Mile High Sticking Central Division Power Rankings — Preseason Debut!

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Sep 28, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche right wing Jarome Iginla (12) controls the puck in the second period against the Calgary Flames at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Avalanche took the NHL by force last season, amassing 112 points and a Central Division banner. The Avs were led by elite goaltending from Semyon Varlamov, and an explosive offense let by the youthfully exuberant core of Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, and Ryan O’Reilly. Nathan MacKinnon was the biggest addition to the lineup from the prior season, and he didn’t disappoint. MacKinnon was electric, and took home the Calder trophy as the league’s top rookie.

Heading into this season, the Avalanche have experts all over the place as far as how they will finish. Some cite the Avs poor shot ratios from last season as a sign they will regress to a bubble playoff team. Others grasp on to those stats so tightly, they have the Avs falling out of the playoff picture entirely. Then you have some who say, eh, the supporting stats aren’t there, but this team is young and bound to keep improving. They have loads of talent up front, which should continue their trajectory to the upper echelon of the league.

The Avalanche went out and signed veteran sniper and power forward Jarome Iginla to a three-year deal this offseason. Iginla will be expected to come in and score goals, but also seems to be a perfect mentor for the young Gabe Landeskog. Will be interesting to see how much Iggy has left in the tank. The Avs also acquired the aging Daniel Briere and Brad Stuart. These are players with big reputations, but their play has slipped of late. If the Avs can squeeze the last of the juice out of these guys, it will improve their D and bottom six scoring depth – two major weaknesses from last season.

Last Season: 112 pts – 1st in Division – Lost first round

Prediction: 105 pts

Team Strength: Belief

When the Avalanche brought in Patrick Roy, they were a team that had been floundering for several years. Roy instantly brought back a winning mentality and culture to the squad, and got the players to buy into believing they were a good hockey team. The “why not us” catchphrase last season was cheesy, sure, but it represented a huge change in attitude for the Avs. They started to believe in themselves, and Roy implemented a style and system that gave the team confidence.

The Avs often got called lucky, because of their knack for scoring dramatic late goals, and because they often lost the shot battle, but won the game. I feel that the Avs made a lot of their own luck, because they really bought in to the belief that they can win, and are never out of any game.

Team Weakness: Defense

The Avalanche have some solid pieces in place, and are actually really close to having a pretty darn good defense. Unfortunately, holes still exist. Jan Helda’s game slipped quite a bit last season. He was statistically the worst Avalanche player at getting the puck out of the defensive zone. Brad Stuart was brought in to replace Hejda on the top pairing with Erik Johnson. Stuart’s game hasn’t been all that great either the past couple of seasons. Long story short, EJ is a stud, but the Avs still don’t have that reliable partner in crime for him on the top pairing.

The Avs second pairing of Tyson Barrie and Nick Holden actually looks like a really fun little duo. Both guys have a knack for jumping into the play on offense, and also have the skating and passing ability to exit the d-zone. With good usage, this pairing has potential to be one of the league’s best second pairs.

The third pairing is interesting. Hejda looks to have one spot, and the other spot seems a bit up in the air. I really like Zach Redmond, but it seems like Roy really has an affinity for Nate Guenin. A Hejda/Redmond pairing is servicable, but a Hejda/Guenin pairing is flat out scary. Ryan Wilson is a huge wild-card, and his play of late seems to be super volatile.