There is no official diagnosis of the injury yet, but it looks as though the Colorado Avalanche are going to be without Erik Johnson for a while. The team’s best defenseman left Sunday afternoon’s loss to the Edmonton Oilers early in the third period and was seen with a heavily wrapped left arm after the game.
He is among the league leaders with nearly 26 minutes of ice time a game. He has been relied upon by the coaching staff to play in every situation this season and aside from Nathan MacKinnon, Erik Johnson is likely been the most valuable player for the Avalanche this season.
There has been a big hole created by this injury. The loss of Johnson means that Tyson Barrie is the only right-shooting defenseman in the lineup. Replacing Johnson’s presence internally will be impossible and every game that he is out of the lineup makes the chances of grabbing one of the Western Conference Wildcard positions even more unlikely.
All of this is compounded by the fact that both Mark Barberio and Anton Lindholm are also hurt. Colorado’s depth is going to be tested. Guys like Andrei Mironov and Duncan Siemens are likely going to get legitimate minutes in the NHL for the first time this season.
There is also the possibility that we see Chris Brigras back up with the Avs. Bigras has missed a ton of time this season - only playing 18 games with the Rampage - but he is finally healthy and has recorded his first two multi-point games of the season this past week. He could get the call, but it might be more beneficial to continue to work his way back into a regular game rhythm with San Antonio.
One other option that is probably unlikely - but shouldn’t be - is that the Avalanche recall 20-year old AHL rookie Nicolas Meloche.
A second-round pick in 2015, Meloche is starting to get comfortable in his first professional season. For the first time, he is getting regular minutes with the San Antonio Rampage and it has been paying off. He is finding his way to the scoresheet and is showing the high-end potential that we saw flashes of during training camp. He’s playing in San Antonio’s top-four minutes and has been averaging 2.1 shots on net in his last eight games. Meloche is making steady progress as a puck-mover and is showing more and more confidence every game he plays.
Along with bringing balance to the lineup as a right-handed shot, Meloche would also provide a shot from the blueline that would fill in nicely for Johnson on the Avs’ second powerplay unit.
We have a tie game! Nicolas Meloche scores early in the 2nd.— San Antonio Rampage (@sarampage) February 15, 2018
ASST: Brendan Ranford pic.twitter.com/vBg81M96qb
Having played last season in the QMJHL, he’s still pretty raw, but Meloche has the size and ice awareness to adapt quickly at the next level. He is more talented than both Mironov and Bigras and is an option the Avalanche should strongly consider if Johnson and Lindholm, are set to miss an extended period.
The Avalanche are a lot higher in the standings than many expected. They are in a legitimate playoff race, but that shouldn’t take away from the main objective of this season. It is a year that was supposed to be about focusing on the development of the youngsters in the organization - let’s see if the front office holds to that.
Calling up Meloche might accelerate his development a little, but he proved in junior that he is the kind of player that can handle it.
An injury to Johnson serves as a huge hit to the team’s potential playoff run this season, but in the spirit of finding positivity in a bad situation, it might have opened a window for the Avalanche to take a step towards the future.