Avalanche forward Milan Hejduk celebrates his goal with Paul Stastny and David Jones during their NHL hockey game in Toronto

Are the Colorado Avalanche for real? No, probably not

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One of the biggest stories from this young NHL season has been the Colorado Avalanche. The 29th-ranked team from a year ago — only Edmonton finished with fewer points — is now first overall in the NHL, having just swept a five-game Eastern road trip.

Which begs the question: Are the Avs for real?

Let’s answer by asking our own questions!

Who have the Avs beaten thus far? The 1-0 victory in Boston was a signature win, but after that…three wins came against non-playoff teams — Ottawa, Columbus (in a shootout) and Toronto (in overtime) — and the other was a 6-5 shootout win over Montreal. Not exactly a murders’ row. The Avs will probably be made or broken in January, when they play nine of 12 games on the road with stops in Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, Dallas, Phoenix, Anaheim, Edmonton and L.A. (x2).

Can David Jones keep this up? Jones, Colorado’s leading scorer with four goals, has proven to be a pretty effective sniper when healthy. Problem is, he’s rarely healthy. Despite playing in 77 games last year, Jones has twice had seasons ended via injury (shoulder in 2008-09, torn ACL in 2009-10). There have to be doubts about him making it through the year.

What about the goaltending? Not to discredit Semyon Varlamov, who’s been very good thus far, but we saw this two years ago when Craig Anderson came out of nowhere and morphed into a brick wall. In 2009-10, Andy went 10-2-2 to start the year with a 2.04 GAA and .939 save percentage, but eventually tailed off due to being overworked (71 starts) and facing too much rubber. So how does that relate to Varlamov? Well, Varly’s never played more than 27 games in a season and Colorado is already allowing 31.7 shots per game, eighth-most in the NHL.

Can Colorado compete with that blueline? This might be the biggest issue with the Avs. Outside of Erik Johnson, the defense has a serious lack of talent. It’s like Colorado got everybody else’s scrap parts — the Avs signed Jan Hejda after Columbus (Columbus!) let him walk, which is a serious indictment. Then they signed Shane O’Brien after Nashville let him walk. These signings would’ve been okay for depth purposes, but Hejda and O’Brien are Colorado’s No. 2 and 4 defensemen in terms of ice time right now.  It’s a major concern.

Wow, you’re negative. Anything you like about the Avs? Yeah, absolutely. Like that they’ve got so many legitimate top-six forwards that are 26 or younger: Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly, Matt Duchene, Peter Mueller and Paul Stastny. Like that they’ve got a good veteran backup (JS Giguere) to give Varlamov a breather. Like Joe Sacco, too.

I just don’t like them to make the playoffs.

Andreychuk confident that Stamkos will re-sign in Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos (91) competes in the hardest shot competition at the NHL hockey All-Star game skills competition Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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Former Tampa Bay Lightning player Dave Andreychuk is now a member of the club’s senior management team, and he’s confident that the Bolts won’t lose Steven Stamkos to unrestricted free agency this summer.

“Steven is going to come back. He’s going to be fine,” Andreychuk told Hockey Central today, per Sportsnet.ca.

“I still believe that Steve Yzerman is trying whatever he can do to sign Steven Stamkos, and I believe it will happen.”

Andreychuk — whose official title is VP Corporate & Community Affairs — is not part of the Lightning’s hockey operations, but presumably he speaks with Yzerman, the general manager, from time to time.

Of course, the challenge for Yzerman goes well beyond re-signing the captain. Even with an owner that’s willing to spend to the cap, it simply may not be possible to keep Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Ben Bishop, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, and Jonathan Drouin.

All eight of those players need new contracts this summer or next.

Stamkos, Hedman, and Bishop are pending UFAs, while the other five are pending RFAs.

Report: Forsling signs with Blackhawks

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A report out of Sweden says that defenseman Gustav Forsling has signed an entry-level contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.

For the past two seasons, Forsling has been with Linkopings HC of the Swedish Hockey League. In 2015-16, the 19-year-old had six goals and 15 assists in 48 games.

A fifth-round pick of the Canucks in 2014, Forsling was a star at the 2015 World Juniors, where he had eight points (3G, 5A) in seven games for Sweden. He was traded to Chicago in return for Adam Clendening.

“He’s an offensive defenseman that plays very well on the power play and has a big shot,” said Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman upon Forsling’s acquisition.

Assuming the report is accurate, Forsling can probably count on starting his North American career in the AHL.

The Blackhawks are hoping to graduate Rockford d-man Ville Pokka to the NHL next season.

Related: Three major challenges facing the Chicago Blackhawks

Hendricks to captain U.S. at Worlds for second straight year

OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 01:  Matt Hendricks of USA celebrates goal of his team-mates during the IIHF World Championship group B match between USA and Finland at CEZ Arena on May 1, 2015 in Ostrava, Czech Republic.  (Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)
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Last year, Matt Hendricks captained Team USA to bronze at the World Hockey Championships, marking just the second time in the last 11 years the U.S. had medaled.

So, why not go back to Hendricks again?

That’s what USA Hockey opted to do on Wednesday, announcing the Edmonton forward would reprise his role as team captain for the 2016 tournament, to be held in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Columbus’ Nick Foligno and Arizona’s Connor Murphy were named alternate captains.

Hendricks had a pretty solid tournament for the U.S. last year, scoring two goals and three points in 10 games — an effort made more impressive by the fact it was his first time representing the U.S. internationally.

The U.S. gets its ’16 Worlds campaign underway on Friday, with a game against Canada at 11:30 a.m. ET. The game will be broadcast live on NBCSN, and a live stream will be available on NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

Prized Flyers prospect Provorov says he’s NHL-ready

Ivan Provorov
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Philly had one rookie defenseman burst onto the scene this year, as Shayne Gostisbehere‘s stellar play earned him a Calder Trophy nomination.

Next year, another freshman blueliner will look to make his own mark.

Ivan Provorov, the club’s first-round pick (seventh overall) at the 2015 draft, says he’s primed to make the Flyers’ roster for 2016-17 — despite the fact he’ll be just 19 years old when the campaign begins.

“I think I’m ready,” he said, per the Inquirer. “But we’ll see what happens. I think I’m going to have another good summer and come ready in September.”

The Flyers have been high on Provorov from the minute they drafted him. He signed his entry-level deal a week after being selected, and impressed onlookers during his time at prospect and training camps.

“He showed us his play is efficient in all areas with and without the puck,” head coach Dave Hakstol said, per CSN Philly. “I thought his competitiveness was very good throughout the two days.

“He was focused and relaxed. He is a composed young man with maturity and confidence. Those are very good traits in a young player.”

This year, Provorov — who’s still playing with Brandon in the WHL playoffs — racked up a whopping 21 goals and 73 points in just 62 games. The potential of adding Provorov’s offensive abilities to a blueline that already features a pretty skilled guy in Gostisbehere is tantalizing.

But, as Flyers GM Ron Hextall points out, Provorov is going to have to beat out an incumbent, and won’t just be gifted a spot on the Philadelphia roster.

“They have to come in and be better than someone else that’s here,” Hextall said of young players looking to crack the lineup. “If that happens, we proved last year that we’ll make room in our roster for a young player that proves to us that he’s ready to play at this level and make our team better.”