The off-season that began with a bang eventually bled into a puzzling training camp and preseason, but now it's time to kick the tires and light the fires big daddy! A few new faces (usually with new accents) in this season's locker room compliment a young, talented squad that is eager to take their next step in re-building a championship culture in Colorado. The stalwart group will be lead by the reigning Jack Adams Award winner, head coach Patrick Roy. This year's Avs look to improve on a surprise run to take the regular season divisional crown and a disappointing first round exit in seven games. So let's take a quick look at the 23-man roster set for opening night in Minnesota.
Matt Duchene - Mighty Matt took a huge step forward in his development last season putting up what was unarguably his best year as a pro. The scary thing is that the 2009 3rd overall pick is still getting better. He skated along at a point-per-game pace last season and looks to tickle the 90-point range this year. He has elite hands, speed, skating, strength, and competitive drive. He leads by example and elevates his line. He's no longer a superstar in waiting. He's arrived and should provide the Avs with their game-changing skill to propel this team up the standings.
Jarome Iginla - Not gonna lie, it's still a little weird to see him in a Colorado sweater. One of the new guys on the team, Iginla is a first ballot-HOF winger with a nose for the net and a willingness to go to the dirty areas for goals. His board play and net-front skills will bring a facet to the team that they haven't had in over 10 years. The alternate captain factors to see plenty of time on the man advantage and should feast on garbage goals generated by his pivot, whether it's Duchene or not. Even though he's entering the tail end of his career, there's no arguing that he's held off Father Time to date as he posted 30 goals and 31 assists with Boston last season.
Ryan O`Reilly - Another contract dispute/negotiation that dragged on, this time all the way to the door of the arbitration hearing room. In the end, he got a two-year deal at $6 million per and will likely be re-united with Duchene on the top line. His defensive skills will balance a line that will see plenty of O-zone starts as he looks to take the next step in his career with his multifaceted game and developing scoring touch. Look for him to get opportunities at both center and wing depending on matchups and situational play.
Nathan MacKinnon - The reigning Calder Trophy winner enters his sophomore season at the tender age of 19 with more responsibilities and a return (possibly) to his natural position at center. An off-season workout program has added mass and strength to his teenage frame and he shows no signs of being content with last season's showing of 24 goals and 63 points. His explosive acceleration, dynamic skating, and dazzling hands will be on full display as the Avs look to utilize he and Duchene as a 1-2 punch down the middle.
Gabriel Landeskog - Colorado's 21-year-old captain enters his fourth season of NHL play coming off his most productive year to date. The left wing will likely be slotted alongside MacKinnon or possibly O'Reilly to start the season. He also has the chance to understudy to one of his idols, Iginla, who could line up on the opposite wing which would be truly terrifying for opposing netminders. The 2011 2nd overall pick will have a chance to show that his injuries from 2012 are behind him as he becomes a lynchpin of Colorado's top 6.
Alex Tanguay - This versatile winger had a homecoming last season when he returned to Colorado after seven seasons spent among the Canadiens, Lightning and Flames. Unfortunately, Tanguay's age is showing as injuries limited him to just 16 games in 2013-2014. Still, his passing ability, vision, and veteran leadership will prove valuable to a young squad that can learn from the 2001 Stanley Cup winner. Tanguay could see significant time on the point on the power play and can been plugged in anywhere from the top line to the third depending on chemistry among the top 9.
Jamie McGinn - Jamie is another quality winger who has floated between top 6 and third lines roles over his stint with the Avalanche. Last season McGinn found success on nearly any line he played on, contributing 19 goals and 19 assists, his best stat line in his 5 years as a NHL regular. He's a physical, hard-working winger who complements nearly every center on the team. He had a quiet preseason as he dealt with back issues but he's been practicing full speed and says he's ready for opening night.
Daniel Briere - Briere is another new veteran addition to the Avalanche having been acquired from the Montreal Canadiens for P.A. Parenteau. The 1996 first round pick figures to slot into a bottom 6 role at either center or wing. The diminutive Gateneau, Quebec native has played over 900 regular season games in the NHL and has a wealth of playoff experience having visited the post-season 10 times, including 16 playoff games for Montreal last season. Briere should be used primarily at center though he, like many in the bottom half of the forward ranks, could see some time on wing as the situation arises.
