The NHL is a league built on surprises. Last season the Golden Knights took the league by storm making a run to the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural season. A storyline that huge seemed to overshadow the miraculous turnover that happened in Colorado.
The 2016 Avalanche put together one of the worst seasons in NHL history when they only managed 48 points the entire season. Through the first third of the 2017 season, it seemed as though the Avalanche were on their way to their fourth straight season without a playoff berth.
Colorado was on pace for another 40 loss season under coach Jared Bednar and the season looked to be over just as quickly as it had begun.
However, in a turn of events, the Avs were able to spin off 10-straight wins between December 28th and January 23rd, vaulting them to 57 points and a slot in the NHL playoffs as a wild card team.
The win streak was an added boost to the confidence of an Avalanche team that most experts thought had no business being in playoff contention. Finally, on the last day of the season, they were able to defeat the St. Louis Blues in what was a win and get in scenario. The Avs went on to lose to the Nashville Predators in six games, but now Colorado knows that they can compete at a high level and this is a team that you can not sleep on headed into the 2018 season, and there are plenty of reasons why.
Last season Nathan MacKinnon forced his way into the spotlight with one of the biggest breakout seasons the league has ever seen. Before the 2017 season, MacKinnon’s highest point total was 63 in 82 games. Last year he managed 97 points in just 74 games.
MacKinnon was second in the league only to Connor McDavid in points per game with 1.31. Every night MacKinnon played he made an impact, in the eight games he missed the Avalanche only averaged 2.13 goals per game. Significantly less than the 3.13 goals per game they averaged with him healthy.
There is no denying MacKinnon’s star power. Whenever he is on the ice, there is always a good chance he will make the most of it. It would not be surprising to see him make another run at the Hart Memorial Trophy in 2018.
Currently, the Avalanche have the fourth youngest roster in the league, which is incredible considering they are coming off a playoff berth. This is a team that is only going to get better. The Avs are loaded with young talent at multiple positions. Their first line features three players all 25 years and younger in Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.
The Colorado roster features six players that were once top ten draft picks. The talent is there for the Avs, and in 2018 this team should only get better. It will be the team’s second season under Head Coach Bednar, so now we will get to see his system take shape.
Last season the play of Colorado’s specialist was a significant reason as to why they were able to thrive. They finished 2018 with the eighth best power play in the league at 21.9 percent. The Avalanche were one of three teams to have three players in the top 20 for power-play points throughout the season.
Mikko Rantanen was the biggest surprise for the Avalanche power play wise in 2017. Rantanen finished the year eighth in power play points with 35 and was third in power play ice time across the entire league. Mikko’s abilities are a significant reason as to why Colorado’s power play unit was able to climb from a league-worst 12.6 percent all the way to 21.9.
Colorado countered their deadly power play with a dominant penalty killing unit. The Avalanche finished the year with the fourth best penalty kill in the league at 83.3 percent. Defensemen Erik Johnson and Patrik Nemeth were the leading killers for the Avs and after last season that will probably stay the same.
Nemeth set the tone for the power play by not being afraid to throw his body around. Patrik finished last year third in blocked shots on the penalty kill with 49. Colorado fed off their home crowd on penalty killed a lot last season, and that led to a league-best 91.7 percent success rate on power plays at home.
Carrying It All Into Next Season
The Avalanche finished last year very strong, and they will have a lot of confidence heading into the new year. They added two veteran players that have Stanley Cup wins in Ian Cole and Philipp Grubauer. Colorado believes they are a team that can make a run this season and they have every right to believe it.
They will have success in 2018 if they play with the same heart that they did last season. As long as they keep to their game, there is no reason why this team cannot make a deep playoff run. They have a talented young roster that is hungry to make some noise this upcoming season. Do not sleep on the Avalanche.