The Avalanche defense feels snakebit.
Injuries have devastated the blue line over the last few years, with top defender Erik Johnson the most disappointing from an injury standpoint. If Colorado is to take a step up this season, it’s going to start at the blue line.
The top pairing looks to be Johnson and Samuel Girard. The duo would seem a great pairing of a tough, physical presence in Johnson and a young, offensively-gifted player in Girard. Girard, acquired from the Nashville Predators with Kamenev in the Matt Duchene deal, netted 20 points in 68 games for Colorado.
Nikita Zadorov and Tyson Barrie will make up the second defensive pairing. Zadorov joined the Avalanche in 2015, coming over in the Ryan O’Reilly (remember him?) trade and has battled injury himself. He played 77 games in 2017, though and gave the Avs some decent punch from the blue line in the short-lived playoff run against the Preds with a goal and two assists in the six games. Barrie is the consummate offensive defenseman for Colorado.
He was the 64th pick in the 2009 draft and after bouncing up and down from the main roster to Lake Erie, he joined the roster full-time in 2014-15.
Bucking the trend, Barrie has been relatively healthy over his five years, at least in the regular season. In the 2014 playoffs, Minnesota WIld pest and instigator Matt Cooke hit Barrie knee-on-knee and put Tyson out for the rest of the playoffs with a torn MCL. Healthy and strong, Barrie has the capability to be a force for the Avs, particularly on the top power play unit.
That leaves Patrik Nemeth, Mark Barberio and the newly acquired Ian Cole to round out the defensive pairings. Nemeth has the most upside of the trio followed by Barberio, both played critical minutes for the team last season. Cole split his time last season between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Pittsburgh Penguins, having much more success in Pittsburgh. Cole manged 13 points and a plus-3 rating over 47 games with the Pens.
Speaking of the injury bug, the next most important aspect of the Avs improvement will be determined by the health of oft-injured starting netminder Semyon Varlamov.