The Denver Gazette takes one last look at the 2022-23 Colorado Avalanche season and first-round playoff exit with an in-depth review of different position groups. Next on the Avs rewind: Bottom-six forwards.
“We’re certainly going to have opportunities for guys to make a dent and prove to our coaches and group here that they can make our lineup. Whether you’re talking about a guy like Ben Meyers … or some of the college guys we signed late in the previous spring here. Jason Polin, Andre Pavel, Sam Malinski; those guys were all signed because we have NHL hopes for them.
Chris MacFarland Q&A: Avalanche GM says club's 'hope' is Valeri Nichushkin is going to be 'a very important part of our team in the future'
“Now, hopes and doing it are two different things. … We were able to find a Logan O’Connor, who was a free agent, and he carved a role and earned trust. He became a member of our bottom six. We need those guys. We need somebody to grab the wheel and run with it.”
— Avalanche general manager Chris MacFarland during a Tuesday media teleconference call
Colorado's bottom-six forwards to begin the season hardly resembled the group that provided championship depth on their Stanley Cup run. The second line called upon Alex Newhook at center. Nico Sturm, in the lineup for the clinching Game 6, left in free agency. Darren Helm was out with a lower-body injury. But Colorado’s bottom six still had three key pieces of their title team in Andrew Cogliano, J.T. Compher and Logan O’Connor.
The Avs signed Lukas Sedlak oiver the summer and he made the Game 1 lineup vs. Chicago. College free agent signing Ben Meyers (Michigan) also turned a strong training camp into making the active roster. Colorado brought in veteran Alex Galchenyuk on a professional tryout contract. The Avalanche also had two first-round picks — Shane Bowers (‘17) and Martin Kaut (‘18) — still waiting their turn back in the American Hockey League.
The bottom six had much to prove. But pieces were in place for quality depth in 2022-23.
The Avalanche bottom-six forwards were a revolving door. It’s a reflection of health challenges faced across the lineup. Plus, a few roster hopefuls falling short.
Colorado executed several trades to shake up depth. The Avs sent Kaut to San Jose in a deal that netted Matt Nieto (formerly with the Avs). They swapped Dryden Hunt for Denis Malgin in Toronto. They dealt Bowers to Boston for depth goalie Keith Kinkaid. The results?
Nieto and Malgin were clear upgrades and combined for 15 goals and nine assists in the regular season. Kinkaid made just one NHL game appearance. However, much like the team's second line, the bottom six failed to show up in the postseason. It’s a big reason why the Kraken sunk the Avs in Game 7.
It didn’t help that Compher took over at 2C for most of the year. Newhook moved all over the lineup seeking the right fit. Malgin also jumped into the top six. Poor team health forced all three players into more featured roles, stripping the Avalanche of talented depth.
The Avalanche used a franchise record 43 different players last season. The silver lining?
Ridiculous turnover gave the franchise a deeper look at its prospects. Colorado saw enough (or not enough) from Kaut and Bowers to finally move on from highly touted prospects. Meyers established himself as the team’s next smart college free-agent pickup — much like Logan O’Connor — and has a strong chance to make the opening night roster in 2023-24.
The Avalanche are light on draft capital. So, general manager Chris MacFarland was aggressive to sign some of the best available college free agents following the NCAA season - Ondrej Pavel (Minnesota State), Jason Polin (Western Michigan) and Sam Malinski (Cornell). All three will have a chance to follow in Meyers’ footsteps.
First-round pick Oskar Olausson (‘21) had a solid first season in the AHL with 11 goals and nine assists.
Much of the summer focus surrounding Colorado’s roster update will be filling the gap left by Gabe Landeskog’s absence and finding a true second-line center. But don’t sleep on MacFarland making depth trades to bolster the team’s bottom six. Several players on entry-level contract must be real difference makers for an Avalanche return to the title.
Last week on the Colorado Avalanche rewind: Top 6 forwards showcased best, worst of challenging season
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