An Avalanche of Upside

Jeff Angus

2010-02-11

 

Kyle Cumiskey

The Colorado Avalanche, expected to be out of playoff contention this season in the Western Conference, have surprised even the wildest of optimists with their play to date. They were entering 2009-10 with an unproven starting goaltender in Craig Anderson, and a roster which featured a potentially disjointed mix of old and young players. However, first year Coach Joe Sacco has brought the mixture together and made it work in a big way. Thanks in large part to the strong goaltending from Anderson, The Avalanche are currently leading the Northwest Division.

 

Colorado's young talent has impressively stepped in seamlessly and contributed to the team's success. First year forward Matt Duchene is the cream of the crop, but he has been joined by the likes of Chris Stewart, TJ Galiardi, Ryan O'Reilly, Brandon Yip, and Kyle Cumiskey.

 

Matt Duchene


Duchene started the season slowly, with only seven points in his first 20 games. However, since then he has 33 points in 38 games, and currently leads all NHL rookies in scoring. Duchene has had some unproductive stretches throughout the season, but that should be expected with any young player, especially an 18 year old playing an important role on a playoff club. He is on pace for 25 goals and 56 points, and is playing over 17 minutes per night. Colorado mixes and matches their lines quite often, and Duchene has lined up with a wide variety of players. His most common line mates have been Milan Hejduk, Galiardi, and Yip. Of his 18 goals, only four of them have come at the Pepsi Center. Most players tend to produce at a better rate at home compared to on the road, but Duchene is bucking that trend. He will very shortly leapfrog Paul Stastny as Colorado's top line center, possibly as early as next season. Expect Duchene to be a 30-40 goal scorer each year, with the capability to put up more with good linemates. Duchene already has the speed and skill to routinely make NHL defensemen look foolish. Not much else really needs to be said – if you own him, sit back and enjoy.

 

Chris Stewart

 

Aside from Anderson, Stewart has been the biggest surprise this season in Colorado. Unlike his brother Anthony, who Florida drafted in the stacked 2003 1st round, Chris has an impressive work ethic and it has propelled him to great things offensively. He tips the scales at close to 230 pounds, and is more than willing to use it. Stewart is on pace for 26 goals and 57 points – nearly identical totals as Duchene. He has played the majority of the time with Stastny and Wojtek Wolski on Colorado's top line, and his physicality and net presence have been a great fit with those two. Stewart also possesses a ton of skill, both as a playmaker and a goal scorer. He has soft hands and a very quick release on his shot. This is his first full NHL season (he had 11 goals in 53 games last year in Col