The 2022-23 Colorado Avalanche were chugging along and stringing some wins together despite a lengthy injury list in hopes for a strong surge this spring and into the playoffs but have hit a bit of a wall with Nathan MacKinnon now headlining that group. Here are our thoughts on the season thus far.
Other than the injury list what has been the biggest surprise thus far this season?
Evan: Alexandar Georgiev has been my biggest surprise of the year. When the news broke he’d be coming to Colorado to replace Stanley Cup champion Darcy Kuemper, the hope was there. As seen in years past though, new goaltenders have had slow starts with the Avs, but that has been far from the case. Arguably, he is a Vezina candidate with his .918 save percentage.
Adrian: I’d have to second Evan on this one. Georgiev has been a bright light in what has been a slightly dismal open to this season. If the Avalanche were healthy I’d imagine his numbers would be improved upon and he’s already a top-ten goalie in terms of saves above expected. McFarland and Sakic did it again.
Jackie: I’m very surprised that the prospects have been utilized so much thus far. Of course, that’s due to the injuries but AHL veterans haven’t been given the majority of the looks as in years past. It’s hard not to wonder if new AGM Kevin McDonald is influencing this attitude shift. Seeing guys like Jean-Luc Foudy and Sampo Ranta get multiple games is refreshing as both have shown well enough to prove that they were worth giving an NHL opportunity. Hopefully, this new philosophy continues because the organization desperately needs internally created depth.
Jacob: I’m not sure if this qualifies as a surprise given that Avs fans have been waiting for this breakout for a while now, but Martin Kaut has looked like a bona fide top 9 forward this year and once the Avalanche get the litany of injured players back, he could be a force in the bottom six.
Ezra: The defense corps in general has not been as good as expected this year, but the left side group has had a particularly rough go of it. Part of that is obviously injuries, but frankly this team has needed more from Devon Toews, Sam Girard, and especially Jacob MacDonald on the back end. When healthy, Bowen Byram looked fantastic at times but his underlying statistics were not good either.
As it has now been several weeks into the recovery timeline of many players, who are you most looking forward to getting back into the lineup?
Evan: I cannot wait for Gabriel Landeskog to get back out there. He’s done some small skating and drills but is a little ways away from game action. Once he does return to the ice, it will be a vital piece to return not just in terms of gameplay, but on the bench and in the locker room. His leadership and support for his teammates, coaching staff, and expertise he brings will give the Avs a ton of momentum for the second half of the season. He’ll lead the new second line, help the new faces in their new roles, instrument a vital role on an already dominant power play, and be a great guy to return to the lineup once the time is right.
Jackie: Now with Josh Manson out this team really needs help on the back end again so I’d love to see Bowen Byram return soon. So much of how they create offense starts with their exceptional defensemen. I do think getting Val Nichushkin back in the lineup will help a lot in so many areas and I’m really anticipating his return as well.
Adrian: I’m with Jackie here and am really anticipating the return of Valeri Nichushkin who began the season on a torrid pace. Before getting injured he was among the league's top point scorers and goal-getters, and he looked especially good on the powerplay. Something the Avalanche desperately needs to straighten out.
Jacob: We started writing this roundtable before the Nathan Mackinnon injury so that’s the easy answer, but given that the qualifier for this question is that “it has now been several weeks into the recovery timeline,” that disqualifies him from this question. I’m with Evan, this team desperately needs Gabriel Landeskog’s leadership both on and off the ice. With all the new faces coming in and out of the lineup, the team is really missing his steadying presence out there.
Ezra: Just some NHL bodies at this point, to be honest. Whoever it is can’t come back soon enough! But I will say, Bowen Byram seemed on the verge of a monster breakout when he got hurt, and I can’t wait to see if he’s able to pick up where he left off.
The silver lining to all the injuries has been the appearance of several prospects in the NHL. Which call-up has been the most interesting?
