It’s here. The regular season is there.
We are only a couple days from the start of the 2018-19 Colorado Avalanche season, so we thought we’d do a season kick-off roundtable to discuss predictions, expectations and thoughts for the new season.
Who is your prediction for breakout player for the Avalanche?
Jackie: Secondary scoring is the storyline heading into the season but Samuel Girard has quietly been given an upgraded role next to Erik Johnson to start. He will solidify himself as a top defenseman and a core player for the Avalanche especially if Tyson Barrie misses any time again and Girard is allowed to rack up power play minutes and points.
Tom: Tyson Jost - in fact I wrote a whole article about it here. After a really rough season, Jost is going to look to bounce back and justify his draft position. He’s got the talent to do it, and with a spot on the top PP unit, it looks like he will be given plenty of opportunity by the coaching staff.
Isaac: I’d say Jost and Girard are both prime candidates, but I’ve really liked Alex Kerfoot throughout the preseason (he was a beast at Fan Fest as well). If he’s increased his endurance (the reason he disappeared midseason last year), expect good and consistent point production from him. My only concern is last year’s high shooting percentage, but progression and better endurance should more than offset this as far as point totals go.
Hardev: Mikko Rantanen is in a contract year. I wonder how much more motivated he’s going to be this season. Back-to-back 80-point seasons? Can he hit 90 points? Perhaps a healthy 30-goal year will give him some more respect for his play around the league. I’m also very interested to see what Vladislav Kamenev can do in both the AHL, and hopefully the NHL this year. He only got 20 games in across three different teams in an injury-filled campaign. He’s 22 and dynamic as heck. He’ll impress me if he can be a mid-season call-up.
Blaise: Stealing a bit from Jackie and Isaac, I’ll go ahead and pick Girard and Kerfoot to break out this season. As we have seen in preseason, Girard doesn’t seem to have lost a step after adding a few extra pounds of muscle. He honestly has only gotten better. Kerfoot looks to be shooting more, which in turn, will lower his ridiculous shooting percentage from last year. BUT he should be scoring more goals. If Jost can step up and solidify himself as the Avs true 2C, Kerfoot will start raking in the goals on his wing.
Cat: I may or may not have already predicted Tyson Jost as one of the league’s breakout players in another season preview I’ve done, so I’ll stick with that answer. He kept showing that he had all the tools last year, but just hadn’t figured out how to put them all together; I think that this is the year he finally gets it done.
What defines success for the Avalanche this season?
Tom: Playoffs. I think the Avs might have a hard time making the postseason this year. They’re due for regression and there are some non-playoff teams - St. Louis, Dallas, Arizona - that look like strong candidates for a wildcard spot this season. If the Avs can get back to where they were last season, I would call that a success.
Isaac: Developing players. I think the Avalanche can certainly be a playoff team, but there’s no way they’ll contend for the Stanley Cup. Instead, I hope the Avs are able to take steps forward in a different way, turning guys like Jost and Girard into household names. This will help put them in a better position to succeed in the future.
Hardev: Playoffs. Prove to the world that last year was different from 2014.
Blaise: Success in the NHL means playoffs. Plain and simple. No playoff berth means there is absolutely nothing to show for the past 82 games.
Jackie: Playoffs or not, just improving on their point total of 95 from last season would be something the Avalanche haven’t done in nearly two decades. But growth is not always linear and they have a long process still ahead of them to become consistent contenders. Like Isaac, I believe development is the key to a successful season both for the young players on the Avalanche and it is also a critical year for the Colorado Eagles to find both success in their move to the AHL and to figure out how to transition draft picks through the development system.
Cat: Not taking a step backwards. Last year had some inflated success, but the development of the team’s young players means that, at very best, they should finish the year right where they were last season; if their fall back to earth luck-wise pushes them out of the playoffs, that’s a concerning sign that things are stagnating a bit. The core of the team is made up almost exclusively of players in their prime or younger; they should be getting better, not staying the same or regressing.
How many points will the Avalanche finish with and will that get them in the postseason?
Tom: The Avs are going to finish with 84 points and it’s not going to be enough to make the playoffs.
Isaac: The lynchpin here is the Dallas Stars. They clearly have some excellent players, but beyond them there’s really not a ton to be excited about. With the stacked Central, if there is another team beyond the Jets, the Predators, and the Blues that is very competitive, then the Avalanche could have some serious difficulties playing some extra hockey. I’ll go out on a limb and say both the Stars and Wild aren’t good enough, and the Avs squeak in with 96 points in one of the two wild cards. I’m really counting on players to take steps, and honestly I just hope the team can pull this off, as seeing the Avs in the playoffs was truly an amazing thing for me.
Hardev: Colorado probably hits the low-90’s again in terms of total points. The team will be in contention for a wild card, but it will be close. Very close.
