After the debacles of the last two games, something had to give. Without the injured Erik Johnson, Patrick Roy could no longer hide his defensively dubious bottom pairings from tough minutes and competition. The results have not been pretty. In reaction, Colorado waived veteran Nate Guenin, called up top-prospects Nikita Zadorov and Chris Bigras, and placed the aforementioned Johnson on injured reserve retroactive to January 4th. Johnson will come off as soon as Guenin clears waivers and creates a spot on the 22-man roster.
Today's roster moves represent change Avalanche fans have clamored for throughout most of the season, but last night was clearly the tipping point for the organization. Guenin has zero points in 29 games this season -- and that doesn't even tell the whole story. His relative possession metrics (-3.83 CF%Rel) were last among all Avalanche skaters with meaningful ice time 5-on-5.
Zadorov was the major piece in return this summer in the Ryan O'Reilly trade. The 20-year old Russian started the year with the Avalanche, but was sent down to the AHL's San Antonio Rampage to play bigger minutes and gain experience on special teams. In 28 games, Zadorov had 18 points (8g, 10a). Chris Bigras, also 20, was a 2nd Round pick of the Avs in 2013. He joined the Avs' AHL affiliate late last season and has played 37 games this year, scoring 19 points (6g, 13a). This will be Bigras' NHL debut.
Amid the recent winning and subsequent rise into the playoff discussion, it's difficult to remember the Avalanche should be developing this young talent this season, not trying to compete with the top of the division. Colorado will not reach the heights they aspire unless these players can become impactful NHL defensemen -- the time to give them big-club minutes is now. The alternative has been to play borderline talent (and that's being kind) like Guenin, Zach Redmond, and the recently acquired Andrew Bodnarchuk -- and it just doesn't work. The mistakes they're making at the NHL level are no greater than what we would expect from rookies, but without any of the potential upside.
The inconsistent flashes of brilliance we see from other young Avs' players? That's what we can expect to see from Zadorov and Bigras, and we'll take any mistakes along the way. Let them play big minutes. Let the learn from a savvy veteran like Francois Beauchemin, who has looked the part of a teacher since he put on a Colorado uniform.
Let us see the future of this team.