The Colorado Avalanche have been fairly active in the 2015 offseason, a course of action popular with fans who suffered through such a difficult 2014-2015 season in which their team underwhelmed significantly.
The Avs went from first in the Central Division the year before to dead-last, and it was largely due to the loss of forward depth the club experienced over the course of the past year.
Two of the key contributors for Colorado during their division title-winning season – Paul Stastny and P.A. Parenteau – departed in the 2014 offseason, and newcomers Danny Briere and Jarome Iginla hardly scratched the surface of replacing their offensive production. Two top-six forwards lost for next to nothing left a bad taste in the mouths of Avs fans, but during this offseason, GM Joe Sakic and co. look to be serious about rounding out their forward group, tying up loose ends and acquiring players who can have an immediate – as well as long-term – impact on the club.
The Colorado Avalanche paid a lot of money and term for Carl Soderberg's potential, @THNMattLarkin says: http://t.co/wCXz5Wrn6n
— The Hockey News (@TheHockeyNews) June 26, 2015
The acquisition and prompt signing of unrestricted free agent Carl Soderberg just before the draft weekend was a clear indication of what was to come: the two-way center looked to be a potential replacement for player-comparable Ryan O’Reilly, who was smack in the middle of trade rumors in the weeks leading up to the 2015 NHL Draft. And in opening up the possibility of shedding O’Reilly’s pricey contract (and thus eliminating the risk of having another contract negotiation nightmare in the summer of 2016), the Avs were able to acquire a multitude of future impact players.
Most notably, highly-touted left-handed defenseman Nikita Zadorov was part of the package going to Colorado in the O’Reilly trade; however, the inclusion of former 2012 first-round pick and current puzzling forward prospect Mikhail Grigorenko may be the factor that puts this trade over the edge for Colorado at some point in the future. The natural center played junior hockey for the Quebec Remparts under the direction of current Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy, so there is already an established connection between prospect and organization.
I can’t wait for the opportunity to have him as a coach again. I had my best years in Quebec, and it was great having Patrick as a coach. He was great to me and taught me a lot of things on and off the ice. I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done for me already, and I can’t wait to have him as a coach again.
– Mikhail Grigorenko
Grigorenko recently signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $675,000 with the Avs. The “one-way” part could mean one of two things: Colorado plans on having him up with the big club, which doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch since the NHL roster looks pretty thin at forward for the upcoming season; or perhaps the fact that it is a one-way contract was part of the agreement because just in case Grigorenko is relegated to the AHL for the majority of the season, he will still make the equivalent of his NHL salary (there is a major disparity between AHL and NHL salaries on two-way contracts).
Colorado is stacked at center with Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Carl Soderberg, so if the offensive Grigorenko gets a look on the wing and succeeds, he can definitely crack the top-six this upcoming season. The guidance of his former junior coach – who helped him achieve plenty of success in Quebec and top-five consideration for the 2012 NHL Draft – is expected to rejuvenate the slumping forward and save his career. Now it’s up to him to earn his NHL roster spot in 2014-2015.
The Avs drafted Mikko Rantanen with their 10th overall pick at the 2015 NHL Draft. They passed up highly-rated prospect Lawson Crouse to take him, so clearly they had a specific type of prospect in mind – an offensively-skilled, big-bodied forward with immense potential to drastically improve his game – and Rantanen fit the bill.
Mikko is a versatile forward who brings size, skill and a high compete level. We saw him at our development camp last week and are now eager to see how he does at our training camp in September.
– Avalanche GM Joe Sakic
The Finnish forward can play either wing and has been a rising star for TPS in Liiga the past few seasons. Though he is not the most physical forward, it is believed that once he develops a mean-streak and improves his overall strength, he can develop into a more complete two-way/power forward type of player at the NHL level. It wouldn’t even be a reach to expect him on the top-line for the Avs at some point in the future – he’s extremely talented.
Depsite the additions though, there is still room for improvement in the Avs’ bottom-six forward group. Soderberg will be a solid third-line center, but if he is going to reach (and surpass) his 48-point career-high point total, he will need some better linemates than what Colorado currently has to offer. Some internal promotions could be in order, but the prospect pipeline beyond Rantanen and Grigorenko is fairly thin; J.T. Compher and Conner Bleackley seem to be most promising, but each is still a few years off from NHL readiness.
The Avalanche look like a much more competitive team on paper than they did last summer, but they still seem like a ‘tomorrow team’ – one that has plenty of unproven, unestablished talent and a lot of room to improve in the distant future. For example, Rantanen is far from a lock to play a full season of NHL hockey in 2015-2016, and there are some possible future additions via free agency – such as another former Quebec Remparts forward under Patrick Roy, Alexander Radulov, who is apparently interested in making an NHL return in 2016.
The future for the Avalanche is among the brightest in the league, no doubt. But don’t expect a quick fix this coming season – it may be another up-and-down year.