Overview: Coming into the year, the Avalanche were identified as a team with a lot of offensive talent after drafting Nathan MacKinnon with the first overall pick.
Many thought that passing on defenseman Seth Jones was a huge mistake. Why? The defense last year was woeful. Abysmal. Atrocious. Pick your synonym for “bad” and the Avalanche were that defensively last season.
Enter Patrick Roy. He and defensive consultant Adam Foote seemed to have changed the dynamic of this team defensively because here we are, 25 games into the season, and the Avalanche are 4th (!!!) in the NHL in goals-against-per-game. And they added no one of note other than Andre Benoit in the off-season.
The depth situation is a little precarious and another injury or two could wreak havoc on a group that has overachieved as a whole. But for now, this group has been doing a far better job than anyone could have expected.
Stats: 11 GP, 0-3-3, 16:28 TOI/G
Barrie has admittedly been a disappointment this year. He was expected to build off of last year’s somewhat impressive half-rookie season, but he’s instead looked like an inconsistent kid and has been seeing split time between Colorado and Lake Erie.
Offensively, the gifts are there: the skating, the passing, the vision. Defensively? Not so much. He gets pushed around and is sloppy with both his positioning and break out passes. He’s being given time to work the kinks out, but he should be a mainstay on the blueline by now. Grade: C-
Stats: 24 GP, 1-10-11, 20:28 TOI/G
Benoit was brought on in what seemed like a minor move in the offseason, but he’s been a revelation for the defense. He’s never going to overpower anyone or be a Norris-calibre defenseman, but he’s solid in his own zone and smart with the puck.
Not only that, but he’s clearly the best offensive defenseman the team has. He logs power play time and should have more goals than the one he’s had, but deflections happen and other guys get the glory. Hopefully, he can maintain his play over the course of a full year. Grade: B+
Stats: 25 GP, 0-3-3, 17:50 TOI/G
Another absolute revelation. Guenin wasn’t expected to even stick with the team, but was playing so well through the first half-dozen games that Patrick Roy felt he had no choice but to keep the journeyman defender around.
Guenin isn’t going to get confused with Benoit anytime soon, but he’s played just as well. He’s physical, smart with the puck and doesn’t ever try to do more with it than he does. One of the many penalty-killers the team can throw out there, he’s in the conversation for “best defensive-defenseman” this season and has clearly learned from Foote. Grade: A-
Stats: 25 GP, 3-6-9, 22:54 TOI/G
Hejda has been the defensive rock of the Avalanche to date. Offense has never been his forte, but so far, you have to be thrilled with his production to this point. Still, he’s on the ice to face the opposition’s best forwards and make sure they don’t do well.
He’s been physical as well, straight-up clocking guys from time to time. He’s been the underrated defensive conscience of the team for awhile now, but it’s finally starting to come to the forefront now that the team is doing well. Grade: A
Stats: 7 GP, 1-1-2, 15:50 TOI/G
Holden has been filling in while the team has dealt with injury issues from Ryan Wilson. He’s done about what you would expect from a young, call-up defenseman. Nothing egregious, nothing that stands out in particular.
It’s hard to judge him at this point because he’s had such a short tenure, but he’s done a fine job filling in so far. Grade: INC/NA
Stats: 25 GP, 2-6-8, 21:51 TOI/G
Johnson has been right there with Hejda as the team’s best defenseman, but he’ll never get the credit for it since he is a former first overall pick and the expectations for those folks are never fair.
EJ has played in all situations, acted as one-half of the Avalanche’s shutdown pairing and logs time on the power play as well as the penalty kill. He’s an all-situations defenseman who does well with whatever position he’s in. Underrated for sure and at 25, he’s still evolving. Grade: A-
Stats: 24 GP, 1-4-5, 17:31 TOI/G
Believed to be a throw-in as a part of the Tanguay trade in the offseason, Sarich has performed admirably as a bottom-pairing defender. He’s never going to be the most offensively gifted guy (his five points must feel like a thousand at this point) but that’s not why he’s on the roster.
Sarich is arguably the Avs’ most physical defender and he brings with him a boatload of experience. There have been times where he’s been awful, letting guys get behind him only to stand uncontested in front of Semyon Varlamov with the puck on their stick. Hard to expect much more than what we’ve seen but there’s not a ton to complain about, either. Grade: B
Stats: 10 GP, 0-4-4, 16:48 TOI/G
Wilson didn’t managed to stick around long; he’s been fighting a back injury for about five or six weeks now and injuries have been an issue for him for the last few years now. He’s solid as can be when in the lineup; a good puck-mover with some smarts to him but his health has become a real question mark.
Thankfully, the Avalanche have found capable replacements but they’ll need Wilson – a healthy Wilson – in the lineup if they want to maintain the success they’ve had defensively. Grade: C+
This group overall is overachieving. The talent levels aren’t necessarily there and they’ve gotten some tread out of journeymen like Guenin and Sarich while receiving a nice offensive boost from Benoit.
Their top pairing gets the job done with smart positioning and puck movement as well as a surprising physicality. Ideally, they’d like to get more out of the group offensively (just eight goals total, five of which have come from Hejda and Johnson) but it’s hard to complain about this group.
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