Can the team make enough improvement from schematic changes to leap back into the playoff conversation?
Absolutely! This is a team that finished just five and seven points out of the playoffs the last two seasons, despite sporting some of the league’s worst possession numbers. Just about any breakout system would be more effective than Patrick Roy’s “No-forward-help-home-run-pass” monstrosity and Avalanche goalies might see ten or more fewer shot attempts per game now that the defense is allowed to do more than stand in front of pucks in the slot.
Is new coach Jared Bednar’s scheme worth five to seven more points in the standings? We’ll have to see. A lot of it is going to depend on how quickly the team picks it up and that won’t be easy with so many key players missing more than half of training camp for the World Cup of Hockey. Hopefully, Colorado’s raw talent will allow them to assuage these growing pains and navigate a difficult early schedule.
Will Nathan MacKinnon finally put together a complete breakout season and fulfill his promise as the former No. 1 overall draft pick?
Leading up to the World Cup, fans were buzzing at the potential of the names on the Under-23 North America roster. “Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel!” they all gushed. But when it came time to play hockey, the hockey world shifted their whispering to the blinding fireball of doom known as Nathan MacKinnon. Now entering his fourth season, at the ripe age of 21, he finally looks ready to take on the role of No. 1 center for the Colorado Avalanche and deliver one of the best seasons the team has seen in the last decade.
MacKinnon still has a ways to go with his development. He’s still not great in his own end and almost none of his scoring comes on the power play, but I wouldn’t put it past him this year to overcome these deficiencies. Mac looks ready to take on the world.
Can the Avalanche get enough goaltending out of Semyon Varlamov to compensate for any growing pains they might have with a new coach?
The question is never whether Varlamov is capable of producing high-end results. It’s whether he can stay healthy and produce those high-end results consistently. The Avalanche don’t need him to put up his gaudy .927 save percentage numbers from 2013-14, but the .921 from 2014-15 would go a long way toward getting this team toward the playoffs. And if he isn’t consistent, I believe the organization has a lot of faith in his backup, Calvin Pickard, to get the job done too.
One of the biggest factors to goalie success, though, is the rest of the team generating enough offense on the other end to keep the puck from being shot at them a gajillion times. If the Avalanche can go from being a 43% CF possession team, to even just 48%, I think we see good seasons from both Varlamov and Pickard.