As we get closer and closer to the start of the regular season, our writers discuss what they expect to see from the Colorado Avalanche this year.
Who do you think will have an unexpected breakout season?
Jackie: Alex Kerfoot. Few still really expect him to make the team - but if he sticks and plays most of the season with the Avs, he could have a sneaky good year.
Conor: My gut tells me to go Nail Yakupov here. I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from him during camp and preseason and if he sticks with Duchene on the wing we could potentially see a 60 point season. All on-board the Yakupov hype train!
Sylvester: I’m going to go with Anton Lindholm. He’s a young defenseman that’s gotten the chance to work some high-leverage situations in the preseason, and Jared Bednar clearly believes in his abilities. I’m not sure how much time he’ll get on the blue line for the big club this season, but I think he can be a serviceable defenseman for the Avs. And this season, serviceable on defense might be enough to be noteworthy.
Tom: I’m going to go with Chris Brigras. I remember watching Bigras with Owen Sound and thinking, ‘this guy is going to be something special in the NHL if he ever figures out how to play defense without the puck’. Judging from the pre-season, it sure looks like he’s figuring it out. He seems to be a bit of the forgotten man in the battle for the bottom pair, but he has looked better than most of the guys he’s competing against. I think he makes the team out of camp as the 3rd LD and finishes the year higher on the depth chart than Barberio.
Cat: Jonathan Bernier. (Can we call it a breakout season? I don’t care.) He’s been given the short end of the stick since day one, first getting too much relentless work behind the Toronto defense and then getting poor reviews on a good backup season last year based almost solely on a few bad games and a poor postseason outing. He’ll be with a new team for the third time in three years, and I think he knows this could be his last real shot - but I enjoy the work his new coach does and I think things could go well.
Jeremy: Can everyone qualify as a breakout season after last year? I’m going to go with Colin Wilson. I think his acquisition was an underrated move by Joe Sakic this offseason and he could be a top-6 forward on the team. He’s had some good seasons in Nashville and is a proven offensive talent. If he’s on a line with Nathan MacKinnon or Matt Duchene, he could set his career high in points.
Who will be the team’s MVP this season?
Jackie: The player who can make the greatest difference when he's healthy is Semyon Varlamov. He looked good in the two preseason games he played and says he's feeling good.
Conor: A player who’s only just started and will continue to get better year after year is Mikko Rantanen. A 20 goal scorer in his rookie campaign, the sky’s the limit for Rantanen. He will be a key contributor whether or not this team wins more games than not this year.
Sylvester: I think the safe money is on Gabe Landeskog. I know, I know, picking the captain as the MVP... But I think Landy will be the team’s MVP at the end of the season for non-statistical reasons. This is the season he has to show the leadership qualities that got him the ‘C’ in the first place. If he can help a young team gel together, he raises the floor for the whole team.
Tom: It’s going to be Nathan MacKinnon. He came into camp in better shape than he’s been in a while and with Mikko Rantanen riding shotgun, MacKinnon will break his career season high for both goals and points. He’s the offensive catalyst of this team and this is the season he finally takes that next step.
Cat: I have to go with Jackie on this one: Semyon Varlamov. The rest of the team is very much in rebuild mode (even if they don’t know it yet), and the defense looks like what you’d expect from a bottom-feeder team as it stands right now. If the team does well, it’s going to be because Varlamov is lights-out, and that’s going to be hard to top in terms of value.
Jeremy: Semyon Varlamov will have to be the MVP if this team has any hope of competing. But I don’t think we’ll look back on this season and say, “Yup, Varly was the best player” mainly because I don’t think the team will be competitive. So, I’m going with Nathan MacKinnon. He’ll lead the team in points and be looked at as the MVP. But being the best player on a bad team doesn’t mean a whole lot.
Will Nathan MacKinnon finally establish himself as an elite NHL center?
Jackie: Not yet. MacKinnon is going to need playoff success before he's given national credit. Plus the offense will need to prove above average capability to get him enough points to be in the elite conversation. If he's not getting 40-50 assists it's not going to happen.
Conor: MacKinnon is one of those players where you want to believe he is an elite NHL center. He has the talent. He certainly has the skill. But it doesn’t always translate to performance. His game fluctuates on a nightly basis and until he can become a more consistent player, he’ll always find himself in that second tier of centers. Could this be the year he’s in the national conversation as an elite center? Absolutely.
Sylvester: All right, my first hot take! I don’t think MacKinnon will be anywhere close to an elite center for awhile. He is a very good center, don’t get me wrong. I really, really like MacKinnon. But elite? His defensive skills are nowhere near his offensive skills, and his offensive skills are too streaky to ever be considered elite. Jackie rightly points out that Mac’s ceiling might have a lot to do with his teammates, but right now he is a very fast skater with good hands that doesn’t do enough to get his teammates involved, and is a defensive liability. @ me.
Tom: Listen, Mr. Sylvester, I like you a lot but I couldn’t disagree with your take on MacKinnon more. Nathan MacKinnon is one of the best playmaking centers in the league and if he gets his sh% anywhere close to league average, it will be enough to be near 30 goals. He generates offense as well as the elite players in the NHL and suppresses shots against at a more than passable rate. I do think this year is when MacKinnon takes that next step.
Cat: It entirely depends on what people are expecting from him. Realistically, he’s given us a large enough sample size to show exactly what he is in the NHL from a talent perspective; he’s a poor-accuracy shooter who will need to make plays, not score goals, in order to go down in the history books. If people expect that he’ll elevate to a 35-goal season in order to be considered elite, then no - and don’t hold your breath. That may never happen. But if it’s about his playmaking, ability to drive offensive production for his linemates, and get in some quality performances in multiple situations? Then yes, he certainly has the ability. Particularly if Duchene leaves, and he’s expected to be a solid replacement.
Jeremy: I just want him to establish himself as a good NHL center. Alright, that’s harsh, but some blame for these last few seasons falls on his shoulders as the team’s best player. MacKinnon won’t establish himself as elite because most elite centers lead their team to the playoffs and MacKinnon is unlikely to do that this year. I just want him to take a step forward and prove that he can be that elite center. Thus far, I’ve seen very little signs that say to me, “This is the guy you can build your franchise around.” And maybe management doesn’t see those signs either, which is why Matt Duchene is still around. MacKinnon should be a 20-goal, 40-assist player. Anything less is a failure.