The Colorado Avalanche grabbed Nathan MacKinnon with the number one pick in the NHL Draft. They did not trade the pick or blow the decision or do anything else that would lead fans to believe that the next leadership in Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic are taking the team in a questionable direction. While it’s still too hot for the ice to freeze, the same question awaits this years Avalanche. Can they score?
I’ll admit it, I was sure the Avalanche were going to be a high-powered offense last year in the lockout-shortened season. The year before, Gabe Landeskog’s rookie year, there was a stretch in early March where this team looked really good after acquiring Steve Downie and Jamie McGinn. That team then fizzled out of contention.
The same could be said for the first month of the Avs 2010-2011 campaign before Chris Stewart broke his hand in a fight. Nothing about the Avs last playoff team, 2009- 2010, screamed offense when Craig Anderson had to make up for the rest of the team’s inferiority. There’s a pattern of offensive promise that fades year after year.
So the lack of an explosive offense is a continual problem for the Avalanche. Does the draft change anything?
The Avalanche will start next fall with four top forwards they were missing last year in Mackinnon, Alex Tanguay, Steve Downie and Ryan O’Reilly. Tanguay was acquired in a trade for the underperforming David Jones, while Downie suffered a season ending injury before taking the ice. O’Reilly was locked in a contract dispute with the club and never took off. These guys occupying top nine forward spots instead of Chuck Kobasew, Aaron Palushaj, John Mitchell and Cody McLeod should boost the team’s numbers significantly.
In 48 games last season, the Avalanche scored 114 goals, but gave up 150. Their average goals scored per game was 2.33, while opponents scored 3.07. The .74 split was second worse in the league behind the Florida Panthers. Correcting this in any fashion would go along way to increasing the Avalanche’s productivity. More scoring, combined with defensive improvements, which hopefully the Avs are working on, could propel this team back into contention.
Avs coach Patrick Roy released starting top 3 line combinations after the draft yesterday to Adrian Dater.
Ryan O’Reilly — Matt Duchene — P.A. Parenteau
Gabe Landeskog — Paul Stastny — Alex Tanguay
Jamie McGinn — Nathan MacKinnon — Steve Downie
Just working off of this framework. Duchene and Parenteau were the only offensive bright spots for the Avs last year. Duchene has 17 goals and 43 points, while Parenteau recorded 18 goals and matched Duchene in points. The guy with the third highest production was Paul Stastny, who recorded a point every two games, ending with 24 points. O’Reilly, a natural center, has the skills to play wing, but it will definitely be an experiment. Hopefully the “feud” between O’Reilly and Duchene over contracts is over.
On the second line, Stastny is still consistent and by removing McGinn a winger line should help his game immensely. Although Tanguay seems ancient, at 33 he has 145 points in 183 games. His 27 points last year would have placed him third on the Avs. Coupled with a rebound season for Landeskog, this becomes a dangerous line as well.
Which leaves the mysterious third line. MacKinnon’s transition to the NHL will likely be key for the whole team. A healthy Steve Downie gives MacKinnon a grinder to do the dirty work and offer protection. Downie showed flashes of offense in his brief tenure with the Avalanche two years ago. McGinn needs a bounce back season after a dismal one last year. If the Avs can pick up another winger in free agency with more upside, I think they should dump McGinn. The team has waited too long on too many forwards who never reached their potential.
With these three lines offensive production should increase. Perhaps they won’t be the Chicago Blackhawks next year, but Avalanche fans may finally have the offense they’ve been waiting for. The defense is still a huge question mark for this team of course, but in the NHL any improvement goes along way.
Of course, I’ve been wrong before.