The Colorado Avalanche finally found themselves atop the hockey world in the summer of 2022. After years of coming close to the Stanley Cup Final, they managed to punch their ticket. What's more, they managed to take down a Tampa Bay Lightning team gunning for their third Stanley Cup in a row.
Many expected the Avalanche to remain one of the best teams in the NHL last season. And, to an extent, they were. Colorado made the Stanley Cup Playoffs again after winning the Central Division. However, cracks in the armor showed throughout the season. And the armor officially broke in the playoffs.
The Avs lost to the Seattle Kraken in seven games in the first round. Colorado went home earlier than many hockey fans imagined. They had to look themselves in the mirror and figure out just what went wrong. Colorado undoubtedly will use this as motivation moving forward, as well.
With no further ado, here are three bold predictions for the Colorado Avalanche as they prepare to take the ice for the 2023-24 NHL season.
Ross Colton steps up
The Avalanche dealt with a ton of injuries during the regular season in 2022-23. Colorado had to rely on players down the lineup stepping into more prominent roles. The team hopes to avoid injury this season but still may need to rely on players down the lineup to perform at a high level. Enter, Ross Colton.
The Avs acquired Colton from the Tampa Bay Lightning around the NHL Draft in late June. Colton played well for Tampa Bay and has for a few years. But the success the Lightning have experienced comes with major salary cap consequences. Tampa couldn't re-sign him, so they traded him.
Colorado will take full advantage. Expect the 27-year-old Colton to truly break out this upcoming season. He's proven he can contribute in a limited role. In fact, Colton has never averaged more than 13 minutes a night in any season. Given more ice time, the New Jersey native will absolutely thrive and help lead the Avalanche offense.
MacKinnon hits 130
Nathan MacKinnon finally surpassed the 100-point mark last season, and he did it in a big way. He established a new career-high with 42 goals and 111 points as Colorado won their division. He should cross the 100-point mark once again in 2023-24, and he should once again do so in a major way.
MacKinnon will score 130 points this upcoming season. The 28-year-old will once again skate alongside Mikko Rantanen, a tandem that already gives opposing teams nightmares. But don't underestimate the other players around him. Cale Makar should produce well offensively, and Ryan Johansen could skate with him on the power play.
The biggest dark horse to this is Jonathan Drouin. MacKinnon and Drouin are former junior hockey teammates, as well as close friends. The Avalanche brought Drouin in to pair him with MacKinnon to see if the chemistry from their junior days is still there. If it is, MacKinnon should have no issue scoring 130 points.
A smoother, yet still difficult, road
As mentioned, the Avalanche dealt with injuries last season. And that had a noticeable effect on their performance. Removing injury concerns from the equation certainly helps this team and their outlook. Colorado should have a smoother road to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it still won't be easy.
Many of the team's depth contributors from last season have departed. J.T. Compher, Miles Wood, Evan Rodrigues, and Alex Newhook are all on different teams this season. They did replace these players, but one has to wonder whether they can get these same performances if injuries become an issue once again.
Colorado is already missing a major piece in captain Gabriel Landeskog. But the team should still make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They could even win the Central Division once again. They just might not be as dominating as we are used to them being this season.