Carney Column: Avalanche’s future appears bright after playoff run
The disappointment and hurt might still sting for a large portion of the Colorado Avalanche’s fan base, but when taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, the future of the Denver-based professional hockey club is incredibly bright.
Right away in Game 7 the Avalanche appeared overwhelmed by the big stage and the bright lights of the winner-take-all playoff matchup. The Avs looked tight and unsure of themselves, and that offsides call against captain Gabriel Landeskog surely didn’t help matters. Really, any team with just 14 shots on goal after two full periods of play doesn’t deserve to win, but the Avalanche regrouped in the third and made it a game. They just couldn’t find the equalizer late on the road.
Against the Sharks in Game 7, the Avalanche had an average age of 25 years, 7 months on the ice in the series-deciding game. That’s incredibly young for a team that was just one win away from reaching its first Western Conference semifinals since a loss to the Detroit Red Wings at the end of the 2001-02 season. For comparison’s sake, the Sharks sported a lineup with an average age of 29 years, 2 months. The Sharks are an aging lineup that has found itself in a Game 7 battle four times in the last four seasons, including a 7-game series in the first round against the Vegas Golden Knights.
The 3-2 loss is surely disappointing for a young group like the Avs, but the franchise mostly overachieved throughout the 2018-19 season, overcoming a number of injuries to reach the playoffs. With such a young roster, the arrow is clearly pointing skyward, thanks in part due to the development happening with the young guys under head coach Jared Bednar, and the shrewd acquisitions made by general manager Joe Sakic.
Colorado’s elite top line of Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Miko Rantanen are one of the youngest trio’s in the league as Landeskog is the elder statesman on the line at 26 years old. MacKinnon is just 23 years old and looks like the best offensive weapon in the game today, while Rantanen is just 22 years old and really grew into his game this season, giving the Avs three terrific scorers on the first line.
Behind that trio, the Avs dont’ have a ton to work with, but 20-year-old Tyson Jost showed quite a bit as a possible second-line center, scoring 3 playoff goals. JT Compher is just 23 years old and put up 6 points (4 goals) in 12 playoff games, while Matt Nieto is just 26 years old and scored 4 playoff goals in 12 games. Behind those young guys, the Avs have a plethora of young offensive weapons on the way, highlighted by 19-year-old winger Martin Kauth, 20-year-old center Shane Bowers — who was acquired as part of the Matt Duchene trade, and 21-year-old Vladislav Kamenev, who played in 23 games with the Avs this season, recording 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists) in an average of roughly 8 minutes on the ice per game.
Up front, the Avs are loaded now, and into the future. The same can be said on the blue line and in goal.
Cale Makar made his debut at 20 years old in the playoffs this spring and looked extremely comfortable right away. He’s going to be a dynamic two-way force for years to come, hopefully with the Avs long-term. Along with Makar, 20-year-old Samuel Girard is a strong two-way presence, while 27-year-old Tyson Barrie possesses a howitzer from the point that nobody wants to step in front of. Behind that trio, in a few years the Avs should add another high-ceiling talent in 19-year-old Conor Timmins, who could push Erik Johnson or Ian Cole out the door in a year or two.
Then, in goal the Avs have 21-year-old Adam Werner and 18-year-old Justus Annunen waiting in the wings to fill a backup role behind Philipp Grubauer, who is just 27 years old and looks like a future star in goal in this system.
With the way the roster is currently constructed, the Avs should be serious Stanley Cup contenders for years to come. That thought alone should be enough to soften the blow of the Game 7 loss.
Josh Carney is the sports editor of the Post Independent.
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