The NHL has grown more optimistic that a summer return is likely, taking steps towards navigating the COVID-19 pandemic to finish the regular season in its entirety and play a full playoff.
In Colorado, the Avalanche were one of the most injury-riddled teams at the March 12th pause. They were without superstar center Nathan MacKinnon and top-six forwards Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky. Also missing was depth forward Matt Calvert, who was enjoying a career-year offensively, starting goaltender Philipp Grubauer and the often-forgotten Colin Wilson, who has not played since October.
With all of these players potentially healthy come July (or whenever the season resumes), Avs coach Jared Bednar and his staff will have decisions to make on which forwards will play.
With 14 capable forwards and 12 slots to fill, the two on the outside are likely Tyson Jost and Wilson. And make no mistake, both are capable players that will likely play at some point. Jost, while in the midst of a disappointing season, has seven points in his last nine games. Wilson proved his worth during Colorado’s 2019 playoff run.
The top line remains intact
While the trio of MacKinnon, Rantanen, and captain Gabriel Landeskog have not played much together this season because of rotating injuries and line shuffling, a healthy Avalanche lineup should lead to Bednar uniting one of the most productive lines in the NHL in recent years.
Landeskog entered the break on an offensive tear, recording 11 goals and 27 points in 26 games. His offensive production was much-needed in March when the Avs were dealing with the bulk of their injuries.
The eighth-year captain has a history of revamping his game heading into the playoffs and this season was no different.
Newcomers invade the middle-six
The Avalanche’s successful offseason acquisitions gave them the depth scoring they’ve been yearning for over the past two years. The trades for Kadri and Burakovsky and free-agent signings Joonas Donskoi and Valeri Nichushkin have each paid off.
But GM Joe Sakic continued his run of successful acquisitions at the trade deadline, acquiring Vladislav Namestnikov from the Ottawa Senators. Namestnikov, 27, was an instant success in Denver, scoring four goals and six points in nine games. He was brought in to play a depth role but was quickly relied upon to play top-line minutes after injuries to Colorado’s top six.
The Avalanche’s second line will likely consist of Kadri, Burakovsky, and either Nichushkin, Namestnikov or Donskoi. The other two will make up Colorado’s third line alongside center J.T. Compher.
Nichushkin’s latest success with Kadri and Burakovsky may have earned him that second-line role. And if such is the case, the third line of Namestnikov, Compher and Donskoi gives the Avalanche an outstanding hard-working line that can pitch in offensively and shut down the opposition’s best players.
The successful fourth-line combination
Calvert and Matt Nieto played with center Carl Soderberg in 2018-19. What was once Colorado’s second line quickly became the fourth after a bevy of acquisitions and a trade that sent Soderberg to Arizona. Sakic added Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on July 1 and the center quickly replaced Soderberg’s presence with the two wingers.
Considering the success this line has had all season, it would be wise to keep them together.
For the first time in three years, the Avs finally have the depth to withstand the rigors of a long playoff run.