Colorado Avalanche: 5 Players Who Need to Step Up Their Game

DENVER, COLORADO - JULY 15: Coach Jared Bednar of the Colorado Avalanche speaks to Valeri Nichushkin #13 during training camp at the Pepsi Center on July 15, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
DENVER, COLORADO - JULY 15: Coach Jared Bednar of the Colorado Avalanche speaks to Valeri Nichushkin #13 during training camp at the Pepsi Center on July 15, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

The Colorado Avalanche will get back in the win column if the five players on this list can get their game going in the right direction.

The Colorado Avalanche are playing .500 hockey. As the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this season, they should be playing better than .500 hockey. Splitting the series thus far with the well-run St. Louis Blues is one thing. Splitting their series with first the Kings and then the Sharks, both of which are in rebuild mode, is quite another.

We obviously don’t want to hit the panic button just six games into the season. However, we’re looking at a shortened season, and the team shouldn’t be starting off so slowly.

The team always goes through rough patches — it’s the nature of the game. Periodically, when the Avs are going through such a patch, I write one of these types of posts. Typically, the players I mention are not the ones who then go on to have stellar games.

So, in the name of getting players other than these five on the list going in the right direction, let’s look at five guys who need to step up their games.

Valeri Nichushkin

Forward Valeri Nichushkin once went over 90 games without scoring a single goal. We don’t want to see Big Val do that again. He came to Colorado on a show-me contract last year, and he showed the team enough they rewarded him with a two-year contract worth $5 million.

Hopefully Nichushkin isn’t resting on his laurels. Six games into the season, he doesn’t have a single point yet. He’s solidly on the third line averaging between 12 to 14 minutes a game. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be putting up some offense.

JT Compher

Nichushkin’s linemate, J.T. Compher, could also use to get his offense going this season. The center hasn’t recorded a point since the first game of the season. He assisted on the Avalanche’s lone goal of the game, scored by Andre Burakovsky.

Compher has been getting his chances. The pivot of that third line, he records even more ice time than Nichushkin — between 14 to 15 minutes. He’s also a wizard with the short-handed goals, which would be useful since the Avs have been unable to stay out of the box.

Brandon Saad

Colorado acquired Brandon Saad over the summer in a trade that saw Nikita Zadorov go to the Chicago Blackhawks. So far, the team isn’t getting a good enough return on him. He spends most of his time on the second line, but he only has a single point on the season. Granted, said point is a goal, but it’s now been three games since his name has landed on the scoresheet. He was getting as much if not more ice time as Compher until he earned some cooling time this last game.

According to Avs insider Adrian Dater, Saad has the whisper of phoning it in ever since he won his Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks. Passengers don’t fly on this team, so Saad may well find himself getting demoted if that turns out to be the case.

Ryan Graves

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Hoo-boy. After a career season last year, defenseman Ryan Graves found himself benched for the second game against the Ducks. After amassing a league-leading +40 last season, he’s now sitting at -5. Whatever you think of that stat, obviously it’s not a change for the good.

Part of the problem has been that he’s no longer paired with superstud Cale Makar, who’s in a pairing with newbie Devon Toews now. Well, Graves is another one the Avalanche rewarded with a nice contract, so he’s going to have to prove his worth on his own.

Erik Johnson

Petition to put defenseman Erik Johnson back in the lineup. I know he tested COVID-positive and so missed training camp and the beginning of the season. However, he’s ready for action now. Indeed, he’s played a game, the January 19 tilt against the Kings. That was the match they won, by the way.

Johnson isn’t going to be an offensive superstar. However, he’s the captain of the blueline, and Colorado has a young blueline this season. Makar is just in his sophomore season, though he has the poise of a grizzled veteran. Rookie Bowen Byram could benefit from the veteran presence, though.

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The Colorado Avalanche will hopefully right their ship before the injury bug starts chomping at them again, as it’s wont to do. They can’t afford to drop too many games when they’re healthy — they need that good cushion for when they’re not. The above five players getting their mojo back will go a long way to that end.