Avalanche season preview: Scoring depth still in question

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The 2021-22 NHL season starts Oct. 12. With training camps opening this week, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the Colorado Avalanche.

Coach: Jared Bednar (sixth season)

Last season: 39-13-4; first in Honda West Division, lost to Vegas Golden Knights in Stanley Cup Second Round

3 KEYS

1. Scoring depth

They will again lean heavily on their top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, but they need to replace the production lost from forwards Joonas Donskoi, who was selected by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft on July 21, and Brandon Saad, who signed a five-year contract with the St. Louis Blues on July 29.

Among the options to replace Saad at left wing on the second line is rookie Alex Newhook. The 20-year-old stood out at Boston College and with the Colorado Eagles of the American Hockey League last season before earning a late call-up and getting three assists in six regular-season games and two points (one goal, one assist) in eight Stanley Cup Playoff games. 

J.T. Compher, Tyson Jost and Valeri Nichushkin could be relied on more to help offset the loss of Donskoi. Compher scored 18 points (10 goals, eight assists) in 48 games last season, Jost scored 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 54 games, and Nichushkin scored 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 55 games.

Video: Top 10 Nathan MacKinnon Plays from the 2021 Season

2. New-look goaltending

Darcy Kuemper was acquired in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes on July 28 after 2020-21 Vezina Trophy finalist Philipp Grubauer signed a six-year contract with Seattle earlier that day, leaving Colorado after three seasons. Kuemper was 10-11-3 with a 2.56 goals-against average, a .907 save percentage and two shutouts in 27 games for the Coyotes last season, missing 19 games because of a lower-body injury. He will share the workload with Pavel Francouz, who missed last season because of hip surgery. As a rookie in 2019-20, Francouz was 21-7-4 with a 2.40 GAA, a .923 save percentage and one shutout in 34 games (31 starts) for the Avalanche.

3. Kadri to bounce back

Nazem Kadri scored 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) and was minus-7 in 56 games last season, including scoring one goal in the final 26 games. He also was suspended for what proved to be Colorado’s final eight playoff games for an illegal check to the head of St. Louis defenseman Justin Faulk in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup First Round. Kadri’s absence was especially felt against the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round, when the Avalanche scored eight goals in the final four games of the series (all losses).

Video: Colorado Avalanche 2021-22 Season Preview

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Making the cut

Along with Saad and Donskoi, they also need to replace bottom-six forwards Matt Calvert, who retired July 22, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who signed a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning on July 28. Sampo Ranta is a contender to replace one of them after the 21-year-old made his NHL debut last postseason, playing two games against the Golden Knights. Ranta, who was a third-round pick (No. 78) in the 2018 NHL Draft, scored 31 points (19 goals, 12 assists) in 31 games as a junior at the University of Minnesota and seven points (four goals, three assists) in 14 AHL games before being called up.

Darren Helm, who signed a one-year contract July 29 after spending his first 14 NHL seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, could slot in as the fourth-line center. A defensive specialist, Helm likely will be used to kill penalties; he averaged 1:51 of shorthanded ice time per game last season.

Most intriguing addition

Kuemper will look to bounce back from two straight injury-plagued seasons; he missed nearly 10 weeks with a lower-body injury in 2019-20. When healthy, he was one of the best goalies in the NHL over the past three seasons. Since 2018-19, among goalies who have played at least 100 games, he is second in the NHL with a 2.35 GAA (Tuukka Rask, 2.30), and his .922 save percentage is tied for second with Andrei Vasilevskiy (Robin Lehner, .923). The 31-year-old is in the final season of the two-year contract extension he signed with Arizona on Oct. 2, 2019.

Biggest potential surprise

Mikhail Maltsev, acquired in a trade with the New Jersey Devils for defenseman Ryan Graves on July 15, has good size (6-foot-3, 198 pounds) and speed, and he showed some scoring touch as a rookie last season with nine points (six goals, three assists) in 33 games. A versatile two-way forward who can play left wing and center, Maltsev’s production could improve playing for Colorado, which led the NHL in scoring last season (3.52 goals per game).

Ready to break through

Bowen Byram, who was selected with the No. 4 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, is expected to see more playing time after injuries limited him to 19 games last season. The 20-year-old defenseman is a smooth skater and made strides in the defensive end last season, and although he had only two assists, Byram has shown he has natural instincts offensively — he scored 52 points (14 goals, 38 assists) in 50 games with Vancouver of the Western Hockey League in 2019-20. Byram could pair with veteran Erik Johnson, who missed all but four games last season with an upper-body injury.

Fantasy sleeper

Francouz is expected to back up Kuemper, who’s an elite option. Given Kuemper’s recent injury history, Francouz could be Colorado’s starter for stretches of the season and, at worst, will be an efficient backup for one of the strongest teams in the NHL, a role he excelled in when healthy two seasons ago. —¬†Rob Reese

Projected lineup

Gabriel Landeskog — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen

Alex Newhook — Nazem KadriAndre Burakovsky

Tyson Jost — J.T. Compher — Valeri Nichushkin

Mikhail Maltsev — Darren Helm — Logan O’Connor

Devon ToewsCale Makar

Ryan MurraySamuel Girard

Bowen Byram — Erik Johnson

Darcy Kuemper

Pavel Francouz

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