Ed. Note: Between now and the end of the month, we’ll be previewing each of the teams in the new-look Central Division. We have asked Ryan Boulding of Mile High Sports to help us preview the Colorado Avalanche, as he answers 5 questions we posed to him…
1. What kind of effect will Colorado’s new regime (Joe Sakic, Patrick Roy) have on the ice this season?
Having Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy in charge of the Colorado Avalanche already seems to be making an impact here in Denver. From the excitement around town to ticket sales and even to what has been seen on the ice already, bringing in some not-forgotten heroes has gone a long way in reviving a once vibrant hockey market.
Roy made an immediate impression at training camp with his boisterous style and intense amount of coaching. No drill was safe from multiple corrections until the players knew exactly what Roy wanted out of the scenario. It was, quite honestly, the most coaching many have seen at camp in a few years.
Roy has even gone as far as to, jokingly, offer to call on-the-fence ticket buyers in order to persuade them to come out and support the team. He knows the value of fans in the seats and calculates that into his plans.
2. Was Nathan MacKinnon the right selection at No. 1 overall, and what can we expect from him in 2013-14?
Many people in the business say that teams need to take the best player available at the top of the draft rather than select based on need. The Avalanche went out and executed on that plan and made the right choice in choosing Nathan MacKinnon. Given the club’s depth at center, the 18-year-old has very little pressure on him to be a superstar immediately.
MacKinnon is slated to start the season as the third line center – between Steve Downie and Jamie McGinn – and will support both Paul Stastny’s and Matt Duchene’s lines. This should open up some room for him and allow the development to happen on his own terms. He isn’t expected to “save the franchise.”
Seth Jones would have been asked to do a lot more in Denver early on.
3. Who is one player that is on no one’s radar (nationally) that could be in for a breakout season?
I think that people will be surprised by Erik Johnson this season. Call it a gut feeling if you will. Johnson looked really good at camp and was more than willing to step into the offensive role that people expect of him. He spent the summer working on his shot and has said that Roy has given the defense the go ahead to find some open ice and chip in.
Also, with forwards like Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly creating space in the offensive zone, Johnson could see a few more chances to let a canon blast go from the blue line.
4. What is the biggest concern surrounding the Avs heading into the season?
The biggest concern for the Colorado Avalanche heading into this new season is defense. It was bad last season and everyone knew it. There were few games where the Avalanche scored first and that put undue pressure on the forwards to score. Duchene and P.A. Parenteau had fantastic seasons given what they had to work with, but a lot of their points were in meaningless game situations.
With Roy coming in, changing the environment and implementing his own system, the defense could improve as much as it could easily continue to flounder. The Avalanche went with addition by subtraction, dumping Greg Zanon, waiving Matt Hunwick and trading Shane O’Brien, so it certainly won’t be any worse than it was last season.
If the defense can hold their own, goaltending should be up to snuff as well.
5. What is one thing that has to happen for the Avs to contend for the playoffs?
If the Avalanche hope to make the playoffs, they need to play a loose yet structured game. They have to know that they can battle back from any situation and win. They adopted a defeatist attitude too easily last season and were often self-defeating as a result.
Knowing that the lines should produce plenty of goals, the defensive game – for all involved – needs to be solid and effectual. With goals going in, goaltending trusting the defense and a solid own-zone presence, the Avalanche could be right in it in the West. It might start with a first-round exit, it could come following a near miss at the postseason, but the club is on the upswing again and it starts this year.
You can follow Ezra on Twitter: @RocksHockeyRyan