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Analyzing the forward depth chart of the Colorado Avalanche

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Can the strong yet top-heavy offensive attack become a little more balanced this season?

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Avalanche had a perfectly respectable offensive attack last season. They finished 10th in the league in goals per game, potting an average 3.1 tallies per tilt, and managed to boast the 8th ranked power play conversion rate to boot.

It was a clear strength of the team, yet there was still an Achilles heel: depth scoring. If a team could manage to shut down MacKinnon’s line (no small feat), then the team hardly had any options.

While that may sound dire, it offers an optimistic future. What it means for the team moving forward is that the Avalanche have the potential to have a top five offense. If they’re already ranked that high with only one true scoring line, how high could they be if a few more guys took the next step?

Colorado has players capable of doing this. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. And if it happens this season, then the Avalanche should be able to boast one of the more fearsome forward groups in the league.

Forward Depth Chart

LW C RW
LW C RW
Gabriel Landeskog Nathan MacKinnon Mikko Rantanen
Matt Nieto Carl Soderberg Sven Andrighetto
Matt Calvert Alexander Kerfoot Martin Kaut
Gabriel Bourque Tyson Jost Logan O'Connor
Colin Wilson JT Compher Scott Kosmachuck
Andrew Agozzino Dominic Toninato
AJ Greer Vladislav Kamenev
Ty Lewis Sheldon Dries
Travis Barron Igor Shvyrev

The Core

Nathan MacKinnon - The best player on the Avalanche and in the Central Division, as well as one of the most dominant offensive players in the league last season, MacKinnon will obviously continue to ruin goaltenders nights and make defenses look incompetent. He is no question the driving force of his line, and he finally has some very good quality, consistent wingers that are able to finish his incredible passes. He’s a safe bet to be in the running for the Hart and Art Ross Trophies for several years to come.

Gabriel Landeskog - A power forward showcasing solid offensive ability, Landeskog brings a much needed element of grit to Colorado’s top line. He can do it all: set up his teammates with good passes, put the puck in the net, lay a big check, and win battles on the boards. And he’s not simply dragged along by elite line-mates either: he actively makes his teammates better every time he’s on the ice.

Mikko Rantanen - The young Finn probably had the quietest 84 point season in recent memory. While that seems like an absurd statement, he’s always mentioned as an afterthought when talking about Colorado, mainly overshadowed by the team’s star center (stupid East Coast bias). He’s clearly a darn good player in his own right, not only racking up a ton of points but doing so only in his second year and at 21 years old. Talk about impressive. He may regress a bit due to a high shooting percentage (16%), but he’s not going away any time soon.

Carl Soderberg - He rarely stands out on the ice, he has little flash in his game, and he’s not a name that’s regularly listed as one of the game’s three stars. Yet Soderberg quietly shows up and plays a very solid defensive game, centering the team’s shutdown line, as well as being a stalwart on a solid penalty kill. Being deployed in the offensive zone only 31.1% of the time, Soderberg still managed to snag 37 points this past season. Expect him to put in another solid year of work for the team, and last year was a nice reminder that he’s always a decent bet to finish with decent scoring totals.

Alex Kerfoot - Kerfoot had a good rookie season with 43 points, but what the point total doesn’t show is the long stretch of time in which he simply disappeared from the score sheet. He picked up near the end, but it was clear during that middle frame that he was likely gassed from making the transition from a shorter NCAA season to playing an NHL schedule. His shooting percentage was fairly high, so there’s likely to be regression due - but if he gets his endurance up and shoots more, it’s fair to expect a similar or better season. He’ll be given a shot at the 2C position, but could thrive more with a shift to the wing unless someone fails to develop like they should.

The Contributors

Matt Nieto - Being glued to Soderberg’s side all season, Nieto played a very similar role to his teammate. Heavily deployed in the defensive zone, though, he proved to be amply up to the task and played lots of penalty kill time. In all likelihood, he’ll continue in that role and his solid play.

Matt Calvert - The free agency replacement for Blake Comeau, Calvert will look to play an identical role but with an even bigger edge and more speed. Blue Jackets fans loved him, and I’m sure Avs fans will too. He’ll likely slot in on the bottom six with lots of PK time.

Tyson Jost - In all honesty, his rookie season wasn’t quite what fans had been hoping for. A bad injury, bouncing around the lineup (including an AHL stint), shuffling back and forth from wing to center, and sheer inexperience at the pro level kept him from truly hitting his potential this past year. He finally started to look comfortable towards the end of the year, though, and he’s now finally healthy coming in to the upcoming year. He’ll have every chance to win the 2C position. Will it happen this year?

JT Compher - This is a make-or-break year for the forward. He’s 23 years old and will turn 24 at the season’s end. He’s got great speed and he shoots a lot, sitting 7th on the team in recorded shots despite playing a bottom six role and missing 13 games. However, that hasn’t quite shown up on the scoreboard, and he only accrued 23 points last year. Given his age, he’ll likely turn into a decent bottom six forward with some goal-scoring ability.

Sven Andrighetto - He was kind of the forgotten forward of 2017-18. He fell from the first line (16 points in 19 games in 2016-17) to even being a healthy scratch at one point. He’s undoubtedly fast and skilled, but he’ll need to work hard to attain a top six role. He should definitely be in the lineup, but it’s anyone’s guess as to where he’ll be.

