Stars Avalanche Hockey

Colorado Avalanche left wing Sampo Ranta reaches for the puck next to Dallas Stars right wing Oskar Back last week in Denver.

Joe Sakic summed it up the day before the Avalanche opened the regular season.

“We’ll see,” the general manager began an answer about the team's depth.

The core is largely untouched, but as promised, Colorado got younger. Pricier veterans were replaced by those on entry-level contracts.

Gone are a starting goaltender, a shutdown defenseman and players from all lines except for the top. Here’s a look at who is coming and going on the 2021-2022 team.

Not-so-newcomers

Before the 2021 playoff run, Sakic warned his group was “as deep of team as we’re going to have here” with new deals for Gabriel Landeskog and Cale Makar needed soon. Though the Avalanche loaded up to win then, they took a chance on some newcomers and that experience will help as they recalibrate.

“We knew last year that we were going to lose some key guys due to the salary cap and we did that,” Sakic said Tuesday. “Maybe right now, on paper, we don’t look as good depth-wise, but it allows some guys an opportunity to get more ice time, have a bigger role and hopefully step up and produce and alleviate some of that.”

Bowen Byram, Alex Newhook and Sampo Ranta are poised to make the opening night roster. With their flashes of promise in previous NHL action, those three were closely watched during rookie and training camps.

Teenaged Byram stuck around after World Juniors, playing 19 games last season before missing the rest due to injury.

“I think Bo’s looking very poised. Even watching him in the few games there, I think he’s looking very smooth,” defenseman Cale Makar said. “I’m excited to see him transition to the regular season this year and the role that he plays on our team. I think he’s a very good two-way player.

“He’ll be a key piece for us, especially early on in the season and then moving down the stretch.”

Newhook and Ranta signed after their college seasons ended and took part in the postseason. Coach Jared Bednar said Oct. 4 that he’d spoken to Newhook about elevating after a slow start to camp. Newhook, 20, scored in a preseason game that night.

Newhook has been playing on the presumed third line with Ranta, 21, who was a standout during several practices and preseason games. Sakic called Ranta’s training camp “unbelievable."

Those two are assuming the roster spots of veterans Joonas Donskoi (expansion draft) and Brandon Saad (free agency).

“I’m ready to go,” Ranta said. “This is going to be fun.”

Check mates

No one slated for the Avalanche’s fourth line started the 2020-21 season with the team. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Matt Calvert retired following an injury-disrupted season.

Logan O’Connor, an undrafted free agent out of Denver, has a new three-year contract extension in hand. He didn’t make the roster initially last season. O’Connor is set to play alongside Darren Helm, who spent his entire 14-year career in Detroit before signing with the Avalanche as a free agent.

"He’s been in the league that long for a reason,” O’Connor said. “One of the big reasons is his penalty killing ability.”

“Obviously we lost (Bellemare), who’s a big PK guy, and (Calvert), big PK guy — those were older players. Helm’s a good guy to sort of fill that role as an older voice in that PK unit group.”

The third forward playing with them the day before the season opened wasn’t, strictly speaking, a forward. Six-foot-5, 233-pound Kurtis MacDermid was acquired in a trade and can serve as an enforcer.

“He’s a big deterrent when it comes to teams running around and taking liberties on our guys,” Bednar said.

“But I think if you’re asking a guy to do that job and do it on a regular basis and be excited about it ... you have to have him in the lineup for him to be effective. So I plan on using him.”

As far as a more permanent third fourth-line forward, when Nathan MacKinnon resumes his spot on the top line, Tyson Jost or J.T. Compher could move down. Mikhail Maltsev was acquired in the Ryan Graves trade and seen as a fourth-liner possibility but was one of the last reassigned to the Colorado Eagles (AHL). He’s a top injury replacement.

Blue line options

Veteran defenseman Erik Johnson is back in a tinted visor after a 2020-21 season that started late due to a positive COVID-19 test and ended very early due to a concussion.

Makar said Johnson was “buzzing in the preseason.”

“All of us young guys are going to lean on him quite a bit,” Makar said. “It's awesome to have him back and see him healthy this year, knock on wood.”

Those two, along with Samuel Girard and Devon Toews when healthy, are the old guard on defense. Byram could be used in the top four. They’re joined by free agent pickup Ryan Murray — “very agile, mobile guy,” Makar said — and Jack Johnson, who earned a contract after a professional tryout.

Justin Barron made it to the final preseason game, earning high praise throughout camp, but was then reassigned to the Eagles.

Last defense

Colorado let Vezina Trophy finalist Philipp Grubauer hit free agency and he quickly signed with the Seattle Kraken. The Avalanche had a new starting goaltender hours later.

Six-foot-4, 31-year-old Darcy Kuemper is now behind one of last season’s stingiest NHL defenses. The Avalanche still need him to be solid and healthy.

“He's the No. 1 goalie. He's one of the better goalies in the league and he’s going to get his games,” Sakic said.

Jonas Johansson starts the season at backup because Pavel Francouz sprained his ankle during the preseason, Sakic said. Francouz missed the entirety of last season.