Nov 8, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene (9) and center Paul Stastny (26) react to win over the Calgary Flames at the Pepsi Center. The Avalanche defeated the Flames 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado Avalanche 1/3rd(ish) Season Grades: Forwards

Overview: If I told you that the Avalanche were currently sitting in third place in the very tough and talented Central Division at the one-third(ish) point, you would probably be pretty happy about that unless you were a fan of another team.  In which case, who cares about you? At 19-6-0, the Avalanche are off to a start that rivals some of the franchise’s best and their winning percentage puts them fourth in the league (funny enough, still third in the division). That should tell you just how good the Central is.

Though their special teams have tapered off a bit (the power play is 17th, the penalty kill has fallen from the best to 13th), both the offense (6th) and defense (4th) are in the top ten in the league. You’re going to win some games when you find yourself in that kind of position.

This is going to be the first of a three-part series looking at each group: the forwards, the defense and the goaltending and grading them accordingly. If some grades seem too harsh or lenient, please let me know in the comments; I admittedly am trying to not to come off too gushing and hope that I do not come off too negative instead. 

Patrick Bordelau
Stats: 25 GP, 3-1-4, 6:12 TOI/G 

Bordy has been as advertised this season: he’s big, not a particularly good skater but he hustles his butt off and finishes his checks. He’s already best his goal total from last season (two) and is one of a handful of Avs who will drop the gloves when necessary.

Simply put: Bordy does his job, defends his teammates and skates hard in the limited time he’s on the ice. Can’t ask much more of a fourth-line type. Grade: B 

Marc-Andre Cliché
Stats: 19 GP, 0-4-4, 8:54 TOI/G 

Cliché, in addition to possessing one of the more solid hockey names around, hasn’t been with the Avalanche the whole way this season, but has been solid in his role as the fourth line center. He hustles and uses his smarts, but needs to improve on faceoffs (40.6%) to be a bit more effective if he’s not going to be scoring goals. Grade: C+

Matt Duchene

Stats: 22 GP, 12-8-20, 17:48 TOI/G 

Before his oblique injury, Duchene may have been able to toss his name into the hat for the Hart Trophy (MVP) race. Even with his time missed, he leads the team in goals and highlight reel plays. He’s also acquitted himself fairly well in his own end and in the faceoff dot (51%). His all-around game is really coming through and he seems to be on the verge of superstardom. Grade: A 

Gabriel Landeskog
Stats: 24 GP, 9-11-20, 18:05 TOI/G

The captain has tailed off a bit of late but has been resurgent this season.  He was marred by injuries and inconsistencies in year two, but he’s flashed the talent and leadership that made him the second overall pick not so long ago. He’s delivered big hit after big hit and scored nine times already, good for second behind Duchene. He can (and usually does) play in all situations and he is more than adept at sticking up for teammates when a scuffle happens.

Injuries to both his linemates (Stastny is back; Tanger will be in a week or so) have made things a little tougher on him of late but he should continue his strong season. Grade: B+

Nathan MacKinnon
Stats: 25 GP, 5-11-16, 15:43 TOI/G 

The rookie, the first overall pick, the future of the franchise.  MacKinnon has been called all of those things and more so far.  For the first dozen or so games, it certainly looked like that. MacKinnon started off hot and is still tied for the team-lead in assists with 11, but he’s come back to Earth over the last dozen or so games.

He flashes that dazzling speed and skill set every now and again, but you can see he’s just a teenager. Injuries thrust him into a little more of a featured role than the team was ready for, but with Stastny back, he’ll likely move back down to the third line where he was finding greater success. Anyone worried about his little slump shouldn’t be – he’s already shown tremendous strides for a rookie and will only grow as time goes on. The Avalanche don’t need him to be great just yet. Grade: B-

Brad Malone
Stats: 5 GP, 0-1-1, 6:36 TOI/G

Malone has been on fill-in duty so far thanks to injuries to Duchene, Tanguay and Stastny.  He’s done what he’s been asked with minimal notice that he’s even on the ice. Then again, you can’t ask much more from him other than play decent defense and win some faceoffs (he’s at 50%). Grade: INC/NA

Jamie McGinn

Nov 27, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; St. Louis Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak (41) falls on the puck in front of Colorado Avalanche left wing Jamie McGinn (11) during the first period at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Stats: 22 GP, 4-4-8, 14:59 TOI/G 

Like the Avalanche as a whole, McGinn started out hot (3-2-5 in his first five games). Unlike the team, however, McGinn has tapered off with just one goal and two assists since. He missed a little bit of time with injury and has been shuffled around thanks to injuries elsewhere. 

