Colorado Avalanche Depth Players Step Up for the Team

Oct 5, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Patrick Wiercioch (28) defends against Dallas Stars left wing Curtis McKenzie (11) during the second period at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 5, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Patrick Wiercioch (28) defends against Dallas Stars left wing Curtis McKenzie (11) during the second period at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Avalanche focused on depth signings this offseason, and they seem to be paying off.

This offseason, Joe Sakic and the Colorado Avalanche made waves by changing very little about the team’s makeup. The “core” remained intact, while depth signings were the focus of the summer.

The lack of a serious move was controversial in many circles, and may have been the final push Patrick Roy needed to make his exit.

For the time being, however, Sakic’s depth upgrades have contributed a surprising amount. While the team is still languishing at the bottom of the division, the depth players have helped carry the load in returning the team to relevancy.

Rene Bourque

If you asked most people around the NHL this summer, they would tell you that Rene Bourque was finished. After a ten year NHL career that saw it’s shares of ups and downs, Columbus decided not to re-sign Bourque, and no other team showed interest either.

When Joe Sakic signed Bourque to a Professional Tryout, it was largely viewed as the Avs filling vacancies created by the World Cup of Hockey. Bourque was simply a body to help make the rookies compete, and then he’d be on his way.

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Instead, Bourque impressed everyone with a excellent performance in training camp and the preseason, and solidified his roster spot.

This performance has continued into the regular season, where Bourque finds himself as the second-highest goalscorer on the team, and has even spent some time in the top-6 and the powerplay. Not too shabby for someone who’s “finished”.

Joe Colborne

Colborne’s stick has been a bit quiet lately, but the former University of Denver Pioneer made his value known in the home opener, registering a hat trick to help beat the Dallas Stars.

Since then, Colborne has quietly put up decent possession numbers while serving primarily on the third and fourth lines.

Colborne was considered a steal by many Calgary fans, and he has so far performed admirably in the burgundy and blue.

Patrick Wiercioch

When Patrick Wiercioch was acquired this summer, my first reaction was “Patrick Who-cioch?”.

He has since put up solid possession numbers, and is currently tied for third on the team in terms of point production.

“With such impressive numbers, surely his cap hit is massive”, you might say. But you’d be wrong. Wiercioch is the least expensive defenseman on the team, and has proven himself to be a significant upgrade from the dark days of Nate Guenin.

So what’s the problem?

Despite these depth pickups exceeding expectations, the Avs still find themselves at the bottom of the Central, and continue to struggle with consistency. Many have criticized the effort of the team’s core:

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I’m going to pose a different theory: despite strong depth lines, and despite being one of the best defensive teams in the league (I know, right?), the Avs only have a a Top-3 up front. That top-3 consists of Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, and Gabriel Landeskog.

Didn’t it feel like we had more a while ago? We’re a talented, young team, loaded with speedy offensive talent, right? We were just one defensive piece away from a cup run, right?!

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It’s time to remember an extremely painful truth: Ryan O’Reilly and Paul Stastny are gone. Those two gave the Avs a very playoff-capable top-5 at least, with several capable wingers on board to fill that final spot.

Jarome Iginla was supposed to replace Stastny, Carl Soderberg was supposed to replace O’Reilly, and Mikhail Grigorenko was supposed to emerge as a beautiful butterfly under Roy’s tutelage to complete the top-6. None of that has happened, and it’s hindering this team’s ability to be competitive. The Avs need more stars.

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The Good News

With lower-line depth taken care of, Sakic will actually be able to make a meaningful upgrade by this offseason at the very latest. Assuming he doesn’t re-sign Jarome Iginla, Joe will have nearly $9 million of additional cap room just from Iginla and Brad Stuart’s contracts falling off the books.

In addition to that, Mikko Rantanen is quickly becoming a force on the team, ranking second in CF% and creating a lot of good chances. As he gets more and more comfortable in the NHL, he has the potential to explode and join the core.

And hey, we shouldn’t write Grigorenko off yet. He’s still only 22, and has looked better this year. He too could become what he is supposed to be: a true top-6 forward.

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Management’s objective this offseason was to shore up depth, allowing the lower lines to make meaningful contributions while not being liabilities. So far, it seems this goal has been achieved. The new additions have definitely pulled their weight.

I still think the Avs can make the playoffs this year. With their new structures beginning to take shape and Semyon Varlamov returning to form, spring hockey is still a real possibility.

For true, deep playoff success, however, the Avs need some more top-6 forwards.