene
The youngster has speed to burn, a great shot, good vision and strong leadership.  Likely the number one centre this year for the rebounding Avs, he is a lock for 70 points.  Optimisticly, he could surpass 80 points and approach the elite pivots in the NHL.
If you’re in a keeper league, grabbing Duchene early is a no brainer, as he’s only 20 years old and one of the best young players in the league. 

TOP ROOKIE

LW - Gabriel Landeskog 
Colorado selected Landeskog second overall after the Oilers selected Ryan Nugent-Hopkins this year.  Landeskog appears ready.  The Swede has all the size and skill necessary to land an NHL job as early as this year, and his potential is great. 


If he lands on one of the top two lines and plays alongside Duchene or Stastny, he should produce well.


Potential Breakout Player 
Erik Johnson
Johnson had 10 points in 22 games after joining the Avalanche.  With a training camp and better supporting cast this year, Johnson could evolve into a true #1 defenseman.  Johnson can play in all situations and should be able to tally over 50 points this year.

Boasting a powerful shot, strong hockey sense and a 6’4” 236 pound frame, Johnson just needs to put it together. If he’s available around other 40-50 point defensemen, make sure you draft him before someone else does.





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