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Ten questions facing the Colorado Avalanche this season

The expectations in Colorado are as high as the Rocky Mountains, but in order to meet those expectations, the team has some questions it’ll need to answer first

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Avalanche vs Flames Photo by Joe Amon/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Can anyone else but the top line score?

This is probably the biggest complaint there is against the Colorado Avalanche and it’s been that way for a couple of seasons now. I mean, rightfully so. The Avs’ depth hasn’t been much to write home about in recent memory. The trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabe Landeskog have finished one, two, three, respectively, in each of the last two years. The three combined for 261 of the roster’s 662 points scored (39 percent) last year, including 106 of the 258 goals the team scored (41 percent). After the MGM Line, the next closest three players in points scored last season were Tyson Barrie, Carl Soderberg and Alex Kerfoot, all of whom are gone.

So, yes, it is more than fair to question the depth of Colorado’s roster. However, this past offseason, GM Joe Sakic and Co. went out and added Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky via trade and signed Joonas Donskoi and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, all of whom are a step in the right direction. The aforementioned four offseason additions combined for 48 goals and 121 total points. The hope is those four can rekindle their offensive production in a new system that favors the speedy and offensively efficient. If the Avs hope to make a deep run in the 2020 postseason, they’ll need more than just the MGM Line.

Can Nathan MacKinnon score 50 goals and/or reach 100 points?

Last year, MacKinnon reached career-highs in both goals (41) and points (99), and tied his career-high with 58 assists. You can’t ask for much better offensive production than that. But can MacK become the first Avalanche player to hit the 50-goal mark since Milan Hejduk did it during the 2002-03 season? And could he become the first Av to notch 100 points since Joe Sakic achieved the accolade in 2006-07?

San Jose Sharks v Colorado Avalanche - Game Four Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

It’ll be no easy feat, that’s for sure. But if anyone on this season’s Avalanche roster can do it, it’s MacKinnon. Well, Rantanen might have something to say about that...

Could Cale Makar compete for the Calder Trophy?

Makar Mania has officially arrived in Denver and the anticipation of his first full NHL season has been building and building since he appeared in an Avalanche uniform during last year’s postseason run. I mean, in his NHL debut — a playoff game, nonetheless — the kid scored a goal, and against his hometown Calgary Flames, no less — because of course. By the end of his 10-game playoff stint with Colorado, the young D-man finished with six points. Not a bad stat line for a baby-faced 20 year old.

Despite playing in 10 games with the Avalanche last season, Makar is still considered a rookie and therefore still qualifies for Calder Trophy voting. Though the Calder isn’t necessarily given to the rookie with the most points, Makar may very well end up with the most points of his first-year NHL colleagues this season. Makar will line up on the first power-play unit with the likes of MacKinnon and Rantanen and by association, he’ll certainly rack up plenty of points. Though, again, it’s not about points in Calder voting, points probably help, right?

Will Tyson Jost realize his full potential?

The former 10th overall pick in 2016 has shown flashes of excellence during his tenure in Denver. However, in carrying the first round-pick denotion, 11 goals and 26 points last year, and 12 goals and 22 points the year before last, just isn’t going to cut it. The 21-year-old forward even spent time with the Colorado Eagles in the AHL last year, receiving a demotion from his coach for his slumping performance.

“It’s been average,” Jared Bednar told The Athletic of Jost when he was re-assigned to the AHL. “I know how much he wants to succeed and all the work he’s put in over the summer. He’s come back, he’s playing hard, he’s got the will to succeed and right now, it’s just not happening for him. I think he’s overthinking it a little bit and needs to play with his instincts a little bit more.“We’re spending some time with him, trying to help him in any way we can and just gotta give him an opportunity to work his way out of it and hopefully, like other offensive guys, he gets a little success and starts to feel it and gets more confident.”

If you’re Tyson Jost, you got to step up. Entering a contract year with Colorado, the time is now to prove he belongs in the NHL.

Will Philipp Grubauer prove he can be a No. 1 goalie?

So long, Semyon Varlamov. Thanks for the memories. The longtime Avalanche goaltender had spent the last eight years in Denver and it was a dizzying up-and-down ride. While his 183-156-38 record, .915 save percentage and 2.79 goals-against average statline while in an Avs uniform isn’t half bad, the NHL, like many jobs, is performance-based. With only three postseason appearances and one playoff series win (which he didn’t even play in due to injury), combined with his unfortunate injury history, it was really time for Varly to go.

