NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, the Colorado Avalanche.
The Colorado Avalanche didn’t believe they needed to do much in order to take the next step this season.
“We were looking for a second-line player, I think that’s the one thing we wanted to address, that and maybe a top-four [defenseman] to help us out there,” Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic said in October.
To address those areas, the Avalanche acquired forward Brandon Saad in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks for defenseman Nikita Zadorov on Oct. 10, and defenseman Devon Toews in a trade with the New York Islanders for a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and in the 2022 NHL Draft on Oct. 12.
Saad, who has scored at least 20 goals in five of the past six seasons, including 21 last season, will solidify a forward group that has leaned heavily on the top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen.
MacKinnon, who scored 93 points (35 goals, 58 assists) in 69 games last season, finished as the runner-up for the Hart Trophy as the most valuable player in the NHL for the second time in three seasons even though he played a good portion of the season without Rantanen, who was limited to 42 games because of injuries.
After MacKinnon, there was drop off in scoring. Defenseman Cale Makar was second with 50 points (12 goals, 38 assists) in 57 games, and forward Andre Burakovsky was third with an NHL career-high 45 points (20 goals, 25 assists) in 58 games.
Sakic said he expects the addition of Saad to give the Avalanche more balance after they lost to the Dallas Stars in seven games in the Western Conference Second Round.
“We’re extremely happy to have Brandon with us,” Sakic said. “He’s a guy, we’ve watched him for years and we think he’s going to be a great fit as one of our top six. We feel like we’ve solidified our top-six group, and also our bottom six, so we’re pretty content with the depth that we have up front.”
Saad said the opportunity to be the missing piece for a team on the verge of a Stanley Cup championship was exciting.
“I loved my time in Chicago. It’s a great city and a great organization, but we were kind of not really Cup contenders,” Saad said. “Getting traded to a team that every year you play against and you’re like, ‘Wow, this team has a chance to win every year,’ and now to be a part of that team, it’s a jolt of rejuvenation, really.”
Toews, who scored 28 points (six goals, 22 assists) in 68 games last season, is expected to replace Zadorov and join defensemen Makar, who won the Calder Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year last season, Samuel Girard, Ryan Graves, Erik Johnson and Ian Cole. Top prospects Conor Timmins and Bowen Byram are also in the mix.
Timmins, who was selected in the second round (No. 32) of the 2017 NHL Draft, scored 27 points (three goals, 24 assists) in 40 games with Colorado of the American Hockey League, and played two playoff games for the Avalanche. Byram, the No. 4 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, scored 52 points (14 goals, 38 assists) in 50 games with Vancouver of the Western Hockey League.
“We’re always looking to improve. That’s never going to stop,” Sakic said. “We felt that we’d try and add there as well for depth purposes. We’ve seen enough of Conor, we know he’s ready to maybe take the next step. Byram, we’re going to give every opportunity. But also knowing we don’t want to put a lot of pressure on them, either. We want them to come in slowly and at their own pace.”
One of the reasons the Avalanche can be patient with their top prospects is the depth on their roster.
Burakovsky is coming off a season when he set NHL career highs in goals (20) and assists (25), and forward Valeri Nichushkin scored 13 goals after he scored none in 57 games with Dallas in 2018-19. Graves, playing his first full NHL season, led the League with a plus-40 rating.
“You have to have depth to win. We’ve addressed that,” Sakic said. “… We’re trying to put together as deep a team as possible to try and make a run this year.”