For the past few years, pundits and critics have taken aim at the Colorado Avalanche defense. They’ve had every reason to do so as the Avs backline has often times failed to shut down the opposition from putting the puck on Semyon Varlamov.
This past offseason Avs management signed Francois Beauchemin to help out the defensive unit. It was another move that was criticized as many see Beauchemin on the downside of his career and worry that he’ll start to slow down, especially in the third year of his deal. At the NHL draft, many figured the Avs would take a defenseman because they had enough talent up front and obviously a 20-year old defenseman with no NHL experience is exactly what they needed t reduce their shot count.
The Avs smartly drafted winger Mikko Rantanen.
Here’s what many “NHL-only experts” fail to realize about the Avs and their defense: help is on the way.
On paper, the Avs blueline is only slightly improved from last year. Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie are stud players, Beauchemin is a solid veteran defenseman used to playing big minutes, Nick Holden has his moments, and Brad Stuart and Nate Guenin exist.
However, if you look past last year’s group and Beauchemin, the Avs have a lot to look forward to.
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Nikita Zadorov, acquired in the Ryan O’Reilly trade, could supplant Guenin in the top six group. The 20-year-old Russian is a big, physical defenseman who could turn into a true shutdown player for the team. It’s possible that he plays alongside Barrie this year, giving Barrie even more freedom in the offensive zone knowing that the 6’5’’ 230lb monster has things handled defensively.
Chris Bigras, the Avs second round pick in 2013, is a steady and reliable defenseman. The 20-year-old was praised for his ability at last year’s training camp and, with his junior eligibility used up, should start the season in the AHL. Some believe he’ll take over for Beauchemin in a year or two as Johnson’s defensive partner.
Duncan Siemens, the Avs first round pick in 2011, should be ready to make the jump to the NHL this season. He suited up in the Avs season finale last year and at 22-years-old, needs to make an impression. He’s a nasty player who isn’t going to get any nicer with the help of Adam Foote.
Mason Geertsen, a fourth round pick in 2013, has improved tremendously over the past few seasons. Another big stay-at-home type defenseman, the 20-year-old is expected to begin the year in the AHL.
Then there’s the newly acquired Brandon Gormley, a first round pick in 2010. The oldest of the bunch at 23, Gormley is a well-rounded defenseman with plenty of upside. He didn’t quite pan out in Arizona, but he wasn’t exactly surrounded with the best talent either. He has a real shot at making this year’s roster if he has an impressive training camp.
Right there you have five defenseman, all 23-years or younger, who could be in the NHL as earlier as this year. It’s likely that not every single one of them pans out, but the team is still in a very strong position with their defense moving forward. Sure, we might have to endure one more season of Stuart and Guenin looking lost, but rest assured, help is on the way.