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How the 2019-20 Colorado Avalanche were assembled: Part 1

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How did the 2019-20 Avalanche come to be?

NHL: New York Rangers at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019-20 Colorado Avalanche were one of the most fun teams to watch at the Pepsi Center over the last decade. Whether it be a Nathan MacKinnon goal, yelling the signature Philipp Grubauer chant after every save, dazzling plays by Cale Makar, a big Nikita Zadorov hit, the list goes on-and-on. When the NHL season was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Avalanche sat 2 points behind the St. Louis Blues for first place in the Western Conference, and third place in the entire league with a record of 42-20-8.

Despite the fact that Samuel Girard and Matt Nieto were the only players to suit up in all 70 games the Avs played in the regular season, the team always found a way to win night in and night out. With the playoffs not expected to start until mid-July at the earliest, I thought it would be interesting to look back at how every player came together under Joe Sakic and Jared Bednar for the Avalanche this season.


Feb. 19, 2011

The journey begins on February 19th, 2011, where the first piece of the 2019-20 Avalanche are brought to Denver via trade. The St. Louis Blues trade former 1st overall pick, Erik Johnson (D), and Jay McClement (F), and a conditional 1st round pick to the Colorado Avalanche, in exchange for Chris Stewart (F), Kevin Shattenkirk (D), and a conditional 2nd round pick. Johnson, (who was 22 at the time), was not as offensively minded as Kevin Shattenkirk ended up being, but Johnson was a lot better in the defensive end and added some physicality to the team. Now, at 32 years old, Johnson is still our top shutdown defenseman, and an alternate captain. This past season, in 59 games, “The Condor” posted 3 goals and 13 assists for 16 points, with a +9 rating.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

FORWARDS

? - ? - ?

? - ? - ?

? - ? - ?

? - ? - ?

DEFENSE

? - ?

? - Johnson

? - ?

GOALIES

?

?

EXTRAS

? - ? - ? - ? - ?


Jun. 25, 2011

Fast forward to the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. With a record of 30-44-8, and 68 points, the Avalanche finished the 2010-11 season 29th in the NHL out of 30 teams, only beating out the Edmonton Oilers. This set the Avs up to select 2nd overall in the draft. The Avalanche would select Swedish forward Gabriel Landeskog with the pick, and was thought to be the most physically ready forward for the NHL among other draftees.

Nine seasons later, Landeskog has lived up to the hype of a 2nd overall pick. As 13 of one of the best lines in hockey. This past season, Landeskog had an injury that kept him out for 16 games, but in 54 games, still posted 21 goals and 23 assists for 44 points, while being a -2 rating.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at New York Islanders Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

FORWARDS

Landeskog - ? - ?

? - ? - ?

? - ? - ?

? - ? - ?

DEFENSE

? - ?

? - Johnson

? - ?

GOALIES

?

?

EXTRAS

? - ? - ? - ? - ?


Sep. 4, 2012

On September 4th, 2012, the Colorado Avalanche announced that Gabriel Landeskog would be becoming the teams captain, taking the reign from Avs legend Milan Hejduk. At the time Landeskog was becoming the youngest captain in NHL history,at only 19 years and 286 days old. Landeskog stripped this honor from Penguins star Sidney Crosby by a small margin of 11 days, but has since been stripped of it by Oilers star Connor McDavid. Ever since, Landy has been one of the Avs most outstanding members on and off the ice, doing great things for the community, as well as being an ambassador for Friends Colorado, an organization that raises awareness on preventing bullying in Colorado Schools.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

May 10, 2013

After the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, there was a shakeup in management in Colorado. The club announced that former captain and Avs legend Joe Sakic would be taking over duties as general manager, replacing Greg Sherman, who stepped down into a assistant GM role. This was a crucial move for the future of the franchise, as Sakic after a few down seasons with the team, pulled it all together, and has seemingly struck gold on every move he’s made. His first big move as GM would come just over one month later at the 2013 NHL Draft.

