The Colorado Avalanche are having a great bounce-back year, after last season’s disaster. One reason they had a rough season was due to poor defensive play. They were outshot almost every game they played. The Avalanche have been known for having a poor blue line for a long time now. They are known as a team that had to score four or five goals to win a game.
Colorado Avalanche Defensive Core Has A Bright Future
While they haven’t had the best goaltending, that is not the biggest issue. Even an all-star goalie can only do so much when he is facing 40 plus shots a night. While part of the bounce-back season the Avalanche are enjoying is undoubtedly due to Nathan MacKinnon‘s breakout season; the defence is also playing a lot better than in recent memory. They are being outshot far less frequently and even if they are it’s by just a few shots. The even better news is that this is just the start. The future of their blue line looks very bright through players they acquired through free agency, trades, and drafting.
Nikita Zadorov (22)
Nikita Zadorov is the biggest player on the Avalanche and when he plays like it opposing forwards better keep their head up. If you need proof just ask Mark Scheifele who was on the receiving end of two huge hits last season this being the worst of the two.
Zadorov was having his breakout season last year but it was derailed due to an injury that ended his season. This year, he has picked up right where left off. He is playing physical which the team expects. He is also playing a lot smarter. This is his third season with the Avalanche and in the two seasons before he has shown his immense potential but also inconsistency. He followed a great play with a bad play. It looks for now that he has solved this issue. He has played great all year and made the smart play when he needs to.
He has also shown his ability to be a well-rounded defenseman by adding offence to his game. In his first two seasons with the team he had 12 points. This year he has 11 points at the half-way point in the season. With Zadorov being the oldest of these young defensemen he will be key in helping the other younger players when they make the team in the near future.
Samuel Girard (19)
Samuel Girard is one of the pieces acquired in the Matt Duchene trade. In fact, some would say that he was the centrepiece to the Avalanche’s end of the deal. Girard was eligible for the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championship and would have easily been on the team but the Avalanche thought it would be better for his development for him to play with them instead. That right there shows you the confidence the team has in him. While he has not played his best hockey yet, he is only 19-years-old and defencemen typically take longer then most players to fully develop. Girard has shown great glimpses into his potential.
Girard is considered an offensive-defenseman. He doesn’t really have the numbers to prove that but it will come to him the more he plays in the NHL. The two most exciting parts of his game are that he plays very smart defensively and has a very strong poke check which he uses very effectively. He is a little undersized which people have their concerns about. Girard has shown that this will not be an issue. He uses his great skating abilities to get out of bad situations and move the puck up the ice. He has also uses his skating in the offensive zone to create opportunities most defensemen can’t which is why his offensive numbers will start to come along.
Cale Makar (19)
Cale Makar was the Avalanche first-round draft pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, taken 4th overall. Makar is another offensive-defenseman. During the draft, he was compared to Erik Karlsson. This is huge praise as Karlsson has won two Norris Trophies. He has been one of, if not the best offensive defenseman, in the NHL since he joined the league in 2008.
Makar showcased his elite play in the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championship where he won gold with Team Canada. He finished the tournament ninth in points with eight. The only defenseman in the top 10, he tallied three goals and five assists in seven games with two goals coming off the power play. Makar started the tournament as the 7th defenseman but forced the coaches hand to play him more. He took full advantage of the opportunity. Makar currently plays for the University of Massachusetts, but it’s going to be very exciting seeing him in an Avalanche jersey in a year or two.
Conor Timmins (19)
Conor Timmins was a second round pick for the Avalanche taken 32nd overall in the 2017 NHL Draft. He is considered by many scouts to be a steal, as he could have easily been a first-round pick. This is huge for the Avalanche as they are trying to fix their past drafting woes and stocking up on great defencemen. Timmins also played in the World Juniors and also won the gold with Canada. He scored five points one goal and four assists. Timmins was considered one of the best defensemen in the OHL when he was drafted. He hopes to bring his size and well-rounded play to the Avalanche. Timmins has the potential to be a top-four defenseman in the NHL. Timmins continues to play for his major junior team the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds this season.
With Zadorov, Girard, Makar, and Timmins the Avalanche have built a strong core for their blue line. Add in the fact that Johnson (29) and Barrie (26) could still be around for a while, and Chris Bigras continues to develop, and there is hope that the young Avalanche defensive core could grow to become one of the league’s best in the next several years.
Main Photo: RALEIGH, NC – FEBRUARY 17: Colorado Avalanche Defenceman Nikita Zadorov (16) passes the puck up ice in a regular season NHL game between the Colorado Avalanche and the Carolina Hurricanes at the PNC Arena on February 17, 2017. Colorado defeated Carolina 2 – 1 in OT. (Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)