Avalanche relying on young defense for upcoming season

Feb 4, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Winnipeg Jets center Andrew Copp (9) is checked by Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov (16) in the second period at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Defense wins championships, and in the case of the Avalanche, this is the part of the game where they struggle the most.

However, there are a few young blueliners that Avalanche fans should take notice of, as they have the potential to steer the Avalanche back in the right direction again.

Nikita Zadarov

After signing a brand-new contract, Zadarov was one of the bright spots for the Avalanche last season. Last year, he was able to establish himself as a towering defenseman who’s completely willing to make a big hit during the game, as you’ll see from his explosive check against the Winnipeg Jets’ Mark Scheifle last season.

(Video courtesy of hockeyfights.com)

This season, he will be expected to take things to the next level. The addition of fellow countryman Andrei Mironov will go a long way for Zadarov, as both of them play a heavy, physical style, and they both can learn from each other.

Andrei Mironov

After spending a couple of seasons in the KHL, the former Avalanche draft pick has decided to take his talents to the NHL level. Mironov is similar to Zadarov; he’s extremely physical, and loves to aim for that big, open-ice hit.

However, it will be interesting to watch Mironov’s development throughout training camp and the preseason. He’ll have to adapt to the playing style of North American hockey, in comparison to the European style of hockey that is played in the KHL — including smaller rinks, and a very different pace.

(Video Courtesy of the KHL)

Tyson Barrie

As the Avalanche look to become a playoff-caliber team once more, Barrie will have to step up his game. Offensively, Barrie’s one of the most effective players on the ice, but the smallish defenseman is too often a liability in his own end.

In the 2017 season, Barrie will be considered one of the veterans of the squad, and will therefore be expected to lead the young players by example. The Avalanche will be relying on him to keep a consistent point-production basis on the offensive side, while also helping his younger teammates grow.

Mark Barberio

Barberio joined the Avalanche late last season when he was claimed off of waivers and he quickly established himself in the playing rotation by demonstrating his ability to see the ice and making smart and timely passes. He also showed composure with the puck, and he’s remarkably calm in any given situation throughout a game.

The Avalanche expect the same from Barberio this season, and hope that they’ve found what he looked to be last season — a diamond in the rough.

Erik Johnson

As the ‘old man’ of the group, 29-year-old Erik Johnson will be looked at a role model for the rookies, an important role as the Avalanche look to change their culture after a season that everyone is eager to forget.

When healthy, Johnson is arguably the best defenseman on the Avalanche roster. He does everything right on the defensive end of the game, while keeping the opposition on their toes. Johnson’s capable of turning on the jets to create scoring opportunities, like he did in overtime against the Chicago Blackhawks last season.

(Video courtesy of Samboke)

Chris Bigras

It may finally be time to see Bigras make the leap up to the Avalanche in a full-time role. He’s been spending the past few seasons developing with the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL, but it’s not a given. There are plenty of NHL hopefuls at training camp with the Avalanche, ready to make their cases for the roster — though the Avs’ top defensive prospect will get every chance to prove himself first.

The Avalanche brass chose to more or less stand pat with their defense; no major free agents were signed, and no significant trades were made. They’re gambling that they already have the right pieces in place — and if the team is to climb out of the NHL’s cellar, they had better be right.

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