Coming into the season, the biggest question mark for the Colorado Avalanche was the depth on the back-end. It has been viewed as a weakness of the franchise for a long time and the source of a lot of ridicule coming into the 2018-19 season. Joe Sakic obviously identified this and was able to bring in a major building block for the future as a part of the Matt Duchene trade. The addition of Samuel Girard, along with the drafting of Cale Makar and Conor Timmins now gives Avalanche fans a clear picture of what the future of the blueline is going to look like.
With that said, there is still a lot of questions when it comes to the future of the Colorado Avalanche defensive depth chart.
Will Tyson Barrie be around long term?
Is Nikita Zadorov ever going to prove he can be an impact top-4 defenseman on a night-to-night basis?
When the team is finally ready to compete, will Erik Johnson be able to eat up as many minutes as he does now?
Defensive Depth Chart
|Nikita Zadorov||Erik Johnson|
|Samuel Girard||Tyson Barrie|
|Mark Barberio||Mark Alt|
|Patrik Nemeth||Nicolas Meloche|
|Anton Lindholm||Cale Makar|
|Duncan Seimens||Nathan Clurman|
When you talk about the blueline of the Colorado Avalanche, you always have to start with Erik Johnson. The former 1st overall pick is the kind of do-everything defender that NHL coaches love to rely on. When healthy, Johnson is among the league leaders in time-on-ice and is the unquestioned leader of the Avalanche defense.
Though some might think otherwise, Nikita Zadorov and Tyson Barrie should probably be considered as part of the foundation in Colorado.
Because he’s been around the NHL for so long, people tend to forget how old Nikita Zadorov is. Still only 22, the big Russian has taken a big step in his development this season. Though he still struggles at times - especially when Johnson is out of the lineup - we have seen a legitimate top-4 defenseman emerge. Now the coaching staff just needs to start trusting him.
Then there’s Tyson Barrie - the most polarizing player on the team and a guy that has been rumored to be on the move for years. Like it or not, Barrie is a key part of this team. He is one of the best offensive defensemen in the NHL, and despite what many will tell you, he is more than able to hold his own defensively. This season, his shot attempt % (shot attempts for divided by shot attempts against) is third behind only Johnson and Mark Barberio. He takes a lot of risks and often gets caught - leading to an eye-test bias that causes some to believe he’s worse defensively than he actually is.
Other teams want Barrie, there’s a reason for that. Maybe the emergence of Timmins and Makar on the right side will make Barrie expendable down the road, but for now, he is definitely one of the three that we should consider as the veteran core.
The Building Blocks
In the past nine months, the Avalanche went from having a terrifying thing group of defensive prospects to having three 19-year olds that have the potential to be high-end top-4 defensemen in the NHL. Cale Makar, Sam Girard, and Conor Timmins are the future of the Avalanche blueline. They are a little younger than the forward core of the team, but that’s why it’s crucial to have guys like Erik Johnson around through the growth period.
Most NHL organizations would be thrilled to have one or two youngsters with the talent of Makar, Girard, and Timmins - the Avalanche have three. Now we have to wait for them to develop and hope that they reach their high-end potential.
Samuel Girard is a shoe-in to be in the top-4 next season - he’s already there. With a summer to put on 5-10lbs, there’s no reason to think Girard won’t have a gigantic impact on the Avs next season.
As far as Makar and Timmins go, we shouldn’t expect them to step into the lineup next season - if they do, great, but we shouldn’t expect it.
In the best case scenario, Cale Makar signs his entry-level contract this spring and becomes an impact player next season. It’s not likely, but it could happen. There’s also the possibility that he goes back to school for a second season. Most around the Avs are ruling it out, but we probably shouldn’t. Maybe Makar goes back to UMass for his sophomore year, dominates, and then steps into the NHL and becomes a favorite to win the Calder in 2020. Many fans might be disappointed if Makar goes back to school for a second year, but it’s the path Zach Werenski took, and it’s worked out pretty well for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Then there’s Conor Timmins. The 19-year old has spent the past two seasons as the best defenseman in the OHL. He doesn’t have the same high-end potential that Cale Makar does, but he’s got a higher floor and might be closer to making an impact in the NHL. Timmins is one of the smartest players you’ll see. What he lacks in raw talent, he more than makes up for in on-ice awareness. Conor Timmins won’t ever be your best defenseman, but he’s the kind of player that settles in for an 18-year NHL career as the #3 guy on a very good team.
The Depth Guys
Beyond the top guys, it’s important that good teams have depth on the back end. It’s important to have stability in the 5/6/7 roles, while also having players available that can step up in case of injury.
For the Avalanche, guys like Anton Lindholm, Duncan Siemens, Sergei Boikov and the newly acquired Ryan Graves fill that role.
Andrei Mironov would have slipped into this category, but he decided to take his skates and head home to Russia.
The Underrated Prospect
With Makar and Timmins around, a lot of people forget that the Avalanche have another right-shooting defensive prospect that has the potential to be a very good NHLer. Nicolas Meloche is nearing the end of his first professional season. After a rocky start to the year - and some mishandling by the organization - Meloche finally looks comfortable and is playing a big role on the San Antonio Rampage. Recently, the 20-year old has been playing top pair minutes and is showing the type of development that could land him in the NHL next season.
Meloche had a great camp this past summer and if he’s able to repeat the performance this September, it’s going to be hard to keep him out of the Avs lineup.
The Long Shot Prospects
This is where guys like Josh Anderson, Nate Clurman, and Nick Leivermann fit in. They’re organizational depth that likely won’t get any further than the AHL. But you never know.
Not Long for the Organization
This summer, the contracts are up for Mark Barberio, Patrik Nemeth and Mason Geertsen, and there's a very good chance none will get a contract.
Mark Barberio has been a very serviceable defenseman for the team over the past two seasons, but he’s an unrestricted free agent this summer and the Avs have shown that they can get by pretty well without him in the lineup.
As far as Patrik Nemeth goes, the coaching staff seems to like him, so there’s a chance the team re-signs him this summer - though they most definitely shouldn’t. Nemeth is the typical big, slow defenseman that old-school hockey people love, but that looks terrible when you analyze his play beyond the eye-test. No regular in the Avs lineup gives up more scoring chances against than Nemeth and each of his partners see a boost in their defensive metrics when they are separated from him.
Nemeth is a poor man's Duncan Siemens, and that’s a scary thought.
If the team wants to create space in the lineup for some of the high-end youngsters, moving on from Nemeth and Barberio is a good idea.
It was once the biggest weakness of the organization. Only twelve months ago it was used as a punchline. “The Colorado Avalanche only have two NHL defensemen under contract” was a common refrain from onlookers at the end of last summer.
Now the defensive depth chart is something the Avalanche don’t have to worry about. There are still a lot of question marks and a lot of development to be done, but there is a ton to be excited about. The roadmap is there and for the first time, we can see Joe Sakic’s path towards building one of the most formidable bluelines in the NHL.