The Avs will go into their Cup defending season without two of their biggest pieces from their championship run. After putting up 87 points in the regular season, and having an impactful playoff run, Nazem Kadri is headed to Calgary. The other player was an underrated scorer named Andre Burakovsky who will leave to play in Seattle this year. Without these guys in the lineup, the Avs are going to need a few players to step up and fill in these holes. So, who is going to do it? I’m going to give you 5 players that I think you should watch for this season.
The first player that I think you should watch for, is an obvious choice. He absolutely broke out in the postseason last year, specifically the Stanley Cup Finals. That is of course Valeri Nichushkin. Ever since he has walked into Denver, his game has consistently gotten better season by season. Last year, he showed us what he can really do when he played with super star players Nathan Mackinnon and Mikko Rantanen. Through their 20 playoff games, Nichushkin put up 15 points, and 6 of those came in the biggest time, during the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa. He helped clinch Game 1 in Denver when he scored early and then dished a beautiful assist to Andre Burakovsky in overtime to win the game. After what he showed us in the playoffs last year, he is on the verge of becoming a star in the league. He has a fresh new contract in Denver and will have his eyes set on another Stanley Cup. He is 6’3’’ and 209 pounds but is still a great skater and is as good as anyone when it comes to puck protection. Look for him to step up this season, and step into NHL star category.
My second player is a rather unknown to the casual fan but I would get used to hearing his name. Everyone, meet Oscar Olausson.
He was born in Sweden and is currently 19 years old. The Avs drafted Olausson 28th overall in the 2021 draft and spent last season with the Oshawa Generals in the OHL, where he put up 14 goals and 10 assists through 34 games. His puck handling ability is very solid, and he can protect the puck very well. The best part of his game is his ability to find the seams and shoot the puck. Last year Olausson played 3 games for the Avs in the pre-season and put up a goal against both Minnesota and Vegas and in the first game of the 2022 Rookie Faceoff, Olausson lit the lamp against the Kings. He will start the season with the Colorado Eagles (AHL) but as time goes on and he continues to develop, I expect him to be a mainstay in the Avalanche lineup.
Like Olausson, if you don’t watch the Avs every night, you might not know who Ben Meyers is. And again, just like Olausson, you will get to know the former Golden Gopher very well. Meyers spent three seasons at the University of Minnesota and in his final season he put up 41 points. Along with putting the puck in the back of the net, Meyers was named the captain and was the Big Ten player of the year. Not satisfied? He was also selected as a Hobey Baker Award Finalist and led his team all the way to the Frozen Four, before losing to their in-state rival, Minnesota State. After his season, he signed a contract with the Avalanche on April 13th, and 3 days later he made his NHL debut against the Carolina Hurricanes. To make the night even bigger, he would put home his first career NHL goal on a rebound early in the 2nd period.
\Now that he will be able to play a full season with the Avs, I’d expect Meyers to be a huge contributor in the bottom six, and potentially get some looks on the 2nd line.
Colorado drafted Newhook in the first round in 2019, and last year was his rookie season. He had a solid season putting up 13 goals and 20 assists through just 71 games. He was hard on the forecheck, and was solid on the back end, so it was a bit of a surprise when he wasn’t put in the lineup in Game 1 against Nashville. Though he didn’t start the postseason in the lineup he quickly got right back in. He played in 12 of the following games and put up four assists. The thing that I notice the most with Newhook, is that when he is playing confident, he is a huge contributor and puts up solid numbers. Having said that, there are times where he can lose that confidence, and it often plagues his games. He has a great shot, but last year, especially late in the season, he looked afraid to use it. Whether that was because Bednar didn’t play him to start the postseason, or if the pressure got to him, I don’t know, but coming into this season, many are expecting Newhook to take over the roll of the 2nd line center. If you put a little more talent around him, he could break out and put up anywhere from 60-80 points this season. Watch for number 18 to make a statement this season.
The fifth and final player that I’m going to talk about is the breakout defenseman from last year, Bowen Byram. Bo was selected 4th overall in the same class as Newhook and in his rookie campaign, Byram put up a solid 17 points through 30 games played. Of course, the reason that he played such a low number of games was his concussion issue that he went though in the middle of the year. Byram took almost 3 months off to recover from his head injuries, and it looked like his hockey career could be in jeopardy. However, he was able to make a return to the lineup just before the playoffs started and really turned his game up. In the playoffs, he played all 20 games and put up 9 points. However, that doesn’t show how well he really played in the postseason. His defensive awareness is fantastic, and you would think he is a veteran with the way he carries himself on the ice. I make this comparison a lot, but I think that he plays very similar to Dallas Stars defensemen, Miro Heiskanen. They are both young, talented defensemen, that are both good in the defensive end, and do their job to keep other teams from getting good looks. They’re both skilled offensively and can control the puck but aren’t overly flashy. The thing that Byram will need to work on going into this season will be his shot. There were countless times in the postseason where he had an open look, but would either pass the puck or would put up a weak shot for an easy save. If he can develop his shot, he is going to be as dangerous as anyone on the ice, with or without the puck.
Kadri and Burakovsky will tough to replace for the Avalanche, however, if you are an Avs fan, I would keep an eye on these five guys this season. Whether it’s an already known player like Nichushkin, or a guy that flies under the radar like Ben Meyers, these are the players for Colorado that I think will improve their performance this year to fill the losses of players that left the organization this offseason.