Jesse Winchester - Winchester signed a two-year deal with the Avalanche as a free agent this summer after a season in Florida. He has had an up and down career in the NHL (mostly with Ottawa) due to injury issues, but proved his value as a defensive forward and penalty killer with last year's Panthers squad. The 31-year-old centerman also posted a career-best 9 goals and 18 points last season. He is likely to be slotted into the top penalty killing unit and draw tough defensive match-ups on a nightly basis. He suffered his second career concussion during a preseason game against the Kings and is currently listed as day-to-day by the club. Chances are he won't be in the lineup opening night.
Cody McLeod - Cody is entering his 8th NHL season having signed a 3-year extension with the Avalanche just before the start of this season. He brings an aggressive, high-motor aspect to the Colorado bottom six as he is often labeled the team's "pest." He should easily eclipse the 500 games and 1,000 career penalty minute mark this season. While primarily a checking line forward, McLeod has shown some offensive potential in the past when given short-term roles with more skilled linemates. However, fans should expect this alternate captain to bring his gritty work ethic and willingness to stick up for teammates to the rink every night.
Maxime Talbot - Talbot arrived in Colorado early last season following a trade of Steve Downie to the Flyers. This 2009 Stanley Cup winner (Penguins) instantly injected the squad with some needed veteran leadership and depth for the bottom 6. In 70 games last season with Colorado he tallied 7 goals and 18 points. He's another player with experience playing both center and wing and also has an important role on the penalty kill where he has shown a propensity for scoring opportunistic short-handed goals. Talbot's steady play and rapport with both coaches and players will serve him well as he hopes to accompany the Avs to another post-season.
Marc-Andre Cliche - Prior to last season, few NHL fans knew anything about Cliche. He had spent the majority of his pro career in the Kings' system before being claimed off waivers by the Avalanche prior to the 2013-2014 season. Thought to be a depth forward signing for AHL duty due to his wealth of experience and leadership at that level, the center surprised many by making the team and sticking for over 70 regular season games. Cliche became a fixture on the top penalty kill unit and was rewarded for his work with a 2-year contract extension last February. His play needs to elevate as there are opportunities for younger players hungry for his minutes this season.
Dennis Everberg - The 22-year-old Everberg is making his NHL and North American debut with the Avalanche. He played all of his professional games to date in Sweden for Rogle BK. Entering camp, his signing (along with Winchester) was thought to be an indication that the organization wanted to accumulate size and depth at forward, one of the glaring issues the cropped up last season. A strong preseason, along with injuries to McGinn, Mitchell, and Bordeleau, opened up a spot for the 6'-4" right winger. His mugshot for his online profile is already a thing of legend for Dragonball Z fans.
Rounding out the forward group to start the season are John Mitchell and Patrick Bordeleau. Both have been placed on IR. Mitchell is suffering migraines that are/aren't related to his season-ending concussion last year (depending on whether you believe team reports or commonly held medical knowledge). Bordeleau underwent back surgery and is out for three months. Mitchell is a prototypical jack-of-all trades forward who floated between the middle two lines for most of last seasons. His injury late in the season exposed the lack of depth in the Colorado bottom six as many players saw increased ice time as a result of his absence. Fan-favorite Bordeleau is a hulking 6'-6" enforcer who managed to accumulate a career high 6 goals last season with limited minutes. By limited minutes, I mean, REALLY limited minutes. He was often sat for regular shifts so that younger, better players could double shift with the 4th line.
Erik Johnson - The 2009 first overall pick is coming off of his best professional season where he scored 9 goals to go with 30 assists. The 6'-2" blueliner is a smooth-skating, intelligent defender with a knack for control his side of the ice. His breakouts are the sparkplug that drive many an Avalanche possession. Johnson also sees a healthy amount of power play time where his skating and shot prove to be valuable assets. The only challenge left for the 26-year-old is consistency. Can he take another step in his development as he enters his prime years as a defenseman and become the true, dominant #1 defender?
Tyson Barrie - Long-time prospect watchers were saddened to see Barrie left off last season's opening night roster. However injuries to the defense corps saw him get his shot where he immediately made coaches regret their decision to send him to the AHL. Barrie had a knack for scoring game-winning (5) and game-tying goals last season as he instantly found chemistry on the Avalanche team to the tune of 38 points from the blueline. His knee injury in the first round of last season's first round against Minnesota changed the tone of the series and proved to be too difficult of a hurdle for the team to overcome. A healthy return to the lineup by the 2009 64th overall pick will provide a dynamic offensive threat for Colorado.