When everyone is healthy and ready to go, he’ll likely go back to playing with MacKinnon and Max Talbot, acting as a more offensively-gifted version of Talbot: tenacious, strong-skater, finishes his checks. Hopefully, the offense comes back. The Avalanche were nigh unstoppable those first half-dozen games or so. Grade: B-

Cody McLeod
Stats: 20 GP, 2-3-5, 9:06 TOI/G 

McLeod has been exactly what you’d expect so far other than the suspension for decking Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall from behind earlier in the season. He’s not the biggest, not the fastest and not the best, but he busts his hump harder than just about everyone else and he’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done. He’s fought a few times this season and doled out his fair share of hits. Blocks shots with gusto; part of the reason the penalty kill was doing as well as it was early. Grade: B

John Mitchell
Stats: 25 GP, 4-5-9, 15:06 TOI/G

Of everyone on the Avalanche this season, I think that Mitchell might be having the most underrated season of the bunch. For a third-liner, he’s on pace for double-digit goals and somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 points. He wins faceoffs (51%), plays defense and kills penalties. Not only that, but he flashes a bit of skill from time to time.

With a full lineup, he’s never going to be the guy that gets paired with the top end players, but he could find himself with guys like McGinn or MacKinnon and that could benefit him on the stat sheet. Grade: B+

Ryan O’Reilly
Stats: 25 GP, 9-8-17, 20:00 TOI/G

For all the accolades that Duchene receives, O’Reilly might be the most complete player the Avalanche have to offer. He’s fast, physical, he can score, he can step in and win a draw when you need him to, kill penalties, etc. Anything you need him to do, he does and he does well.

O’Reilly has cooled off a bit with the line-shuffling and the injury to his center, Duchene, but he’s proving to be a star for the Avalanche. There may have been questions as to whether signing him last year was a good idea or not but those questions are gone. The Avalanche will lock him up because good young players like him are hard to find. Grade: A-

November 12, 2013; Raleigh, NC, USA; Colorado Avalanche forward Paul Stastny (26) is congratulated by teammates after his 2nd period goal against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Center. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

PA Parenteau
Stats: 25 GP, 7-9-16 

The definition of streaky this year, Parenteau will get his points but it seems like he’ll get them in fits and bursts. He started off the year with 3-4-7 totals in his first six games, then was held scoreless in his next six. Over his next four? 3-2-5 line. Scoreless in two more before another three-game point streak. He’s now in the midst of a four-game scoreless streak. 

He’s a patient playmaker with a hockey IQ that doesn’t get talked about enough and the line-shuffling has certainly played its part, but he needs to find some level of consistency. Grade: B

Paul Stastny
Stats: 23 GP, 8-9-17, 18:42 TOI/G

Stastny has looked rejuvenated this season, just three points shy of the team lead held by Duchene and Landeskog. He’s winning 54.3% of his draws, playing in all situations and just looking more confident than he has in a few years. He, Landy and Tanguay were playing very well together before the latter’s injury but he continued to play well even without his winger.

He’s been battling back spasms of late and hasn’t scored in his last three games, but that seems like an aberration based on the season so far. He looks motivated, strong and confident once again. Grade: B+

Maxime Talbot
Stats: 14 GP, 0-2-2, 16:25 TOI/G

Talbot replaced Steve Downie via trade earlier in the year in a move that left many wondering why. Downie was meshing well with linemates O’Reilly and Duchene, providing his trademark physical play while chipping in offensively and the trio was generally dominating.

Since then, Talbot has taken Parenteau’s role as MacKinnon’s third-line winger and hasn’t managed to pick up his first goal as a member of the Avalanche just yet, but that’s not why he was brought in. He’s got a winning history and a veteran presence; he knows what it takes to win the Cup and he will help teach the youngsters. On the ice, he’s a solid two-way player who kills penalties and plays with a little edge. Grade: C

Alex Tanguay
Stats: 13 GP, 3-6-9, 17:16 TOI/G 

Before going down with a knee injury, it seemed the veteran winger was really starting to come together with Stastny and Landeskog to form a potent second line. He had points (one goal, three assists) in his last three games before leaving the Montreal game on November 2nd early.

He’s not going to be the guy to challenge for the team-lead in scoring anymore like he was when he took over for the Sakic/Forsberg-led Avalanche teams, but he’s still a potent scorer who was working very well with his two talented linemates. The Avalanche would love to get him back as soon as possible. Grade: B

The Avalanche this season have gotten a lot of pretty good efforts and one superstar effort from Duchene. Injuries have shaken things up a bit, but the team is getting healthy again and will be at full force once again when Tanguay returns in the coming week or so.

When they had everyone in the lineup, they were rolling three good, strong scoring lines and could compete with anyone around. If they want to make a run this season, staying healthy and getting the best of that group will be imperative. Sitting sixth in the league in goals for is great, but they need to maintain it and continue their strong performance.

Ryan is the editor of Mile High Sticking as well as co-owner of The Farm Club. Follow him on Twitter to talk Avs, Sabres, hockey in general, or to let him know what a yutz he is.

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Tags: 2013-14 Season Alex Tanguay Colorado Avalanche Grades Matt Duchene Nathan MacKinnon NHL Paul Stastny Ryan O'Reilly

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