Colorado Avalanche: Competition Amongst Defensive Group


The Colorado Avalanche had a lot of turnover within their defensive group over the summer, which will result in a competitive training camp and preseason for spots on the blueline.

The Colorado Avalanche only have three full-time defensemen returning from last season: Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie and Francois Beauchemin. After those three defensemen, there are three others that played a combined 59 games for the Avalanche last season: Chris Bigras, Nikita Zadorov and Eric Gelinas in respective order for games played.

Then, there are two others that they picked up in free agency: Fedor Tyutin and Patrick Wiercioch, who played a combined 113 games in the NHL last season.

All-in-all, the Colorado Avalanche have six defensemen on one-way contracts, and four more on two-way contracts who could conceivably challenge for a roster spot during training camp.

One-way contracts:

  • Erik Johnson
  • Tyson Barrie
  • Francois Beauchemin
  • Fedor Tyutin
  • Eric Gelinas
  • Patrick Wiercioch

Of those six defensemen, only the top three are guaranteed roster spots — to my estimation at least.

Related Story: Getting to Know Fedor Tyutin

Two-way contracts:

  • Chris Bigras
  • Nikita Zadorov
  • Duncan Siemens
  • Ryan Stanton

Joe Sakic was cited as saying — early in the offseason — that Zadorov, Bigras, Siemens and Gelinas would be given every chance to make the roster this coming season.

Furthermore, Erik Johnson is the only Colorado Avalanche defenseman at the World Cup, so there is going to be plenty of competition during training camp and preseason.

Competing for the Blue

It’s not clear yet whether or not Jared Bednar will carry two extra forwards, or two extra defensemen, which adds another wrinkle to the competition on the blueline.

If Bednar only wants seven defensemen, then one of either Bigras or Zadorov figure to get sent down to the AHL because there are already six one-way contracts.

But even if he carries eight defensemen, then deciding who the top six are is not going to be an easy decision.

It’s even more difficult based on the fact that Wiercioch, Gelinas, Zadorov, and Bigras all have tremendous talent and have shown flashes of being legitimate NHL defensemen, but have not proven enough to earn that role yet.

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Development of these young defensemen has to be taken into account as well. Do the Colorado Avalanche really want to send Zadorov down to the AHL for another year? Will scratching either one of Gelinas or Wiercioch — or both — as the extra defensemen hinder their growth as players?

Are these aging veterans — Beauchemin and Tyutin — really viable options for any other role besides the bottom pairing anymore? And if not, then who fills top four roles alongside Barrie and Johnson?

Finally, how much will new defensive systems impact the type of player that Bednar ends up looking for on his blueline?

I don’t know how to answer any of these questions, and I imagine that the coaching staff will also have trouble answering them.

What Will the Defensive Pairings Be?

I can tell you how I’d like the defensive pairings to shake out, and I can also tell you how I think they will shake out. But, it’s ultimately all speculation like all the writing during this time of year.

How I want the d-pairings to shake out:

  • Zadorov and Johnson
  • Wiercioch and Barrie
  • Tyutin and Beauchemin
    • Extra(s): Gelinas and Stanton/Siemens

I’m really high on Wiercioch for some reason that is wholly inexplicable. And, I’m really hoping that he earns that spot during training camp. However, I don’t pretend to think for one minute that those will be the defensive pairings the Colorado Avalanche roll out to start the season.

How I think the d-pairings will shake out:

  • Beauchemin and Johnson
  • Tyutin and Barrie
  • Zadorov and Gelinas
    • Extra(s): Wiercioch and Siemens

Here’s what I’m thinking. You put the vets with our two best defensemen, and give Zadorov and Gelinas the bottom pairing until either one of them — or both of them — are able to hop in the top four and demote the vets.

Next: Concerns About World Cup Overblown?

Bigras doesn’t make the roster because he could do with some more seasoning in the AHL, and there’s no sense in scratching him on the NHL roster. Zadorov, on the other hand, has to start making an NHL impact as soon as possible.

Anyway, one of the most exciting things about training camp and preseason is the competition on the blueline. So, that’s what I’m going to be watching because if the Avs can get the right combination in their pairings, then defense could end up being a strength for the team this season.