2016 NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7 Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

Jun. 30, 2013

June 30th, 2013 was a monumental moment for the future of the Avalanche. Holding the 1st overall pick of the 2013 NHL draft, all eyes were on the Colorado Avalanche, who were speculated to have two options as the 1st overall pick. Seth Jones, a Defenseman from the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey league (WHL), spent some time growing up in Colorado while his father, “Popeye” Jones, played for the Denver Nuggets from 1999-2000. The Avalanche finished 29th in the league for goals against in 2012-13, and with the history of Seth Jones in Denver, lead some scouts to believe that Seth Jones would be the 1st overall pick. The other player was Nathan MacKinnon, who played for the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). A speedy center with a very potent offensive skill set, was projected to be the #1 pick prior to the beginning of the junior season, was temporarily stripped of the stock by Seth Jones mid-season. MacKinnon would retain his status come draft time however, with dominating playoff performances, as well as clutch performances in the gold medal game of the World Juniors, and the final game of the Memorial Cup, notching a hat trick in both games. The only speculation towards MacKinnon going 1st overall to Colorado, was that the team already had a deep center core, with Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, and Paul Stastny already on the team. Sakic took the podium, and announced that the Avalanche would select MacKinnon with their pick, and now it can be easily said that it was the right decision. After three decent seasons under his entry-level contract, some would begin to label him a bust, as he was believed to not be living up to the hype that surrounded him.

Finally, in his fifth pro season, MacKinnon would emerge as a true superstar, putting up 97 points in 2017-18, as well as being the runner-up for the Hart Trophy for league MVP, and he has not looked back since. With a 99 point campaign in 2018-19, and a 93 point campaign in 2019-20, MacKinnon solidified himself as a top 5 player in the NHL.

NHL: FEB 06 Avalanche at Senators Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

FORWARDS

Landeskog - MacKinnon - ?

? - ? - ?

? - ? - ?

? - ? - ?

DEFENSE

? - ?

? - Johnson

? - ?

GOALIES

?

?

EXTRAS

? - ? - ? - ? - ?


Jun. 25, 2015

After a successful 2013-14 campaign and an upsetting round 1 game 7 defeat to the Minnesota Wild, followed by an upsetting 2014-15 campaign, the stacked 2015 draft was on the horizon in Sunrise, Florida. With all eyes on players such as Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Mitch Marner, and others, the Avalanche held the 10th overall pick. However, before the Avs would make their selection, they would make a trade with the Buffalo Sabres, just as the Sabres selected Jack Eichel. The Avs traded Ryan O’Reilly (F), and Jamie McGinn (F), in exchange for Nikita Zadorov (D), J. T. Compher (F), Mikhail Grigorenko (F), and a 2nd round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.

Zadorov was a 20 year-old Defenseman from Moscow, Russia. Coming in at 6’ 6” and 235 pounds, it was clear that Zadorov was a defensively minded defenseman, who loved to throw the body around the ice. Originally drafted 16th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft by Buffalo, Zadorov played 67 games as a Sabre over two seasons. He spent his first year, (2015-16) in Colorado as mostly an AHL defenseman, only getting into 22 games for the Avs, but after that became a regular in the lineup, and has given the Avs many highlight reel hits, as well as picking up the nickname “Menace” for his locker room antics, as well as his pranks he pulls on teammates during interviews.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at New York Islanders Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The other piece to the current core is J. T. Compher. A former 2nd round pick of the Sabres in 2013, never played a game for the club, as he was playing for the University of Michigan in the NCAA. His first pro season, (2015-16), was spent with the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL, where he put up a respectable 13 goals, and 17 assists for 30 points. During the dreadful 2016-17 season, Compher would get called up to the Avs late in the season, and on March 15th, 2017, scored his first NHL goal, fittingly against the Detroit Red Wings. Compher has stuck in the lineup ever since, and has been a solid 3rd liner, and penalty killer. He also scored some very clutch goals in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, scoring the game tying goal in Game 2 against the Calgary Flames that sent the game into overtime, a big goal in Game 4 to cut the Calgary lead in half, and 2 goals in an elimination Game 6 against the San Jose Sharks. The Avs won all three games Compher scored in, and without Compher, those games are likely not won, and the outlook of the team is very different. He signed a 4-year extension in the summer of 2019, so barring a trade he’s here to stay.

