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MHH Roundtable: The season is finally here!

Hearing from our staff on what the future holds for the Colorado Avalanche.

Colorado Avalanche vs Seattle Kraken for game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Ball Arena in Denver, Colorado Photo by Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

We’ve made it.

After Tuesday night’s tripleheader, the Colorado Avalanche play today in a meaningful competitive hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings! Therefore, it’s time to see where we stand heading into the start of the season!

Do you think Justus Annunen deserved the chance to back up Alexandar Georgiev?

Evan: I think Justus should’ve been served. Annunen had proved in the preseason he is capable and reliable as a number two netminder, especially in the game away to the Dallas Stars. He isn’t a starter by any means but could get the job done. Instead, the Avs have gone with Ivan Prosvetov who they picked up on waivers from the Arizona Coyotes. I didn’t think Chris MacFarland needed to look elsewhere for a goaltender, but the move is understandable as there is little to no depth behind Annunen in the system.

Ezra: I don’t think it’s a question of whether or not he deserved it - I think they prefer he gets consistent starts to continue his development, rather than watching Georgiev from the bench most nights. I am surprised they decided to give a different young goalie a chance instead of Justus, however — I was expecting them to claim a veteran backup because while Annunen can do the job, he’s better served getting his own net in Loveland.

Adrian: I believe Annunen has the potential to solidify himself as a true backup in the NHL and give the Avalanche good depth at the position. It would assuredly be better for the Avalanche franchise in the long term for the Francouz replacement to be found internally. Enter Justus Annunen. Keep an eye on how many starts he gets as a barometer of Bednar’s confidence in the young netminder. I predict a busy end of 2023 for Alexandar Georgiev, who will likely get six of the first seven starts in October.

Luke: While I think he deserved an extended look at the NHL level, I understand the Avalanche going out and getting another guy. But the guy they got hasn't been great at the NHL level at all. So my question is more centered around the organization and how they feel about Annunen. They knew Francouz would be out, why are they now choosing to make a move now? Is this a development problem? Is it about getting Annunen into games instead of sitting? At some point, you need to see what Annunen can bring to the table. I still think Annunen can be a serviceable backup, but the Avalanche has made those waters a little more murky.

Jacob: No one “deserves” anything on a team that is chasing a championship every year, as every player must earn their spot on the rosters. Goalies are notoriously difficult to develop, and plenty become late bloomers because of this complicated process, so while it’s a bit surprising that the player the Avs have groomed for the NHL is not in the league just yet, with goalies, it’s always anyone’s guess.

Jackie: The truth is if Annunen isn’t going to get an opportunity in this situation then he never is. A big part of the development process is getting incremental runs in the NHL and this was a good time to give Annunen a little run. He’s not going to suddenly graduate to the NHL full-time without it. The fact that the Avalanche decided to forgo security and chose a goaltender selected in the same draft class (and a round later) as Annunen with no more proven NHL ability to then presumably develop a young netminder in the NHL sight unseen begs the question why the organization values their own development so little. The Colorado Eagles schedule is just as light as the Avalanche’s and with Annunen’s last year of waiver exemption, there could have been easy opportunities to get him starts in the AHL if he was sitting around too long so that’s not a valid excuse. It is good that Annunen is going on the opening road trip with the team but there’s nowhere for Prosvetov to go, either he’s in the NHL or back to Arizona, and the Avalanche won’t carry three goaltenders for long.

Eddie: Justus Annunen has been the definition of a mixed bag during his time in the NHL as many young goaltenders are. I think he showed well this preseason, but he’s only 23 and has not shown enough at the NHL level for a cup-contending team to comfortably use him as a backup goaltender. Ivan Prosvetov is a bit more proven and has more NHL-caliber tools to work with. As soon as the end of last March, Prosvetov posted three games in a row with a save percentage higher than .930, while also facing 30+ shots. Annunen has never had a performance like that in the NHL. Prosvetov has also had his downs but behind a better team and with more tools he should be a good stopgap backup for at least until Francouz returns.

Which of the new players will you be watching the closest?

Evan: Maybe contrary to popular belief, I’m watching Tomas Tatar very closely heading into the season. Tatar’s late signing in the summer is bringing some much-needed depth scoring on what should be a very dangerous third line. While he didn’t majorly impress in the preseason, he is still getting adjusted to the team and will look to provide once the season does begin. There have been glimpses of what he can do throughout training camp and the preseason, but can he prove it and be a valuable asset moving forward?

Jackie: I didn’t pay him much attention in camp and preseason because what NHL veterans do in training camp matters very little but what Jonathan Drouin is able to do with the massive top-line opportunity will be very interesting to me in the early part of the season.