Jan Hejda - The 36-year-old Czech has been with the club since signing a 4-year deal with Colorado prior to the 2011-2012 season. Hejda played tons of minutes last year alongside Johnson and on the penalty kill, where his steady defensive presence complimented his more dynamic partner. Even as a defense-first blueliner, Hejda managed to chip in 6 goals and 11 assists last year. While not the fleetest of foot, his positional game is solid and his pain threshold is high, as evidenced by him playing last year's playoffs with two broken hands. A healthy season this year will see him cross the 600 games played mark in his NHL career.
Nick Holden - Another darkhorse entering last year's camp, the 6'-4", 210 lb Holden surprised many with his above-average skating and nose for timely pinches. The now 27-year-old saw extended time on the 2nd power play unit and thrived on sneaky rebound plays. His defensive game could still use some work, but the 25 points in 54 games last season (not including a goal and 4 assists in 7 playoff games) saw him rewarded with a 3-year extension earlier this summer. Holden figures to slot into the 2nd pairing and continue to see significant time on the man advantage.
Brad Stuart - The Avalanche acquired Stuart via a trade with the San Jose Sharks on July 1st. The 34-year-old blueliner adds veteran depth to the defense corps and brings a wealth of playoff experience, having played in 142 post-season contests which included a Stanley Cup in 2008. He finished last season with 112 blocked shots to go with his 11 points in 61 games with the Sharks. Colorado extended his contract by two years just prior to this season and early indications are that he will see time somewhere on the top two pairs. For some reason, he's wearing #17.
Ryan Wilson - Wilson enters his sixth NHL season, all with Colorado. Limited to just 40 regular season games over the past two seasons due to injuries and lackluster play, he still holds a place in many fans' hearts due to his propensity to deliver devastating open-ice hits. His physical presence is a welcome component on the blueline, however the emergence of younger players and concerns over his conditioning and concussion history have soured him for many as the 27-year-old enters the last year of his current 3-year deal with the Avalanche.
Nate Guenin - Guenin surprised many by making the team last season after signing a one-year, two-way deal with the Avs. His play was good enough that Roy told him he was going to stay with the club. He was later rewarded with a two-year contract extension in January of this year. Another positional defenseman who relies on aggressive physical board play rather than footspeed, Guenin found a niche on the Colorado squad by doing yeoman's work on the penalty kill unit last season. He appeared in 68 regular season games and accounted for 1 goal and 8 assists. He and Wilson will likely vie with the newly acquired Zack Redmond for the 6th defensive spot on most game nights (or 7th depending on Roy's mood).
Zach Redmond - Last but not least, Redmond will begin the season battling with Wilson and Guenin to get into the bottom pairing of the lineup on a nightly basis. So far a strong preseason with a calm presence in his own end has helped him stick with the NHL club after many seasons spent toiling for the Jets in their minor league system. The 26-year-old rearguard has had a couple of cups of coffee in the NHL but has a history of injuries, some of them freakish. 50 games spent between the AHL and NHL last year saw him garner 7 goals and 21 assists. His play could be the surprise of the early part of the season.
Semyon Varlamov - Varlamov turned many haters into fans last season as he put up a Vezina-worthy performance in net. He eclipsed coach Roy's record of 40 wins by winning 41 games last year. His freakish athleticism and competitive fire were coupled with the positional wisdom of new goalie coach Francois Allaire. This new chemistry propelled him to his most consistent season to date, showing why the Avalanche were willing to trade a first round pick for him in 2011. Despite off-ice domestic issues during the season, the team and organization stood by him and were rewarded with dependable play that stole many a game for a young team that gave up a lot of shots against. His domination of the shootout continued as well. The next trick for Varlamov is to show year-on-year consistency to truly claim a perch among the game's elite goalies.
Reto Berra - Berra was a late season acquisition last year after being acquired in March from the Flames. His limited North American experience was almost all in Calgary where he posted a 9-17-2 record behind the lackluster Flames. He was signed to a three-year extension prior to ever suiting up for the Avalanche. Berra spent most of the summer working with Allaire to improve his positioning and continue his adjustment to the North American ice surface. The backup goaltender has one asset that can't be coached, however: size. Berra saw significant minutes in the preseason to help round his game into form and the 6'-4" netminder will be relied upon to to spell Varlamov and provide Colorado with a chance to win on the nights he's in net.