San Jose Sharks v Colorado Avalanche - Game Four

With the trade under their belts, the Avs were ready to make their selection. Considering that this was a star-studded draft, and one of the best draft classes in recent memory, The Avs were ready to add a future key roster piece to their arsenal. The Avs were looking to add a Right Winger most notably, and at this point in the draft, only one right winger, Timo Meier, had gone, and one pick before Colorado picked. With some Sportsnet analysts speculating Lawson Crouse was the guy, others thought Mikko Rantanen was the safer, and better pick.

The Avs would use their pick on Rantanen, and after giving up some forward depth in the trade minutes before, they made the right pick. Playing for TPS Turku of the SM-Liiga in Finland, Rantanen was a boy playing against men at 18 years old. He had an impressive showing over in Finland, even dawning an A on his jersey, which was impressive at his age. Rantanen would spend his first pro North American season in the AHL, but would join the Avs for the horrid 2016-17 season, where he was the only 20 goal-scorer on the team that season, with 20 goals and 18 assists for 38 points, an impressive rookie season on an awful team. He would join a line with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog the next season, and he would shine alongside MacKinnon for his own breakout season, scoring 29 goals and 55 assists for 84 points in 81 games. He then put up 31 goals and 56 points in 74 games in 2018-19, and would still creep around point-per-game this past season, with 19 goals and 22 assists for 41 points in 42 games. He has lined with MacKinnon and Landeskog for 3 seasons now, and the trio have shined as one of the best lines in the NHL. Rantanen also signed a huge deal last summer, as the Avs locked him up for an additional six seasons, at $9.25 million per season. As long as he isn’t victim to anymore gruesome injuries like he was twice this season, Rantanen, now at 23 years-old, will be a massive piece to the Avs for many years to come.

Calgary Flames v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

FORWARDS

Landeskog - MacKinnon - Rantanen

? - ? - ?

? - ? - Compher

? - ? - ?

DEFENSE

? - ?

? - Johnson

? - Zadorov

GOALIES

?

?

EXTRAS

? - ? - ? - ? - ?


Jun. 24, 2016

The 2015-16 season saw the Avalanche celebrate their 20th season in the league. After a mediocre 2014-15 season, the Avs were looking to bounce back to 2013-14 form. They would be around the playoff race all season, even buying at the 2016 trade deadline for Mikkel Boedker, Eric Gelinas, and Shawn Matthias. They would fall short of playoffs however, and would end up finishing 10th in the draft lottery for a second straight year. The 2016 NHL Draft was highlighted by Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, and Jesse Puljujarvi, and these three went 1st, 2nd, and 4th overall. The Avs would end up adding to their young forward core, selecting Centerman Tyson Jost, from the Penticon Vees of the BCHL. Jost was noted for being a great all-around hockey player, drawing comparison to Hurricanes legend Rod Brind’Amour. Jost would go on to play hockey at the University of North Dakota, where he would further develop his game, before joining the Avs roster full-time in the 2017-18 season. While some may say he has been disappointing as a top 10 pick, there are a lot of Avs fans who are in love with how Jost plays on a nightly basis. He hasn’t put the big numbers, with only 8 goals and 15 assists for 23 points in 67 games, but he has been a solid 3rd line forward, who brings great energy to the bottom six. He is an RFA at the end of the season, and it is uncertain what Sakic plans to do with him going forward, but he would be a great 3rd liner to keep around. Maybe all that’s needed is some patience with Jost, just like MacKinnon’s growth.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports


FORWARDS

Landeskog - MacKinnon - Rantanen

? - ? - ?

