The Colorado Avalanche, despite having existed just 18 years, have had their fair share of great players pass through theMileHighCity.
So far, our list of the 18 greatest Colorado Avalanche players of all-time has been dominated by defensemen. The trend continues today with #15 on the list – John-Michael Liles.
Liles came through the collegiate circuit, a star for the Michigan State Spartans. He flew under the radar as an undersized (5’10”, 185) burgeoning offensive defenseman when the Avalanche made him the 159thoverall pick in the 2000 NHL Draft.
Following his senior season at MSU, where he scored 50 points in 39 games and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, Liles signed with the Avalanche and made his debut with their AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears. He would finish his collegiate career with that nomination as well as a pair of NCAA All-American Team nods and CCHA awards.
Jumping straight out of college and to the Avalanche for the 2003-04 season, Liles made his impact right away. His 10 goals and 34 points as a rookie led to his inclusion on the NHL All-Rookie Team while he also became the highest-scoring rookie defenseman in Avalanche history.
Making up for his diminutive frame with smooth skating and heady play, Liles had already established himself. And with just one season under his belt, it looked as though the future might be very bright for the young defenseman.
Liles, over the course of the next few seasons, began to improve his offensive game. His 14 goals and 49 points were career-highs in 2005-06; showing that though he wasn’t the biggest or most physically dominating defenseman, he could more than hold his own moving the puck up the ice and creating chances as the power play’s quarterback.
Liles would remain fairly consistent over the next few seasons, hovering right around the 40 point mark. His solid play would earn him a new four year deal with the team in June of 2008.
The next year, however, Liles began to hit some turbulence. Injuries, a re-occurring shoulder injury and concussion that seemed to cause major concern, hindered him to just 59 games in 2009-10, resulting in career-lows in offensive output.
In what would be his final season inDenver, Liles came out on fire. He made NHL and franchise history by picking up assists in his first nine games, going on to set a career-high with 40 for the season. But with one year left on his deal and confidence in young defensemen in the system, the Avalanche traded him at the 2012 NHL Draft to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a second round pick.
Though not quite as dominant as some Avalanche defensemen of the past, John-Michael Liles managed to carve out a place in team history as one of it’s better offensive defensemen. And despite his size, management to be one of, if not the, best defensemen the Avalanche had to offer.
And for that, John-Michael Liles is one of the greatest Colorado Avalanche of all-time.
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