Evan: I’m happy to see Jacob MacDonald getting a lot of time in the back end. While he’s far from the most star-studded name to be in the NHL and has past experience, I think the experience he brings has been instrumental in defense. Working with a veteran like Erik Johnson will only help his toolkit if he is going to become a regular in the lineup. While he only has an assist to his name, his work in defense has helped the Avs win some close games but also had some down moments as of late which he hopefully turns around.
Adrian: I’m sort of answering this question but not really. To start the season the chatter was Compher or Newhook at 2C. That convo is well on the back burner with so many injuries, but with injuries and calls up’s, a guy like Newhook now will get a look with Rantanen . I’m hoping this leads to an uptick in his production and confidence.
Jackie: Jean-Luc Foudy’s speed, creativity, and tenacity jumped off the ice the second he made his NHL debut. It appears he could really help this team sooner than later despite still being only 20 years old and hopefully he gets more NHL looks especially in this injury crisis.
Jacob: I agree with Jackie that Foudy has been a very pleasant surprise this year, but in the interest of expressing a range of opinions I’ll go with Andreas Englund. He’s only played in six games this year so there’s not a whole lot to go on, but compared to how much the bottom half of the Avalanche forward group has struggled, Englund’s semi-steadiness has been impressive. He’s only turned the puck over twice in about 66 total minutes of game time and has posted a 47% Corsi for at 5-on-5, which is a figure you’re more than happy to get from your 9th defenseman.
Ezra: Foudy and Englund were also my first thoughts, but I got to this last so I’ll take Martin Kaut. He’s not flashing high end skill and he doesn’t play the high intensity forechecking game Coach Bednar likes from his bottom 6 group so I’m still not convinced there’s a fit for him long term in Colorado, but I love the smart little plays Kaut makes all over the ice. His compete level has been much more consistent than in his previous callups, too, and I suspect he won’t play another game for the Eagles this season - he just might end up a trade chip rather than a roster lock.
How do you see the Central Division battle shaping up for the rest of the season?
Evan: It’s going to be a battle between the Avs and the Dallas Stars. They are not slowing up anytime soon, and with a man on pace to break over 100 points in Jason Robertson, they are going to keep fighting. In the back, a young and rising star in Miro Heiskanen continues to do well in his own development. Behind him, Jake Oettinger has proved that his 72-save effort in Game 7 against the Calgary Flames last year was no fluke and is shutting down the opposition. Should they lose any of those guys, it’ll be a one-horse race for the Avs. However, the Stars will keep it interesting no doubt from here until April. However, the big if is if the Avalanche can get healthy again if they will actually get back up to the top of the division. I’m pretty worried about that if you ask me.
Adrian: I imagine the truth of the matter is the Central Division crown can’t really be talked about until the Avalanche is healthy once more. On top of that with each win the Avs get with such an undermanned roster, the more threatening they will be late in the season with a healthy group.
Jackie: The Winnipeg Jets have done a good job building up a cushion and will probably remain in the conversation all season along with Dallas. Now with injuries impacting Colorado’s play they might be fighting with the Minnesota Wild and unfortunately can’t count out the St. Louis Blues either.
Jacob: Barring a huge Avalanche run once they get healthy, the race should be wide open all year. Colorado’s injury bug has opened the door for everyone in the division, and Dallas, Winnipeg, and Minnesota are likely not going anywhere. Add in the fact that division doormats Arizona, Chicago, and possibly St. Louis should they decide to blow it up will provide easy points for Central Division teams all year long, and it will be very difficult for the Avs to run away with this thing. Three of their last nine games are against Dallas, Minnesota, and Winnipeg, so I wouldn’t expect the division to be decided any time before then.
Ezra: Minnesota looks toasted, so I think it’ll be Dallas fending off Winnipeg duking for the top spot while the husks of Colorado and St Louis vie for third. St Louis isn’t waiting to get half its roster back though, so the Avs should win that battle handily once healthy and likely catch the Jets and perhaps even the Stars by season’s end.