Colorado Avalanche

Under Pressure: Nathan MacKinnon

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It may seem a bit unfair to choose a 19-year-old for this category, but when you’re a former first overall pick that was awarded the Calder Trophy in your rookie season, and then you go through the dreaded sophomore slump? Well, it makes it a little more fair.

Nathan MacKinnon had just 38 points in 64 games last season. He had 63 points as a rookie in 2013-14.

“The whole team was kind of in a slump,” MacKinnon told the Chronicle Herald in May. “We weren’t playing well and we weren’t scoring. Things started going better for me but then I got hurt so it was kind of the perfect storm. But at the same time, I didn’t play well and do the things out there I think I can.

“It’s one season and sometimes it can be tough when it’s not going the way you want it to, but I try to stay as positive as I can. I’m pretty hard on myself so I’m already looking ahead to trying to prove to myself that I can be an impact player on our team.”

MacKinnon conceded that he was “maybe a little too confident” after his stellar rookie campaign, and that could probably go for his team as a whole. The Avs won the Central Division with 112 points in 2013-14. They regressed badly (some would say predictably), missing the playoffs with just 90 points in 2014-15.

As mentioned, MacKinnon is still just 19 years old. And experience can only be gained through, well, experience.

“Now I know what it’s like to be up and to be down in the NHL so I think that’s something that will be good for me,” he said.

On a final note, it will be interesting to see what position MacKinnon plays next season. Though he was drafted as a center, he’s mostly been a winger in the NHL, typically with Ryan O’Reilly as his center and Gabriel Landeskog as the other winger.

O’Reilly, of course, was traded to Buffalo, replaced in Colorado by Carl Soderberg.

Even if that’s the plan for now, we all know plans can change. MacKinnon has far more upside as a player than Soderberg, and a center can have more impact in all areas of the ice compared to a winger. The challenge for young players like MacKinnon is learning the position, since it comes with more defensive responsibilities.

Related: Soderberg didn’t hesitate in signing with Avs

It’s Colorado Avalanche day at PHT

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As the Colorado Avalanche enter their third year of the Joe Sakic-Patrick Roy front office era, they seemingly remain a lab test for the league’s stat debates.

The Avalanche were once again a squad whose possession stats peaked at “really bad, but at least not Buffalo Sabres bad” in 2014-15.

The difference between missing the postseason this past season and 2013-14’s triumphant run may have just been some combination of Semyon Varlamov being less superhuman and Colorado experiencing bad luck.

To the stat-leaning public, this was an example of a team playing over its head one year and then crashing to reality last season.

To Roy, it was a rare failure, as he explained to NHL.com.

“I’m here to win the Stanley Cup,” Roy said. “I’m not in Denver to see us missing the playoffs, I’m here to see us winning. I really want to make sure that’s the last time we’re missing the playoffs. It makes you very humble. First time I missed the playoffs as a coach in junior and the NHL.”

The Avalanche might be humbled, yet they’re also sticking to their guns by defying conventional wisdom as far as strategies and team-building go.

Off-season recap

A year after respectable possession player and scorer Paul Stastny left town, the Avalanche traded away their other forward best known for being a rare beacon of light on a team that’s a fancy stats nightmare: Ryan O’Reilly.

One cannot totally blame the Avs for parting ways with a player who seemed out the door for some time, yet it perpetuates the theme that the Avalanche are bucking growing trends around the league.

That said, Carl Soderberg isn’t chopped liver, although he – like O’Reilly – will fetch quite a bounty for his work next season.

Actually, the haul for O’Reilly is quite intriguing: could Nikita Zadorov and Mikhail Grigorenko pay immediate dividends for the Avs? Considering how often this franchise invests in fading veterans, nabbing a couple potential blue chips could be crucial.

Francois Beauchemin is a fine defenseman, yet at 35, many wonder if he’ll be a letdown along the lines of Brad Stuart. Again, many of these moves ultimately fit into Colorado’s M.O.

***

The Avalanche seem content to do things their way, which makes them polarizing for some. However you feel about management’s broader moves, it’s foolish to count out a team that still boasts fascinating prime-age talent in Varlamov, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Barrie and more.

Liles curious to see if Zadorov will make the Avs next season

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Former Avalanche d-man John-Michael Liles has been getting an up-close look at new Avalanche d-man Nikita Zadorov.

The two players, along with some other NHLers, have been skating together in the Denver area during the offseason.

Liles, now a 34-year-old member of the Carolina Hurricanes, is curious to see what kind of an impact, if any, Zadorov can make with the Avs next season.

“He’s a big kid, obviously very skilled, skates well,” Liles said of Zadorov, per the Denver Post. “It will be interesting to see because at 20 years old it can be a daunting task to jump in when expectations are high. It’s never easy playing D in this league.”

Zadorov was drafted 16th overall by the Sabres in 2013. He was dealt to Colorado in June as part of the Ryan O’Reilly blockbuster trade.

“We really like the potential of Zadorov,” Avs GM Joe Sakic said after the trade, per NHL.com. “He’s could be a solid, solid [defenseman] for the next 10 years.”

The Avs can afford to be patient with the big blue-liner. Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Tyson Barrie are all 24 years or younger, so it’s not like the clock is ticking loudly on their core.

Zadorov is also waiver exempt, raising the possibility he could be sent to the AHL next season.

Related: Sabres angry that Zadorov keeps showing up late for stuff

Avs re-sign goalie Pickard to one-year contract

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The Colorado Avalanche have signed goalie Calvin Pickard for another year, the club announced today.

It’s reportedly a two-way deal worth $850,500 at the NHL level.

Pickard is coming off an excellent rookie season, albeit in a limited role. The 23-year-old appeared in 16 games, 13 of them starts, and registered a .932 save percentage.

On three occasions, Pickard was forced to make more than 40 saves. That included a 47-save effort at Pittsburgh on Dec. 18, though the Avs actually lost that game, 1-0, in overtime.

With Semyon Varlamov firmly entrenched as the No. 1 in Colorado, Pickard will have to battle Reto Berra for the No. 2 role next season.

Given Pickard will be on a two-way deal and is exempt from waivers, more time in the minors seems likely.

PHT Morning Skate: Crosby, MacKinnon donate 2015 Worlds checks to hometown youth hockey

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon gave their winnings from the 2015 IIHF World Championship to promote youth hockey in their home of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. They were both members of Canada’s gold medal winning team. (NHL.com)

Sun Devil Athletics are teaming up with the Arizona Coyotes to bring college games to Gila River Arena. (Coyotes.nhl.com)

Examining Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek’s contracts. (CSN Philly)

Devin Slawson sees Edmonton, Washington, and Columbus as three teams that have the potential to take a big leap forward this season. (The Hockey Writers)

Speaking of the Oilers, here’s a look at what Connor McDavid means to the franchise in the short and long-term. (CBS Sports)

Patrick Sharp sees similarities between the Dallas Stars and what the Chicago Blackhawks were like when they were on the cusp of breaking out. (Dallas Morning News)