Blaise: The Avs will be fighting for a wild card spot. There is no way they finish higher than the Jets or Predators. The Blues have only gotten better since that April 7th game that clinched the Avs a playoff spot. I personally don’t believe the Wild perform very well this season, but that may just be my bias speaking. The Blackhawks will continue to be a dumpster fire. The Stars will continue to be in this weird “just missed the playoffs” limbo that they just can’t seem, to conquer. The Blues will be the key. They gained Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Bozak down the middle, which are improvements over Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund. Many people forget that they only missed the playoffs by one point.
Jackie: I’m feeling something like 88 points, close but not quite. The Avalanche will build off of last season and continue to see growth from young players but will hit a few more bumps of adversity along the way. Injuries to key forwards would be tough to overcome. Also, with increased expectations it may be easier to fall into old habits and cling to low upside veterans at times.
Cat: Last week I predicted that the Arizona Coyotes will have between 80 and 90 points, so I’m going to predict that the Avalanche will be between 85 and 95 points. Let’s put them at a solid 92 for right now, because I’m feeling optimistic. That shouldn’t be good enough for the postseason, but the Pacific Division is currently an unmitigated shitshow - so there will very likely be five teams from the Central all making their way to the playoffs this spring, giving the Avalanche a bit more breathing room. It’s going to be a tough fight, but I think they’ll just squeak in.
Where does Ottawa finish in the standings and who will the Avalanche select with Ottawa’s first round pick?
Jackie: As fun as winning the first overall pick is to dream about, chances are still very unlikely that the Avalanche will obtain that draft slot. Instead, they will end up picking sixth overall and take the top defenseman in the draft. Bowen Byram will round out Colorado’s defensive core on the left side and will have a great impact on the team in a way the fans are not expecting. It will also be a miracle if the Avalanche make both first round picks and don’t find a way to throw away what should be an incredible draft haul if they keep all five currently held picks in the top three rounds.
Tom: Picks one and two are the dream. Jack Hughes has the most pure skill of anyone since Connor McDavid and Kaapo Kakko is a better version of Patrik Laine. But for the sake of not getting too optimistic, I’m going to say the Sens pick ends up being at #5 overall. With that pick, I’d go back to Western Canada for the third time in four years. Kirby Dach would be my pick. As we saw this summer, the league is starting to put a premium on drafting centers. It’s the most important position on the ice, and as such depth down the middle is a great thing to have - not to mention you can always draft a center and move him to wing, but can’t do the opposite.
Dach is a big, skilled center that projects to be a legitimate top line pivot in the NHL. As the second overall pick in the 2016 WHL Bantam draft, Dach is at the start of what is looking like a monster breakout season for the Saskatoon Blades. He’s a blend of size and skill with smooth hands and puck skills that you often don’t see from a kid his size. For me, Dach is somewhere between Ryan Johansen and Ryan Getzlaf and he would make a huge impact on the Avs lineup sooner rather than later.
Isaac: We all know the Senators are going to be an absolute tire fire, especially if they trade Matt Duchene and/or Mark Stone. If they do, (I’m thinking Duchene will be gone but perhaps not Stone), it’s hard to see them be anything above a bottom 3 team. My gut feeling is the Avalanche will get the second overall pick, meaning Kaapo Kakko is coming our way. By the NHL draft expect a “I told you so” from my end, either that or I’ll conveniently forget that I said this.
Hardev: Crazy things can happen in the NHL, but those usually come as a result of some mind-blowing goaltending or a superstar putting his team on his back for a Hart-calibre year. Does anyone really expect Ottawa to have either of those happen to them? The pick will be, at worst, #4 overall, guaranteed. The top four will be Jack Hughes, Kaapo Kakko, Alex Turcotte, and Payton Krebs.
Blaise: Even with how much of a tire fire Ottawa will be this year, the chances of Jack Hughes is extremely unlikely. Even if they finish dead last, luck will not be on our side and we will end up picking either 2nd overall or 3rd overall where Kaapo Kakko will join fellow Finn Mikko Rantanen on the Avs.
Cat: Honestly, the Senators have by and away the worst roster in the NHL right now. They may even be worse than the Detroit Red Wings, and they even look like they’ve got less going for them than the Montreal Canadiens. While that should land them at the bottom of the standings by a wide margin, though, there’s sometimes something oddly freeing about knowing you have absolutely nowhere to go but up. With the pressure to win even 20 games all but gone, the Senators could end up accidentally falling up the standings and finish ahead of both Montreal and Detroit, maybe even beating out the New York Rangers to boot. The Canadiens are just desperate enough to win that they seem like a prime candidate to get flustered by their first losing streak and absolutely tank the year. that being said, it still has to be a top-five pick - so let’s be optimistic, say the Senators win the lottery, and take Jack Hughes. Life is sweet.