As far as top heavy teams go, the Colorado Avalanche may be at the top of the pack.  They have their three young studs at forward leading the way offensively but then a bunch of question marks behind them.  Same goes with the defense where they have a few strong players, some aging guys and more question marks.  As I’ve talked about in this space multiple times, Patrick Roy was clueless behind the bench and he abruptly quit his job in the summer.  He’s been replaced by Jared Bednar who won the AHL championship with the Lake Erie Monsters (Columbus affiliate) last season.  Bednar rose through the ranks and was a winning coach every season in the AHL and ECHL making me think the Avs made a fairly big coaching upgrade.  The help of a system can only help the players so let’s take a look at the players Bednar are working with:

GOALTENDING

Semyon Varlamov looks to be the #1 again in Colorado this season.  While his .914 sv% was down a bit from the last two years, his goals against average skyrocketed to 2.81 because he faced over 30 shots per game.  With Bednar coming in, things should be much more organized limiting the opportunities the opposition has against Varlamov.  It wasn’t that long ago, 2013-14, that Varlamov posted a .927 sv% and 43 wins as the runner up for the Vezina.  I think there’s some upside here and that he should be drafted as a #2 goalie.  There’s some risk here since he’s missed some time in recent years and only played more than 57 games once.

Additional Varlamov risk comes from his backup, Calvin Pickard.  He hasn’t seen a ton of action in the NHL but over 36 games (26 starts), he has a .927 sv%.  Yes, I know it’s an extremely small sample size but the 24 year old has a lot of talent.  If Varlamov gets off to a poor start, it wouldn’t shock me if Pickard received more action, especially with a new coach coming in that has no loyalty to anybody.  Don’t draft him outside of the deepest of leagues but this situation is worth monitoring.

DEFENSEMEN

Despite a slight drop in points, Tyson Barrie solidified himself as a strong fantasy defensemen in all formats.  In 78 games, Barrie had 13+36 with a career best 23 STP and improved PIM to 31.  A nice development was his increased shot rate; Barrie took 33 more shots in 2 fewer games pushing his shot rate to above average for a defenseman.  I don’t expect him to be -16 again with a more organized team.  Barrie is probably a top end D3 in 12 man leagues with the upside to be a #2 if his shot rate increases again or has a marginal uptick in points.

Erik Johnson had a rough season offensively scoring only 27 points in 73 games after 23 in 47 the previous year.  If Johnson got back to a 40 point pace, he’d definitely be worth owning with his strong PIM and SOG.  Will that happen?  There’s a fairly good chance, enough to the point where I’d draft him late in 12’ers.  One, the Avs have to play him big minutes because their bottom pair is very weak.  Two, he’s a lock to get power play time and while it’s probably on the second unit, we don’t know how the time will be split between the units yet.  Three, he doesn’t really need a PP bump because he only had 6 PPP in 47 games 2 seasons ago while he played at a 40 point pace.  If he gets one, he’s absolutely must own but if he doesn’t, he only needs to add a couple points at even strength to be worth it.  The upside isn’t large without an injury to Barrie but he’s safe at the end of drafts and hits most of the stats.

Francois Beauchemin‘s numbers look okay on the surface in his first year in Colorado but I don’t see much value going forward outside of one subset of leagues (more on that later).  Beauchemin had 8 goals and 26 assists playing all 82 games adding okay penalty minutes and a poor shot rate.  He had 11 PPP last season and there’s no guarantee he’s even on the power play this year.  I definitely wouldn’t touch him in 12’ers and probably wouldn’t even want him in 16’ers unless your league counts blocked shots.  Beauchemin is a monster in leagues that count blocks; he had an incredible 256 last season, 46 more than anyone else in the league.  If that matters to you, move him up your board accordingly and draft him when you deem necessary to accumulate those blocks.

For dynasties, Nikita Zadorov is a poster boy of high upside, low floor.  One of the main pieces in the trade with Buffalo for Ryan O’Reilly that looks worse by the day, Zadarov spent a lot of last season in the AHL.  He played 22 games in Colorado tallying 2 assists and nothing else.  If he puts things together, he has the upside to be an elite defenseman in the NHL.  There’s also a chance he’s out of the league in a couple years.  If you want to shoot the moon, he’s a good target to do so in your drafts on defense.

FORWARDS

While he didn’t make a huge jump in year 3, Nathan MacKinnon remains the best forward on the Avalanche in the short and long term.  MacKinnon scored 21 goals and added 31 assists in 72 games.  More importantly, he had a big jump in shot rate to almost 3.5 a game reaching truly elite territory.  It’s sickening to think about but MacKinnon will barely be 21 years old when the season starts.  The sky is truly the limit here; there’s point per game potential here and while I don’t expect that this year, 30+40 isn’t out of the question.  I put MacKinnon 34th in my rankings as a “shoot the moon” type pick.  He’s not the safest guy in that range but very few players have his upside.

