Yesterday, we published part 1 of the MHH Midseason Round Table where we discussed the biggest surprises so far this season, as well as how the Colorado Avalanche were exceeding our expectations - both as a team and individuals.
Here is the second part of our discussion, where we get into the rookies, and the depth needed to deal with injuries to star players.
Nine different rookies have dressed for the Avalanche so far this season, who has impressed the most?
Tom: Samuel Girard. I'm sure others will say Alex Kerfoot, and it’s hard to argue that. He’s been great offensively in his rookie season. What makes it Girard for me is just how young he is. A 19-year old defenseman in the NHL is rare unless you’re of the highest pedigree. A 19-year old defenseman is incredibly abnormal - especially when they were drafted outside of the first round. And a 19-year old defenseman playing top-4 minutes on a team that wins more often than it loses is simply unheard of. Both have been very impressive, but Girard is doing it a full four years younger than Kerfoot.
Isaac: Kerfoot. Like I said earlier, he kind of came out of nowhere (for me at least) and therefore exceeded my nonexistent expectations.
Cat: Can I say Nail Yakupov? No?
Jackie: Sam Girard is a treat to watch on a nightly basis. It's his vision, intelligence and skating makes him a special package and it's exciting knowing he will only get better and more comfortable as time goes on. Kerfoot naturally deserves kudos for his production and incredible hockey IQ. JT Compher has been a beast especially on the penalty kill and already a dependable player for coach Jared Bednar.
Sylvester: For sure Sam Girard. Defensemen take time to develop, like Tom said, and Girard’s poise and decision-making is elite for somebody that young.
Injuries are starting to affect key players, have we learned anything about life without Tyson Barrie or Semyon Varlamov?
Tom: Jonathan Bernier is at his best when he needs to be. In a season that has been anything but consistent for the veteran goaltender, Bernier has been able to step up with his best games while Varly is out with injuries. The first time around, he shut out Dallas. This time, he’s gone on his best stretch in an Avalanche uniform going, 3-0 and putting up an amazing .957 sv%.
Isaac: Girard has done an excellent job replacing Barrie, especially on the powerplay unit. I think he should stay there even when Barrie gets back. I second Tom’s sentiments on the goaltending, yet I worry about what would happen if Varly is out for any long amount of time (fortunately I don’t think he will be). Bernier has been inconsistent, and the idea of Hammond having to play a few games doesn’t seem like a great idea.
Cat: I hate to say it, but I think the biggest thing that we’ve learned is that the Avalanche need to make a beefed-up goaltending depth chart their priority this summer. Their prospect pool is poor at the most optimistic, with one of the league’s lower-end AHL prospects in Spencer Martin as their only real futures option (not counting Joe Cannata, who may remain a minor league tweener for life). They’ve drafted prolifically at the position in recent years, but made reach picks with low prospects of success - and that’s pretty much how things have panned out. At the moment, the team hangs their hat on Varlamov, but this summer was supposed to be his transformative period with intense physical rehabilitation and minimized risk of injury heading into this season; clearly, that isn’t how things are working out. At the very best, he’ll continue to be a guy who can play 50-60 games in between injuries, but they sorely need to bring in a prospect considered to have a strong shot at an NHL future to join their pipeline soon.
Jackie: A trial period without Tyson Barrie might not be the worst thing for the Avalanche. Barrie is a great player but the team might be more balanced using the young defensive pieces they have in a different way plus using the value Barrie has to address other holes in the organization. We'll know more when they go through a rough patch during Barrie's absence but in the seven games including the one he was injured in early the Avs have given up 1.85 goals per game, scored 3.14, gone 6-1 in games and scored 10/26 chances on the power play. Maybe just a coincidence but something to keep in mind as Barrie's absence continues.
Sylvester: HOT TAKE, THE AVALANCHE ARE BETTER WITHOUT BARRIE. Again, kidding. I worry less about the loss of Barrie than I do the loss of Varly, but Bernier is a more than capable replacement, and Barrie going down gives a young Girard even more ice time to develop. Silver linings.