I don’t think it’s any secret that the breakout season that Nathan MacKinnon has had is the biggest reason for the regular season success of the Colorado Avalanche. Mikko Rantanen also established himself as a top notch talent that can put up some major numbers at the NHL level. Semyon Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier were both bright spots on a team that wasn’t given a chance at the beginning of the year.
Entering this season, there was a lot of pressure on the leadership group to bring this team out of the dumpster that was the 2016-17 season and they all performed well above expectations. Without their consistent effort, this team could have found themselves at the bottom of the standings once again.
With the core finally starting to live up to expectations, there was another group of players on this roster that had a major impact on the Avalanche getting back to the playoffs. The rookies that suited up this year also performed above expectations and this team would not have had the year they did without the play of the first year guys.
High expectations are nothing new to Tyson Jost. After becoming the first round pick of the Avalanche in the 2016 draft, he went on to play for the University of North Dakota just months after they won a national title. He signed with the Avalanche at the conclusion of his freshman year and played in six games at the end of the season, scoring his first NHL goal against the Minnesota Wild. With that experience under his belt, he felt he was ready to be a regular contributor.
As anybody does during their rookie season, Jost had his ups and downs. There were stretches where it seemed like nothing would go in, no matter how hard he tried. He started to find his game late in the season and finished strong with three goals in the last five games. He has shown a lot more patience with the puck and is getting significant time on the power play. Tyson Jost is finding his stride at the perfect time and should enter the playoff with a ton of confidence.
It’s hard to believe that anybody would tell Harvard Graduate Alexander Kerfoot that he didn’t know how to make an educated decision. After captaining the Crimson to their first Frozen Four appearance since 1994, he chose to sign with the Avalanche. Originally drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 2012, he became a free agent after playing four years at Harvard and not signing an entry level contract with the team that drafted him. His decision to sign with Colorado might have puzzled some experts who felt he could have played almost anywhere he wanted, but in retrospect, it looks like Kerfoot might have known something they didn’t.
Alexander had an impact immediately. He notched his first point (an assist) in the very first game of the year against the New York Rangers. It only took him three more games to score his first NHL goal against the Boston Bruins. After Matt Duchene got traded on November 5th, Kerfoot saw his ice time increase and has spent significant time centering the second line. He finished the regular season leading all Avalanche rookies in goals, assists and points.
Going back to that November 5th trade that sent Duchene to the Ottawa Senators in a three team deal, Colorado got a rookie defensemen from Nashville who is turning out to be a pretty good player too. At just 19 years old, Samuel Girard has been contributing to the Avalanche ever since he arrived.
With injuries this year to both Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson, Girard has spent time quarterbacking the power play and logging big time minutes. His skating ability is absolutely mesmerizing and his passing and vision exceptional. With 20 points in 68 games for the Avalanche, Girard has had a huge impact on a defense group that was a major question mark entering this season.
With the help of these three guys, along with other rookies like J.T. Compher, Dominic Toninato and Anton Lindholm, the Colorado Avalanche are heading to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2014. The future is bright for the Avalanche.