Colorado Avalanche: 3 Players Who Need Breakout Seasons

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 24: Vladislav Kamenev #91 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the Dallas Stars at the Pepsi Center on November 24, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 24: Vladislav Kamenev #91 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the Dallas Stars at the Pepsi Center on November 24, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Colorado Avalanche love their reclamation projects. Well, three players on the team need to have breakout seasons to stick around.

The Colorado Avalanche have an eclectic roster. They have a small core of über-talented players, a group of rising stars, a smattering of veterans, and a clutch of journeymen.

They also have some players who need to step up their game considerably. These are your proverbial reclamation projects, the kind of players who have so much talent and so much potential if only they had the right situation to show it off.

In other words, the Avalanche’s favorite type of off-season signing. (Hey, at least we’ve gotten away from signing aging stars.)

This year, Colorado has three such players. These reclamation projects for the Avs don’t all fit the above description exactly, but they’re players who absolutely have to elevate their game.

Their future with Colorado and even in the NHL depends on their having breakout seasons. So, let’s explore who those players are.

Andre Burakovsky

Age: 24
NHL experience: 328 games
Last season’s stats: 12 goals, 13 assists regular season; 1 goal, 1 assist playoffs

Left wing Andre Burakovsky is exactly the kind of player I was describing above. The Washington Capitals selected him in the first round in 2013, and he’d spent his entire career there until the trade that brought him to Colorado.

Said career has consisted of five seasons for a total of 328 games. He’s recorded 62 goals and 83 assists in that time. He’s also played a total of 56 playoff games with a Washington team that commonly made deep playoff runs. He has nine goals and nine assists in that time.

That production isn’t what you hope for from a first-rounder. He’s seen his ice time steadily decrease until he averaged just 11:08 last season. The idea is that he wasn’t getting good enough minutes on an offensively-gifted Caps team. The expectation is he’ll be playing on the second line.

Burakovsky came to Colorado as a restricted free agent. The Avalanche signed him to just one year — a clear show-me contract. He’s just 24, but his window to prove he belongs in a meaningful role in the NHL is closing.

Valeri Nichushkin

Age: 24
NHL experience: 223 games
Last season’s stats: 0 goals, 10 assists in 57 games

Right wing Valeri Nichushkin is the big-time reclamation project for the Colorado Avalanche. The Dallas Stars selected him #10 overall in 2013. Since then, he’s earned 23 goals and 51 assists in 223 regular season games and 1 goal and 2 assists in 17 playoff games.

Nichushskin also pulled the move NHL teams reportedly fear with Russian players — he fled to Russia when he didn’t get the kind of play he wanted. He spent two years with SCKA Moscow of the KHL before the Stars wooed him back.

And it’s safe to say they didn’t get back what they were hoping for. No goals in 57 games — that’s brutal. And he was getting slightly better minutes than Burakovsky.

Colorado signed Nichushkin in free agency after Dallas dropped him. It’s a head scratcher. The Avs look good enough with forward depth that they do not need a player who couldn’t get a goal in 57 games. So, I don’t know how much of a breakout season he can have with the limited chances he’s likely to get.

However, this is likely his last chance to prove he belongs in the NHL at all.

Vladislav Kamenev

Age: 23
NHL experience: 28 games
Last season’s stats: 2 goals, 3 assists in 23 games

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Left wing Vladislav Kamenev is the player who fits outside the mold on this list. He’s a little younger and a lot less experienced at the NHL level than the other two. So far, his longest NHL season has been 23 games, which was last year.

The problem for Kamenev is three-fold. One, he keeps getting injured in the season-ending type of way. That means he’s understandably struggled to prove himself in the NHL.

Two, because of the injuries, he’s missed a lot of hockey in important formative years. He’ll have to prove he’s durable enough to even play in the NHL.

Three, he’s facing an uphill battle to even make the roster. The Colorado Avalanche do have at least 16 other forwards whom they should play ahead of him because of said players’ statistics and history with the team.

And 16 forwards are what you have for a game-day roster. So, at best, Kamenev will be the 17th forward most night.

So, Kamenev will have to use every second of ice time he’s given — and it will likely be fourth-liner minutes — to prove he can stay healthy and contribute to the team.

Next. 3 Players Primed for a Breakout Season. dark

Of the three players, I have the highest hopes for Andre Burakovsky. He’ll get the best chance at getting the minutes with decent linemates needed to prove his mettle.

He’d better start out hot, however. As much as GM Joe Sakic likes to sign reclamation projects, Jared Bednar’s patience is very thin with them. We saw how the Nail Yakupov situation played out.