With the Colorado Avalanche on their bye week, we've been taking care of some mid-season business, beginning with our awards. Today, we're getting the staff together and asking some questions about the Avalanche at the halfway mark. It's been an interesting half-season for the surprising Avalanche.
Colorado has 22 wins in the first 41 games. Just how surprised are you with this level of success, scale of 1-10, 10 being absolutely blindsided.
Andi Duroux: 5. I was a bit more optimistic than most heading into the season, and I think I predicted they'd finish with 86 points. They're on pace for 94. They've gotten some unexpectedly good puck luck, but that top line has surpassed all my expectations. I doubt the team posts another 47 points in the second half, but if that line keeps rolling, the sky's the limit.
Adrian Dater: I'd say I'm at a 7. While I expected them to be better, I didn't expect them to be in a wild card spot by the midway point. But you could see early on that this team would be better, with kids like Kerfoot and Compher doing good things in preseason, and the return of Varlamov. People forget that they really didn't have a healthy No. 1 goalie ever last year, and that's always a recipe for bad things. Varlamov's return to health automatically made them better.
What's been the biggest surprise, to me, has been how they've been able to really handle some top teams in the league so far (the bad ones? Not as much). Not just win, but really dominate at times. I think the addition of Sam Girard - and the great way in which the Matt Duchene Situation was settled, in general - really helped the team moving forward too. Joe Sakic deserves all the credit in the world for that.
AJ Haefele: 5. I felt good about this defensive group coming in and the goaltending has shown itself recently to be solid. I didn't see the big offensive explosion coming. The Soderberg line has been such a great story so far.
J.D. Killian: I’m going with a 6. One of the most interesting things to watch has been the evolution of the team as the young players develop. I had forgotten what it was like to see a team actually get better as the season progresses and the rookies learn how to play at the NHL level.
Jesse Montano: 7 - more surprised by the level of play than I am point totals/ where they are in the standings.
Nathan MacKinnon has been the runaway MVP for the Avs in the first half. If you had to make a top 5 ballot for Avs MVP, who would be the other four players?
Andi Duroux: The entire top line of MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabe Landeskog deserves recognition, as does the blueline's workhorse, Erik Johnson. As for the last one, Soderberg, Kerfoot, and Barrie all have strong cases, but I'm casting my vote for Nikita Zadorov. He's done a great job of shutting down other top lines and has even added some offensive production to boot.
Adrian Dater: I'd probably go with Erik Johnson at No. 2, for his consistency and strong play while playing a ton of minutes in most all situations. No. 3, I'd go with Landeskog, for his two-way play. He's been their best defensive forward, while still putting up 32 points in 37 games. No. 4 I'd probably go with Mikko Rantanen, just from his pure offensive production alone. And No. 5? I guess I'd have to go with Alexander Kerfoot. To me, the kid has made just a huge difference depth-wise.
AJ Haefele: Johnson, Landeskog, Rantanen, Varlamov.
J.D. Killian: 2. Erik Johnson- he has kicked it up a notch this year, logging a ton of minutes, playing effectively in all circumstances and shutting down top lines.
3. Gabriel Landeskog - he embodies the full role of Captain, second on the team in goals scored and third in total points, while leading the forwards in ice time as well as being one of the primary two-way players, all while keeping it loose.
4. Mikko Rantanen - his scoring of late has been unreal. 8 points in three games? He’s also second on the team in assists and total scoring. He’s the player everyone hoped he could be last year.
5. This one was tough because there are a few players who could legitimately be listed here. I’m going with J.T. Compher. His rise – prior to injury – as one of the more complete players on the team has been impressive, playing effectively in all situations and racking up the special teams minutes.
*6. Defenseman Nikita Zadorov came a close second to Compher. Zadorov has shut down opposing top lines and has learned when to contribute on offense. He’s becoming the total package.
Jesse Montano: Rantanen, Landeskog, Soderberg, Johnson
Which of the Avalanche rookies has been the biggest surprise/disappointment so far and why?
Andi Duroux: Alexander Kerfoot has been the biggest surprise. I expected he would require some time in the AHL to get up to pro speed. Not only did he make the team out of camp, he's fourth on the team in points. Tyson Jost hasn't exactly been a disappointment, with his injury, it's taken him a bit longer to get up to speed than I expected. Fortunately, he's shown well in the past few games. With any luck, he'll continue to find his groove during the 2nd half. Honorable mention: the 4:06 we saw of Vladislav Kamenev before his arm broke. I'm very disappointed we didn't get to see more.
Adrian Dater: Well, Kerfoot goes without saying as the biggest and best surprise. Sam Girard may eventually lay claim to that designation by the end of the season though. I've really loved his game of late since Tyson Barrie went down. I don't think you can say any others have been big disappointments, though it's clear guys like Greer and Mironov haven't much much of an impact on this season when they've played.
AJ Haefele: Biggest surprise for me has been Sam Girard. His defensive acumen is far more mature than I expected from him, especially as a 19-year-old, and I trust his offense will come around in time. He's been a downright revelation.
My biggest disappointment has been J.T. Compher. For a guy his age and with his experience, I felt like he was going to be a more immediate factor for the Avs. His injury issues have obviously held him back and at his size, it's a concern how he'll hold up long-term in the NHL. I think there's a lot of room for growth for Compher but this season's returns have been a letdown for me.
J.D. Killian: Tyson Jost started off as the biggest disappointment. Injuries looked like they slowed his start but he did not look like the player I was expecting after his brief stint with the club last spring. However, he has been playing much better in the last three weeks so I’m optimistic about his future.
Jesse Montano: Kerfoot came in as a college UFA with almost no expectations. Given his size and what we knew about his skill set, I fully expected him to start the year in SA, not have 27 points at the halfway point.
Almost the opposite of Kerfoot, Jost had such high expectations after the “preview” we got of him last year. Injuries and a sheltered role have caused a slow start. I expected his point totals to be where Kerfoot’s are.
Has Jared Bednar earned a third season as head coach?
Andi Duroux: It depends. By performance, yes. Defense and special teams have improved drastically this year, and his club will be the most improved in the NHL overall. Last year was a throwaway, so he probably deserves a second real season behind the bench.
However, I'm not sure he's the coach to get this team to the next level. The club's shooting numbers are still questionable, and he's just as inexperienced in the NHL playoffs as this very young roster. If the front office is serious about competing next year, it might be worth a look at the free agent coaches this summer.
Adrian Dater: Absolutely. I mean, look how the team is progressing. I think the older guys on the team last year - and some of the younger but more experienced ones (err, Matt Duchene...) didn't really like him that much, just because he was a rookie from "junior." The team is younger now and I think he's been able to mold them more into what he's looking for. If it's just all about wins and losses, Bednar deserves it. If it's deeper than that - about process and development and learning curves and all that - then I think Bednar deserves it even more.
AJ Haefele: Without a doubt. He has improved his command of his team by leaps and bounds this season and the all-around buy-in of his philosophy from this roster speaks to the growth everyone in that building has experienced already.
J.D. Killian: At this point, yes. Bednar seems to be the teacher/coach this team is thriving under. Some coaches simply manage the talent. Bednar, however, seems to be calling on every player to develop their skills, and learn new ones, for the betterment of the team. As long as they continue to grow and find some success, Bednar should stay.
Jesse Montano: Yes, flat out. Gotta give him his third year to build on what he has. Assuming, of course, the team doesn’t fall flat in the second half.