Matt Duchene came in at 62 in my ranks for his combination of upside and safety.  Coming off his first 30 goal season, Duchene didn’t see eye to eye with Roy at times meaning a coaching switch could help a bit here.  An improved power play would also help a lot since Duchene has topped 15 points once since his rookie year (same goes with MacKinnon).  We know that the penalty minutes will be poor but we’ve seen Duchene score 30 goals now and also get 47 assists in 71 games.  I doubt we get the best of both worlds but he could come close which makes him a top 50 player with ease.

At this point, there’s a good chance we know what Gabriel Landeskog is from a fantasy perspective.  His floor appears to be 20 goals, 30 assists and very good penalty minutes.  The concern comes solely from his shot rate.  His career has been the inverse of the majority with a career high in his rookie season and declining since.  After a whopping 270 shots as a rookie, Landeskog took only 169 last season in 75 games, merely an average rate.  If he can get that back even to where it was the past 2 years (average of 218), that could push Landeskog back over 60 points.  That’s my expectation and why he’ll be back in my top 100 this year despite last year’s disappointment.  I don’t see the top 50 upside that he looked like he had after his rookie year but top 75 is certainly possible.

The dropoff from these three to the next guy is massive.  I guess Jarome Iginla is worth looking at next.  We finally saw a big dropoff in his production last year with 22 goals and 25 assists.  The penalty minutes and shot rate were still average or better so there is some value here, especially in deep leagues because Iginla has a long track record of staying healthy.  The big concern here is that his even strength production dropped tremendously.  Iginla scored only 9 even strength goals which quite simply isn’t going to get it done.  If he goes off the first power play unit, he could be borderline useless.  At 39 years old, the upside isn’t here at all.  I’m not drafting him in standard 12’ers hoping that he goes undrafted and that I can stream him in good matchups.  I assume he’ll be picked because of name value though.

Carl Soderberg‘s first season in Colorado was in line with his previous seasons in Boston scoring 12 goals and setting a new career high with 39 assists.  Since the Avalanche lineup is incredibly thin outside of the top 6, Soderberg should receive big minutes again this season.  He’s merely passable across the board while being very good at assists so if you’re short on dimes at the end of your draft, Soderberg is a nice fit at the bottom of your roster.  Again, there’s not much upside here since despite being in the league only 3 years, Soderberg is going to be 31 when the season starts.  The floor is quite high at the same time though.

Blake Comeau was a fairly regular streamer last season and the same is possible again.  Comeau scored 12 goals and 24 assists last year while adding 58 PIM.  He is what he is at this point in his career and his shot rate will keep him from doing much more than that so pick your spots with good matchups to make use out of Comeau.

The player with the most upside to break onto the fantasy scene is Mikko Rantanen.  The 19 year old was the 10th pick in the 2015 draft and dominated the AHL last season with 24 goals, 36 assists and 42 PIM in 52 games.  He needs to learn to use his body better but that should come with time.  Rantanen is a great combination of offensive skill with the ability to use his body to make an impact.  By the end of the season, I could see him in the top 6 taking Comeau’s spot.  In dynasties, he’s an excellent piece with the massive upside he carries.  For this year, I wouldn’t draft him outside of the deepest of league but Rantanen is worth keeping an eye on to see what role he carves out for the Avalanche.

Joe Colborne is coming off the best season of his career scoring 44 points (19+25) in 73 games for the Flames.  Now, he’s moved to Colorado with a likely spot on the third line.  My excitement for Colborne is limited, mostly because he shot an unsustainable 19% last season on only 100 shots.  It’s more likely his stat line becomes 12+20 than it becoming better than that.  You can consider Colborne for streaming early on but I’m not drafting him outside of 16’ers or deeper.

The other big piece in the O’Reilly deal, Mikhail Grigorenko just hasn’t figured things out on the NHL level.  He did okay last season when he played with two of the big three but with only 6 goals, 21 assists and 84 shots in 74 games, he’s nothing more than a Hail Mary in deep dynasties at this point.

TOP 5 PROSPECTS

1) Mikko Rantanen

2) Tyson Jost

3) Chris Bigras

4) Calvin Pickard

5) Rocco Grimaldi

That’s all for now guys!  I’ll be back tomorrow with a look at the Minnesota Wild.  Be sure to check out Reid’s first post on Razzball that went up yesterday covering an important topic in fantasy hockey, drafting based on fantasy value over real life value.  As always, feel free to ask any questions or leave any comments below.  Take care!