? - Jost - Compher

? - ? - ?

DEFENSE

? - ?

? - Johnson

? - Zadorov

GOALIES

?

?

EXTRAS

? - ? - ? - ? - ?


Jul. 8, 2016

One week into Free Agency, there had been some questionable signings, with players getting outrageous deals from various teams, and as of now it’s been one of, if not the worst free agent class in recent memory. Behind all the mistakes other teams made, Sakic made out like a bandit, signing the contract that is now the biggest steal of a contract in the entire NHL. On July 8th, 2016, Sakic extended Nathan MacKinnon to a 7-year, $44.1 million dollar deal, with an average annual value (AAV) of $6.3 million. At the time of the signing, the contract didn’t seem like a steal at all, since MacKinnon had yet to break out into a superstar, but in the second year of the deal, it instantly became a bargain. Now on three straight 90+ point seasons, and still with three more years on the deal, MacKinnon’s contract has given the Avs so much flexibility with their roster, as they have had plenty of cap space to work with the last couple of off-seasons. This deal becomes sweeter for Avs fans, as MacKinnon has stated himself that he will take a pay cut to help the team win on his next deal as well.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Aug. 25, 2016

After previous head coach and franchise legend Patrick Roy abruptly resigned two weeks prior, Sakic now had to rush to find a replacement amidst training camp for the 2016-17 season. The Avalanche decided on Jared Bednar, a coach who had seen success in the ECHL and AHL, additionally winning the AHL Calder Cup the 2015-16 season with the Columbus Blue Jackets affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters. Bednar would be seen as an awful coach after his first season behind the Avs bench, coaching the team to a 22-56-4 record. This poor start was the only necessarily bad season Bednar has had as an NHL coach. Despite the seemingly annual skid the team will go through at times, the Avalanche have made the playoffs the past three seasons under Bednar. In two of those seasons, Bednar was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, given to the best coach in the NHL.

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Colorado Avalanche Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Jan. 5, 2017

In the middle of the atrocious season, the Avs decided to go after a couple of waiver claims. The first waiver claim was forward Matt Nieto. Put on waivers by the San Jose Sharks, Nieto had spent his entire career with the Sharks, and was in the middle of his 4th season at the time of him being put on waivers. Since then, Nieto has been a mainstay in the Avs bottom six, killing penalties, and scoring a few shorthanded goals. The 27 year-old forward finished this past season with 8 goals and 13 assists for 21 points, and was one of only two players to play in all 70 games this season for the Avs. Nieto is a UFA at seasons end, and what happens with him is yet to be determined.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

FORWARDS

Landeskog - MacKinnon - Rantanen

? - ? - ?

? - Jost - Compher

Nieto - ? - ?

DEFENSE

? - ?

? - Johnson

? - Zadorov

GOALIES

?

?

EXTRAS

? - ? - ? - ? - ?


Feb. 2, 2017

The next waiver claim the Avs tried to hit on in the 2016-17 season was Mark Barberio of the Montreal Canadiens. Barberio spent parts of five seasons between the Habs, and the Tampa Bay Lightning before being claimed on Colorado. Barberio has been the 7th defensman on this team for his entire tenure, having not played in more than 46 games in a season with the Avs, and he only played in 21 games this season, posting only 2 assists. It is rumored that Barberio has a contract in place to go to Lausanne HC of the Swiss National League, once 2020 free agency opens.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Colorado Avalanche Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

FORWARDS

Landeskog - MacKinnon - Rantanen

? - ? - ?

? - Jost - Compher

Nieto - ? - ?

DEFENSE

? - ?

? - Johnson

? - Zadorov

GOALIES

?

?

EXTRAS

? - ? - ? - ? - Barberio


Here is Part 2