As the 2020-21 — or just 2021 — NHL season is finally on the horizon, the Colorado Avalanche are ready for competition. Their offseason work has been completed, and the roster is largely set. However, one lingering question remains: Who will make their NHL debut for the squad in 2021?
The 2019-20 season saw three debuts, and all amazingly were former Avalanche draft picks. Conor Timmins started off with a duo of NHL games to begin the regular season and then saw two more in the playoffs nearly a year later. Adam Werner took the net for two games in November of 2019, one of which was essentially a shutout while the other did not go as well. The cherry on top was Martin Kaut, who finally received the call in February and then proceeded to play nine games into March, including the last game before the COVID-19 pause.
Many challenges are presented with the new season operating in still uncertain times. A 56-game schedule might limit opportunity for prospects to get a look with the Avalanche, but the condensed nature of that schedule could lead to more injuries or need to rest certain players. Plus, who knows how COVID-19 will impact the availability of players throughout the campaign, requiring the need for more options. A rumored expanded roster and/or taxi squad could lead to more opportunity as well with extras already part of the team.
Bowen Byram is trending toward the most likely to see his NHL debut at some point in the new year. The roster numbers don’t seem to work in his favor, but both GM Joe Sakic and head coach Jared Bednar said there’s an opportunity for Byram to make the roster. The first step toward solidifying an NHL job is getting NHL experience, and that starts with just one game, which Byram should get.
Another former first round pick ready for an opportunity is Shane Bowers, who is going into his second year as a pro. With the valuable experience gained as part of the NHL’s return-to-play bubble over the summer, Bowers should be in mind as an option for the coaching staff at some point, and see his NHL debut as well.
Let’s not forget the Avalanche’s propensity for giving minor league veterans a look, and 25-year old defenseman Kyle Burroughs, whom they received in a trade with the New York Islanders, fits the bill. In his five years with the organization he never received a call-up, much less an NHL game. That will likely change in Colorado.
With an NHL regular season that is expected to extend through the spring and perhaps as late into May, there’s a possibility that prospects who don’t start the season playing pro in Colorado could become available as their current teams wrap-up their own schedule of games. This most notably applies to Alex Newhook and Justus Annunen who are playing in the NCAA and Finland, respectively. Annunen is already signed to an NHL contract, and Newhook is expected to once he decides to leave Boston College. Both could be important depth for a long playoff run into the summer.
There’s always a long shot or two who end up getting a look for one reason or another. Perhaps other Europeans or NCAA players, such as Nikolai Kovalenko or Sampo Ranta, could sign their entry-level contracts and find themselves suiting up for an NHL game in the spring as well. Another unlikely possibility is if some depth prospects in the AHL like Nick Henry impress enough to get an opportunity. Hey, stranger things have happened.
What do you think? Who will we see in burgundy and blue for the first time?
How many NHL debuts will the Avalanche have in the 2021 season?
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