Minnesota Wild v Colorado Avalanche
The spotlight will be on Philipp Grubauer all season long.
Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

Enter: Philipp Grubauer. The Avs’ new No. 1 guy stepped in last season and posted an 18-9-5 mark during the regular season a rock solid .925 save percentage throughout Colorado’s playoff run last season. What Grubauer has to prove, however, is if he has the longevity and stamina to be a true No. 1 goalie. The 27-year-old backstop has never started more than 37 regular season games in his career, which he achieved last year with the Avalanche. Gruby will be asked to start somewhere between 50-60 games this season, and perhaps more, given his backup this year is a “rookie.”

Speaking of...

Is Pavel Francouz a capable backup?

Speaking of goalies, is the 29-year-old “rookie” goaltender Pavel Francouz going to be solid enough relief for Grubauer this season while serving as his backup? I think he’ll be more than alright. In the two games Francouz played in with the Avs this last season, while they were both losses, he allowed only one goal in either contest and posted a .943 save percentage through both games. While it is a small sample size, it’s a glimpse into what he’s capable of.

Last season in the AHL, Francouz played in 49 games with the Colorado Eagles, the second-most in the league; he recorded 27 wins, tied for third; and finished the season with a .918 save percentage, sixth-best in the AHL. Francouz proved himself with the Avs’ farm team and — deservingly — earned the right to spend this season in the NHL. His resume speaks for itself, but his lack of NHL experience remains a question mark.

Can Nazem Kadri find a new groove in Colorado?

After scoring 32 goals and 55-plus points in 2016-17 and 2017-18, Kadri fell to the wayside this past season in Toronto, halving his goals to just 16 and lessening his points to 44. Like Toronto, the Avs have a similar fast and young team here in Denver. He’s slotting in as the team’s de facto second-line center and will spend plenty of time on Colorado’s stacked power-play unit. That said, he’ll more than likely see his numbers increase this season in what will be a bigger role than what he was used to with the Maple Leafs.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

”Hitting the 30-goal mark back-to-back times, I think that is pretty tough to do in the NHL,” Kadri told the Avs team website. I certainly have that potential… I feel like I have been having a great summer so far, and I am feeling really the best I really ever have. I have been working for redemption next season so like I said, I feel strong, I feel great. I strongly believe that my best years are yet to come, and I think Colorado will be a really nice next step for me.”

Can the feisty forward hit the 30-goal mark again?

Where does Andre Burakovsky fit in and will he prove his worth?

Another recent trade addition to the 2019-20 Avs squad, Burakovsky will likely stay slotted in on Kadri’s second line, which might make for a really nice dynamic duo down the road. Kadri and Burky. Yeah, that has a nice ring to it.

Burakovsky has recorded a dozen goals in each of his last three seasons. However, he’s regressed every year since 2015-16, where he recorded a career-high 17 goals and 38 points. He was only signed for one year following his trade from Washington to Colorado, in what is a trial-period “show me” contract. That said, in theory, Burky should bring his best this season in hopes of receiving a larger contract extension.

If the Avs can get 20 goals out of him, that’ll be a big win for Sakic and Co.

Can Vladislav Kamenev stay healthy and make an impact?

A long-forgotten piece of the now-legendary Matt Duchene trade of 2017, Vlad Kamenev hasn’t had the chance to prove himself to the Avs due to some unfortunate injury luck. In his first game with Colorado, he broke his arm and only played in three games all season. The following season, last year, Kamenev required shoulder surgery which limited him to just 23 games. In late July, the Avs resigned the injury-prone forward to a one-year contract, showing the 22 year old that the front office would like to see what he can do if he can stay healthy.

Kamenev made the 23-man roster and should see some NHL action this season, if the team’s depth allows it. The Avs front office obviously likes the guy and — if, if, he can stay healthy — Kamenev could play in plenty of games this year. But is he a legitimate NHLer?

Are the expectations too high in the Mile High City?

Listen. The greater the expectations, the greater the disappointment, right? The expectations have never been higher for this team in the “GM Joe Sakic era” than they are this year.

Vegas has the Avs with the fifth-best odds to win the Stanley Cup. The team has been on the up-and-up the last few seasons and with all the recent additions, it appears this team is destined for a Stanley Cup run, or at the very least, a Western Conference Finals run.

While the hype is very much here, the question is, is the hype real? Check back after the 2020 All-Star break. Can the team handle the pressure of expectation? We’ll find out soon enough.

”For me, the most important [expectations] are internal,” Bednar told the Avs team website. I know external expectations are high, but no one is going to put more heat on our team than [us]. A lot of that stays the same [as always]. Whether things are going good or bad, we talk to our team about blocking out the outside noise and focusing on what’s happening within our locker room and rink. That [mentality] doesn’t change this season at all.”