The team with the most wide-open window to win a Stanley Cup, by the account of any reasonable NHL onlooker, is the Colorado Avalanche. If your favorite team is in the Central Division, you know this, because the influx of defensive talent on the Avalanche’s roster is seemingly constant.
Through the draft came Cale Makar (fourth overall) and Conor Timmins (32nd overall) in 2017, plus Bowen Byram (fourth overall) in 2019.
Received in trades, were:
- Former first-round pick Erik Johnson in 2011 along with Jay McClement and a 2011 first-round pick. In exchange, Colorado had to give up Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk, and a 2011 second-round draft pick.
- Nikita Zadorov in 2015, sending Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn to Buffalo, for Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, JT Compher, and a 2015 first-round pick.
- Samuel Girard in 2017, in a three-way trade that sent Matt Duchene to Ottawa and Kyle Turris to Nashville. Colorado, on the other hand, received Girard, Vladislav Kamenev, Shane Bowers, Andrew Hammond, a 2018 first-round pick, a 2018 second-round pick, and a 2019 third-round pick
- In 2018, Colorado moved AHL Defenseman Chris Bigras to the New York Rangers in exchange for Ryan Graves, a 6-foot-5 defenseman that now plays on the top pairing in Colorado.
- Not to mention, Kevin Connauton, who was traded in 2019 along with the Arizona Coyotes’ 2020 third-round pick, for Carl Soderberg)
By the way of free agency came Ian Cole in 2018, signing a three-year deal at $4.25 million AAV, and Mark Barberio, who was claimed off of waivers by Colorado in 2017, and re-signed with the team for two years.
Compiling the list of bolded names above, we can assemble Colorado’s current top 10 list of defensemen. Kevin Connauton and Mark Barberio have been bolded in red to distinguish them as free agents after the 2019-20 season. And while Bowen Byram and Conor Timmins have yet to play games in the NHL, we can assume as first and second-round draft picks in 2017 that they will offer value to the Avalanche in the future.
The point being, Colorado has an abundance of solid defensemen, many of whom will be able to play in the NHL for years to come. Not only that, but it’s also a good mix of skillful puck movers like Cale Makar, Samuel Girard, and Bowen Byram with big, fast guys like Erik Johnson, Ryan Graves, and Ian Cole. As Zadorov and Timmins come into the picture, the Avalanche will find themselves up to their teeth in defense.
The New Jersey Devils aren’t so lucky…or maybe they just haven’t fully addressed the team’s needs. Drawing attention to their D-core, we have P.K. Subban, Damon Severson, Will Butcher, and Connor Carrick. Potentially the best defenseman in that group is Will Butcher, who was actually drafted by the Avalanche in 2013, but then rejected their contract offer and signed with New Jersey. Filling up the rest of the defensive slots are Mirco Mueller, Matt Tennyson, Dakota Mermis, and Fredrik Claesson.
Climbing up the ladder are prospects Ty Smith, a skilled offensive defenseman drafted 17th overall in 2018; Kevin Bahl, a second-round pick with size, received in the Taylor Hall trade; and Nikita Okhotyuk, a 2019 second-round pick from Russia, that plays with Bahl for the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s. To assess that group in a sentence, the Devils have five second or third-pair defensemen, four AHL defensemen, and three prospects that could play next year. Not exactly an ideal situation, however, we’ll cut them some slack after trading away Andy Greene and Sami Vatanen.
What the Devils do have, that many teams don’t, is a young-stud goaltender who’s up for a new contract as an RFA this summer. That being Mackenzie Blackwood, who has expressed interest in re-signing with the Devils, according to Mike Morreale of NHL.com. “I don’t really know exactly how it’s all going to transpire, but whatever it is, I like Jersey,” Blackwood said. “I love playing here and I’d love to play here for a long time, so I’m sure we can figure something out and hopefully it can go smoothly.”
That said, if the Devils don’t put any help in front of him, we could quickly see the demise of Mac Black in New Jersey. Keep that in mind as we approach the NHL Draft and free agency.