At this point last year, the Avalanche were in awe of a season that looked like it could be a complete turnaround from the one the year prior.
Remember this game?
Yikes. After already taking out Nathan MacKinnon, Zac Rinaldo with a nasty punch on Samuel Girard pic.twitter.com/FsmZwWKajF— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) December 24, 2017
Now, with Christmas Eve 2018 upon us, the Avalanche have a lot to look back upon and appreciate.
They went from the league’s worst team to a playoff darling, surprising and giving the Nashville Predators a bit of fight in a devastatingly tough first-round matchup.
Their top line went from a captain and two hopeful starts to a trio that has dazzled, boasting a Hart Trophy Finalist and now a possible pair of performances worthy of the Hart and Art Ross.
The goaltending depth chart went from devastating and thin to optimism-filled, the prospect talent pool got a boost, and the fans went from frustrated to pretty darn thrilled.
The league is in holiday hiatus, so there’s not a ton of new news to share today. But instead, let’s take a look back at some of the best the last year has had to offer:
Who expected Nathan MacKinnon to break out like he did?
Heading into the 2017-18 season, the team preview had him as the hopeful leader of the Avalanche offense — but shooting percentage struggles and a mere 16-goal season the year prior left some big question marks. [SB Nation]
By the end of the year, he was a Hart trophy finalist. he’d put up a career-high 39 goals, hit 97 points, and likely would have passed into the century-season club had he not been limited to just 74 games on the year.
If you subscribe to The Athletic, this is worth a read, looking at just what makes MacKinnon so fast — and what’s been getting him to the point where he’s already at 22 goals this year in just 37 games and counting. [The Athletic Denver]
Last year, Mikko Rantanen was still the guy that people considered the offensive passenger of the top Colorado line. While MacKinnon was gunning for the Hart and Landeskog was still the tough, hard-hitting two-way captain of the team, he was still considered the runner-up to the others.
Now, though, it’s hard to consider him anything but a star in his own right. [Deadspin]
(Let me go on record, by the way, as saying that I was all aboard the Rantanen Train ahead of last season. Eat it, Tom Hunter!)
He’s been unbelievable this year, gunning for the league-wide scoring lead and only seeming to get better as he goes. Here’s a look at just how unreal his current pace is. [Mile High Hockey]
He also seems delightfully strange, which is hard not to love. Teams with personality are always that much easier to get behind:
I would share Gritty articles, but really, we just need a recap of all the joy he brought us this year in picture form. Nothing less will do.
Gritty Santa is very naughty. pic.twitter.com/mpuRdSnO0x— Jeff Eisenband (@JeffEisenband) December 19, 2018
Like, come on.
Remember when we thought Gritty was awful? I’ll own up to it. I take it all back now. He’s the best there ever was.
Gritty just scored a goal and pancaked a 9 year old. pic.twitter.com/QNrgzOT7Te— Billy Fleming (@JooBilly) December 22, 2018
Coming down from the rafters it's... SANTA GRITTY! pic.twitter.com/XwTjYlxhtx— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) December 22, 2018
We all remember the inaugural Vegas Golden Knights home game last season. It was one of the most powerful games of hockey played in years, coming just a week after 58 people were killed in the team’s front yard on the Vegas strip.
The team took on the mantle of #VegasStrong and delivered on their promise to provide joy to the city that had been beaten down just days before they made their NHL debut. At this point last year, they were an incredible 23-9-2, deep in the midst of an unbelievable December run that saw them go 10-1-1.
Now, they’ve come back down to earth a little bit. They’re 20-15-4 this time around, sitting third in a weak Pacific and doing well but certainly not amazingly.
At this point, though, their imperfect start to the 2018-19 season almost doesn’t matter. Last year, they did something no one expected them to do — and with 500/1 odds coming into the season, made it to the Stanley Cup Final. [CBS Sports]