Joonas Donskoi calls Avalanche “best team I have ever played for”

Jan 2, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar (8) celebrates his goal with left wing Andre Burakovsky (95) and right wing Joonas Donskoi (72) in the second period against the St. Louis Blues at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Teammates Burakovsky, Cole share similarities between Avs and their past Cup-winning teams

Since returning to the playoffs in 2017-18, Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic has consistently made an effort to add players with playoff experience.

After suffering a one-goal defeat in Game 7 of the second round against the San Jose Sharks in 2019, the Avalanche signed Joonas Donskoi from San Jose. He, along with 2018 Stanley Cup champion Andre Burakovsky provided the roster with two more players that have appeared in a Stanley Cup Final.

For Donskoi, the 2016 Sharks were the best shot he’s had at hockey’s holy grail to this point in his career. But despite playing on a roster that included household names Joe Thornton, Brent Burns, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski, the Finnish forward believes this Avalanche team is superior.

“I think we have more depth here now,” Donskoi said in comparing the Avs to that Sharks team which was two games shy of winning it all. “I think I said this already but I feel like this team this year is the best team I have ever played for. We have tons of offensive skill. Four, even five good lines, who could all play good offensive hockey.”

Even though that particular San Jose roster is often looked at as one of the best teams to not win the Stanley Cup, Donskoi’s comments are not at all that farfetched. The Avalanche finished with the third-best record in the NHL, trailing only the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues — the two teams that battled for the Cup last year.

The talent this roster contains is easily the best Colorado has had in the salary cap era. But the successes of this season thus far go well beyond the on-ice product. Just ask Burakovsky, who spent the early years of his career in Washington on a star-studded roster that often could not get over the hump before finally winning its first Cup two years ago.

“When we won with Washington we had so much chemistry on and off the ice,” Burakovsky said. “Everyone was really helping each other, stepping up for each other and being there for each other off the ice. Everyone was super close. I feel like we have that same chemistry on this team.”

Burakovsky’s role in Washington was that of a depth player. In Colorado, the Austrian-born forward has solidified his role in the top-six, appearing often on the top line alongside All-Stars Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.

“When I look back, I think we have more depth here in Colorado right now than we did when we won the Stanley Cup with Washington,” he added. “Having chemistry on and off the ice is a big key. If everyone comes together as one unit, that’s going to take us a long way.”

The off-ice chemistry needed to win a Cup will probably never be more apparent than it is this season. The Avalanche will be one of 24 teams competing for the Stanley Cup in one of two hub cities in Canada. The players will spend up to two months together in a hotel. Further solidifying the need to build chemistry and the willingness to battle for your teammates.

Defenseman Ian Cole won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017. Led by future Hall of Famers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins found success not just because of their high-end talent, but from the ability to buy-in to coach Mike Sullivan’s commitment to building a family within the locker room.

The Michigan native certainly believes Colorado, led by head coach Jared Bednar, can contend for years to come.

“Having a deep roster and having guys that can contribute all the way through the lineup is really a huge first step to being a successful team,” Cole said at the conclusion of the Avalanche’s intrasquad scrimmage Thursday. “Being able to rely on all four lines and all three pairs of defensemen and your goalies is big. You need to be able to rely on everyone up there. Every team has good players on the first and second lines. But a lot of times the teams that are successful have third and fourth lines that can drive play.”

Injuries kept the Avs from having consistent lines in the regular season. But numerous players that appeared on the bottom lines and pairings posted career-best offensive numbers.

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who played in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final against Burakovsky, recorded a career-high in goals (nine), assists (13) and points (22) playing mostly on the fourth line. Matt Calvert finished with 25 points in 50 games, average 0.5 points-per-game. On the blueline, Cole had his best season yet with 26 points in 65 games while recording a career-high 92 shots on goal.

“Looking at our team, I think we very much check those boxes,” Cole continued. “There is a lot of excitement for our team and amongst the guys on our roster. It’s something that we’re very excited about and hopefully, we can have success and be a contender for a while.”

 

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