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Cullen: Youthful Avs oozing with potential

Scott Cullen
9/8/2011 11:51:37 AM
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With such a young team, it's not altogether surprising that the Colorado Avalanche plummeted in the standings last season, but those young players offer potential and that is sure to draw interest from fantasy owners.

20-year-old Matt Duchene has been terrific in his first two seasons and his 67-point sophomore season puts him in rare enough company. Since 2000, there are a dozen centres that have recorded at least 67 points in their second NHL season. Even better for the Avalanche, there's little reason to think that Duchene won't continue his career ascent.

One of the aforementioned dozen centres to tally at least 67 points in his second NHL season, Paul Stastny is coming off the least productive season (on a points-per-game basis) of his five-year NHL career, scoring 57 points in 74 games. Stastny has scored more than 70 points three times and could certainly return to that level, but it's possible that he's been passed on the depth chart by Duchene, so the Avalanche may need a lot of complementary support from their wingers if they are going to have both centres finish with more than 70 points this season.

A Colorado forward that is decidedly not of the younger generation is veteran Milan Hejduk, the 35-year-old who may be slowing down, but has scored at least 20 goals in 11 straight seasons. More troubling, however, is that Hejduk was a career-low minus-23 last season, so that is some reason to exercise caution before drafting Hejduk.

After missing the entire 2010-2011 season with a concussion, Peter Mueller does appear that he'll be able to play for the Avalanche this year. Mueller is a gifted offensive player, who resurrected his career, scoring 20 points in 15 games after his trade to Colorado in 2010, so if he's healthy, there will certainly be an opportunity available for Mueller to be a significant part of the Avalanche attack.

Last season's big acquisition, defenceman Erik Johnson figures to play a major role too. Johnson played more than 24 minutes per game after arriving in Colorado and he's skilled enough to improve on last year's career-low 29 points, but if Johnson is playing big minutes, he's going to present a plus-minus risk if the Avalanche aren't more competitive than they were last season.

Perhaps the most significant factor in determining if the Avalanche are going to be playoff contenders in 2011-2012 is new goaltender Semyon Varlamov who has been effective when healthy, but he's only managed to play 53 NHL games over the last two seasons. If Varlamov can't stay healthy, the Avs will be in trouble, but his potential makes him an interesting backup consideration for fantasy owners.

Third year pivot Ryan O'Reilly has been a solid two-way performer, surprisingly so for a teenager, but he may have more offensive ability than he's shown thus far. O'Reilly is surely capable of scoring more than the 26 points he's tallied in each of his two NHL seasons.

A couple of wingers could have value in deep leagues. T.J. Galiardi is coming off an injury-marred campaign, but played a big role in Colorado's more successful 2009-2010 season.

On the other hand, David Jones finally stayed healthy last season and notched a career-high 27 goals. Low assist and penalty minute totals limit Jones' upside, but skating alongside Colorado's playmaking centres does present the opportunity for a 30-goal season if he could remain healthy again.

Rookie winger Gabriel Landeskog, drafted second overall this summer, is expected to make the team this year and play a regular role, but it might take him some time to become an impact player in the NHL. His potential makes him worth a look, but expectations need to be reasonable.

Among other Avs prospects, defenceman Stefan Elliott has intriguing potential. There aren't really any impressive puck-movers on the Colorado blueline, so Elliott could rise through the ranks quickly. 2010 first-rounder Joey Hishon is a playmaking centre that, if healthy (he suffered a concussion at the Memorial Cup), could force his way into the lineup as soon as this season.

There aren't a lot of safe selections when it comes to the Avalanche right now -- such is the price of dealing with a young lineup -- but they're a fine place to turn when looking to make upside plays.

Depth Chart - Colorado Avalanche

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.  For more, check out TSN Fantasy Sports on Facebook.




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