The Fringe

Colin Wilson - Wilson had a pretty forgettable year last season, and given his age and performance it’s very difficult to see him maintaining a position on the team. If he does, it’s hard to see anything above the fourth line.

Gabriel Bourque - A player many thought would just end up being an AHL-er (or, at best, a healthy scratch), Bourque took advantage of his chance and worked his way into the lineup. He’s a player who’s hard not to like, as he clearly plays with an incredible amount of heart and is always working hard. Unfortunately, he’s he lacks the scoring talent or deep defensive skill to maintain a roster spot, so likability may not be enough unless he finds another way to stand out.

Dominic Toninato - Toninato is now 25, and despite his good defensive work on the fourth line for much of the year he’ll likely be pushed down into the minors. The problem lies in his offense, as he only managed two points in 37 games. Factor that in with the logjam at center, and there’s a good chance he’ll be in Loveland all year with the Eagles.

The Prospects

Vladislav Kamenev - The 22-year old has been biding his time in the AHL, stuck with the Milwaukee Admirals, and then playing a fair amount with San Antonio. He absolutely lit it up in the minors, clearly proving he was much too good for that level. He was extremely unlucky, though, thanks to a Brooks Orpik hit, and wasn’t able to really see any time at all. Now he has a chance, there are clearly spots to be won in the Avalanche lineup. I’ll bet he’ll get it done.

AJ Greer - He’s basically sandpaper. He was poorly utilized in San Antonio last season, but he had 38 points in 63 games with the Rampage a season ago, so there’s definitely hope. I’d probably give him a 50-50 shot to make the team, but not necessarily from the onset. He might do it after someone (say a Calvert or Nieto) gets injured, when that kind of role would need filling.

Martin Kaut - He may have been one of the more NHL-ready picks of the 2018 draft, but that doesn’t mean he is NHL-ready at this moment. The best option for the Avs is likely to have him take the route of Mikko Rantanen. Have him play a few games up with the big club, and if he isn’t ready, keep him down with the Eagles so he can properly develop.

Logan O’Connor - The undrafted former DU winger may not be a grade A prospect that scouts are raving about, but there is very good reason to put him here. The front office seems to think highly of him, and it became apparent during preseason and training camp’s start why. His inclusion on a line with Calvert and Compher in the first preseason game may be a sign of things to come. Given his performance in the rookie tournament and the aforementioned contest, he may have earned a spot on the team.

The AHL-ers

Andrew Agozzino - The leading scorer of the San Antonio Rampage last year, Agozzino could receive a call-up if there are injuries. The sheer glut of forwards the Avs are dealing with, though, most likely will prevent this from being a reality.

Sheldon Dries - Formerly of the Texas Stars, the 24-year-old came in off of a 30 point season for Dallas’s affiliate. He’s not likely to really turn into much other than a minor-leaguer, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. He’ll help fill out the Eagles’ roster this year.

Scott Kosmachuck - Also an offseason pickup for the minor leagues, Kosmachuck put up similar numbers at the same age as Dries did. Like his compatriot, he’ll fill some needs for the brand new Avalanche minor league affiliate.

Travis Barron - Barron is a player who probably can play at the NHL level, yet he’s clearly not there yet. He has good two-way play and is young, and will likely play a decent role with the Colorado Eagles.

Ty Lewis - The undrafted winger may have lit up the WHL and is most definitely a good prospect, he’s not close enough to being ready to play in the world’s best league. He should spend a season or two developing in the AHL before he’s ready to contribute as an Avalanche.

Igor Shvyrev - He’s in a similar boat as Barron and Lewis in that he’s a legitimate prospect but is probably too far away to be considered in the team’s plans this year. After showing incredible promise in the MHL (basically the KHL’s development league), he came over to the States after getting stiffed at the pro level in Russia. He’ll need some time to adjust, and that’s what will likely be seen this year from him.

Possible Opening Night Lineup #1

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen

Alex Kerfoot - Tyson Jost - Sven Andrighetto

Vladislav Kamenev - Carl Soderberg - Matt Nieto

Matt Calvert - JT Compher - Logan O’Connor

...

This was suggested by a commenter in a previous article (shoutout to SuckMyAvs). This is a strong possibility, and honestly if I were to bet money this would be it. Yet then again I could be reading into the Logan O’Connor situation way too much. Which leads me to this:

Possible Opening Night Lineup #2

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen

Alex Kerfoot - Tyson Jost - Sven Andrighetto

Matt Calvert - Carl Soderberg - Matt Nieto

Vladislav Kamenev - JT Compher - Martin Kaut

This is kind of along the lines of what a lot of people were predicting at the beginning of the offseason, with Calvert pretty much slotting in where Comeau left. Also notice Martin Kaut, who could very well get a chance in the NHL at the start of the season. And I know you’re all probably sick of seeing this but...

Isaac’s Ideal Opening Night Lineup

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen

Alex Kerfoot - Tyson Jost - JT Compher

AJ Greer - Vladislav Kamenev - Sven Andrighetto

Matt Calvert - Carl Soderberg - Matt Nieto

A lot of things would have to go right to see this - like, a lot, particularly in that basically every young guy the Avs have would need to have taken some steps forward this summer. But it puts Jost at center, slating him ahead of Kamenev in the center depth chart (and giving him a legitimate shot over Kerfoot and Compher). Those two guys need to play there in my opinion, and since I’m dreaming somewhat, I imagined Greer jumping up and contributing. This isn’t going to happen, but it’d be kind of cool... right?