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2021-22 Colorado Avalanche Preview: Designed to win, destined to choke?

With Grubauer gone, can the Avalanche break out of the second round?

Joonas Donskoi #72, Gabriel Landeskog #92 and Nathan MacKinnon #29 of the Colorado Avalanche react after Mikko Rantanen #96 scored a goal against Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 6 of the Second Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at T-Mobile Arena on June 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

How many of us have chosen the Colorado Avalanche to win the Stanley Cup on our playoff brackets, year after year? The Avalanche are stocked with generational talents like Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar, but the team has yet to break out of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The team is designed to win, but is the 2021-22 season their year to win it all?

Where they left off

The Avalanche’s last two seasons have been the same song and dance; stellar regular season and hitting the golf course after the second round. In the 2019-20 season, the Avs had a record of 42-20-8, finishing second in the Central Division before losing in the second round to the Dallas Stars. Then last season, the Avalanche went 39-13-4, first in the West Division, and again, they lost in the second round to the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Avalanche looked pedestrian against the Knights due to a lack of forward depth and the continuous cycling of top lines. It’s unlikely that the Avalanche will repeat their mistakes, but the loss of Philipp Grubauer casts some doubt on the team’s ability to break out of the second round of the postseason.

2021 Entry Draft

The Colorado Avalanche only had four picks in the 2021 Entry Draft, and Joe Sakic spent them well on multi-dimensional players, and one brother to build up their forward depth.

The Avalanche used their first pick in the draft to take Swedish left winger Oskar Olausson at 28th overall. Olausson has already signed an entry-level contract with the Avalanche. Skating is a skill-set that management clearly prioritizes, with a group of strong skaters on the roster, and Olausson is no different. He’s a creative, heads-up player who’s closer to NHL-ready than not. He spent the majority of the 2020-21 season with the HV71 J20 of the J20 Nationell league, where he played 16 games and scored 14 goals, 13 assists, 10 penalty minutes and a +2 rating.

The Avalanche used their last pick of the draft to select Taylor Makar at 220th overall. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Taylor is the younger brother of Colorado’s phenom defender, Cale Makar. Taylor, like his brother, spent time in the AJHL, and he played the 2020-21 season with the Brooks Bandits, where he played 16 games for a total of 5 goals, 14 assists, and 63 PIMs. The 6-foot-3 forward is committed to UMass and will play for the Minutemen in the NCAA next year.

Colorado’s final list of picks are as follows:

Round 1 (28th overall): Oskar Olausson
Round 2 (61st): Sean Behrens
Round 3 (92nd): Andrei Buyalsky
Round 7 (220th): Taylor Makar

Roster

The Seattle Kraken took more from Colorado than anticipated. Joonas Donskoi, an underrated workhorse forward for the Avalanche was exposed in the Expansion Draft. He offers significant depth in the middle-six for the Kraken on a limited contract, with two years left on his four-year, $3.9 million average annual value (AAV) deal. Donskoi is no stranger to Sharks fans, as he signed his first NHL contract with the Sharks in 2015, and spent four years with the team until he signed as an unrestricted free agent in Colorado.

The Avalanche are top-heavy with forwards but struggle with depth, and Donskoi will definitely be missed, even if he was an expected pick-up for Seattle after he was made available in the draft. There was another player who was snagged by the Kraken, although this signing blindsided the Avalanche.

Vezina-finalist Philipp Grubauer chose not to return to Colorado as a UFA, electing instead to sign a six-year, $35.4 million contract with the Kraken. Grubauer was the unequivocal hero for the Avalanche in both the regular and postseason. In the regular season, Grubauer played 40 games, posting a 1.95 goals-against average (GAA), .922 save percentage (SV%) and seven shutouts, also ranking second in the NHL in wins with a record of 30-9-7, second only to Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.

In order to replace Grubauer, the Avalanche traded with the Arizona Coyotes for goaltender Darcy Kuemper, in exchange for Conor Timmins, a first-round pick in 2022 and a 2024 conditional third-round pick. Kuemper did his best behind the offense-starved Coyotes, and it’s likely that his numbers will only improve with superstars like Nathan MacKinnon in front of him. In 2021, Kuemper held a 10-11-3 record with a 2.56 GAA, .907 SV% and two shutouts. He’ll share the net with Pavel Francouz, who missed all of last season due to a lower-body injury and surgery. Francouz’s rookie season was the 2019-20 season, where he posted a 21-7-4 record, 2.40 GAA, .923 SV% and one shutout.

The most exciting player to watch this upcoming season (on an already fan-favorite team) is Bowen Byram. The Avalanche aren’t short on young defensemen, but as Byram enters his first full NHL season, he’ll be expected to demonstrate more maturity on the ice. In the 2020-21 season, Byram played 19 games with the Avs, notching 2 assists, 23 PIMs and a +1 rating.

Here’s how Daily Faceoff projects the 2021-22 line-up:

Forwards

Gabriel Landeskog — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen
Valeri Nichushkin — Nazem Kadri — Andre Burakovsky
Tyson Jost — Alex Newhook — J.T. Compher
Darren Helm — Mikhail Maltsev — Logan O’Connor

Defenders

Samuel Girard — Cale Makar
Bowen Byram — Erik Johnson
Kurtis MacDermid — Ryan Murray

Goaltenders

Darcy Kuemper
Pavel Francouz

What can we expect in 2021-22?

It’s time for the Avalanche to live up to the high expectations of fans. On paper and in the regular season, the Avalanche have every advantage available to them, but this season offers some concerns; Kuemper will be a must-watch, as will be the bottom-six.

The San Jose Sharks and the Colorado Avalanche will play each other three times during the regular season. They’ll first meet on Nov. 13 in Denver. They’ll round out the season with two games in March, first in San Jose on March 18, then on March 31 at Ball Arena.