Ezra: For me, it’s Ross Colton. He’s the only newcomer who is stepping into a truly elevated role, and he’s getting paid like the front office is expecting even more than that from him. If he can dominate at 3C this year, he will be squarely in the 2C conversation after Ryan Johansen’s deal expires next summer. More importantly for this season, if he drives a powerful third line this team will have the depth scoring it missed last year.

Adrian: It should come as no surprise to my fellow MHH writers and anyone who follows my work that I’ll be keying in on Jonathan Drouin’s debut as a Colorado Avalanche. This story can potentially be the biggest in the NHL this season, especially if Drouin and MacKinnon can rekindle a flame that was first sparked in Halifax. Can they recreate the magic and once again sit atop the hockey ranks side by side? Time to find out.

Luke: I'm really interested to see what Olofsson does as 4C. He beat out Meyers and Tufte just isn't good enough as a center. Olofsson looked really good in his stint with Dallas last year, so between O'Connor and Cogliano, I'm very interested to see how that fourth line is utilized.

Jacob: The biggest problem last year was the lack of production at 2C trickling down to the rest of the lineup, so whoever is occupying that spot will get the brunt of my attention. Ryan Johansen will get every opportunity to hold on to that job to begin the season, as the Avalanche clearly like the size pairing of him, Nichushkin, and anyone else, but if his production falters, Ross Colton would be the next man up. Should neither be able to fix the issues J.T. Compher was unable to address last year, the Avs will be scrambling big time to figure out an issue that was one of the chief factors in their first-round exit last year. If that doesn’t get fixed, I’m not sure that this year will yield much different results.

Eddie: Miles Wood started his Avalanche tenure off on a tenuous note when he was signed to a big six-year deal. A lot of people around the NHL were shocked by the term a bottom six player got and I think that reaction altered a lot of Avs fans’ view on the player. There is a track record of Wood taking an excessive amount of penalties, but last year his actual penalties taken took a step back and that lack of discipline is something I think the Avalanche culture can shake out of him. If that’s the case I think Wood can be one of the sneaky additions of the offseason for Colorado. He’s a fast intense player who plays such an aggressive game. He’s like a more skilled Logan O’Connor, a comparison I’m certainly not the first to make. With more talent and minutes around him, he could finally crack the 20-goal mark he has been so close to hitting in seasons prior.

Any bold predictions for the season (Avs-related or not)?

Evan: The Avalanche are under the radar of several people after their disappointing Cup defense last season. Let them doubt it when Gabriel Landeskog returns sometime around the start of the playoffs. With the addition of Nikolai Kovalenko at the end of the regular season as well, this Avs team is going to be extremely dangerous once April comes around.

Ezra: Chris MacFarland brings in another center at the deadline, either in exchange for or as an injury replacement (knock on wood!) for RyJo.

Adrian: Nathan MacKinnon will finally win the Hart Trophy. This is his year. I’ll double down and say MacKinnon also gets his first Game 7 playoff victory this season. He might even net the game-winner.

Luke: For Colorado specifically, I had MacKinnon and Rantanen having more combined points than McDavid and Draisaitl. Makar hits 100 points, and Colton ends the year as the future 2C.

Jacob: Cale Makar is going to play a full season, put up some absolutely silly numbers, get some Hart Trophy consideration, and win the Norris Trophy running away.

Jackie: It is a bold prediction at this point to say the Avalanche will eventually waive Kurtis MacDermid when they need another forward in the lineup.

Eddie: Going back to my answer to the previous question I think Miles Wood can hit the 20-goal mark. He has had 17 and 19 earlier in his career. Wood has such a good combination of speed and size that fits in excellently with the Avs. If the third line of Wood, Ross Colton, and Tomas Tatar can gel and hit even the bare minimum of their expectations I think there’s a world where they all get to 20 goals. Even if the line doesn’t stick together there are a lot of other options the Avs can go with that can result in Wood setting a new career high in goals.

Who scores the first goal of the season in LA?

Evan: We’ll go simple with this, no real surprises here. Cale Makar gets one to find the twine on the power play for the first goal of the season.

Jackie: Be sure to check for my article on this topic where you will be able to vote for your selection. It always seems like someone unexpected and one of the newcomers is primed to make an early impression so I’ll go with Ryan Johansen and it is likely to happen on the power play.

Ezra: Like Jackie, I’m expecting the unexpected, so let’s say Logan O’Connor!

Adrian: I said it once, and I’ll say it again. Jonathan Drouin. If he doesn’t get the first goal, I bet he at least logs the primary assist on the play!

Luke: Rantanen starts his march towards the rocket with 68 more goals to go!

Jacob: I predict that Miles Wood slowly but surely begins to make good on a contract that had everyone scratching their heads this off-season.

Eddie: Val Nichushkin’s 2022-23 season was overcome with injuries and drama. I think he shakes that all off from the jump and tallies Colorado’s first goal of the season. Not only that but he has been pretty productive against Los Angeles in recent memory.