Avalanche Mailbag: Untouchable Prospects, What To Do With Johansen

Colorado Hockey Now

With the Colorado Avalanche getting some time off to relax before heading into the stretch run, it was a good time to answer some burning questions fans have about the team. The Avalanche retuned to practice on Sunday, and will be back at it on Monday night in New York, where CHN will be live with the team.

Are there any untouchable prospects on the team? What kind of impact could Nikolai Kovalenko actually have? What do they do with Ryan Johansen? Answering those and a lot more in today’s mailbag.

From Paul G: Headed toward the deadline, are there any untouchable prospects for trade? Behrens? Ritchie?

To cut right to the point – no. This team is trying to win right now, and if the right deal comes along, no prospect is untouchable.

That being said, I’m having a tough time recalling an Avalanche prospect that has had the D+1 year that Calum Ritchie is currently having, so he’s as close as you’ll get to untouchable in the system. Heck, even Cale Makar’s freshman year at Umass, while great, wasn’t dominant by any means. His sophomore year is when he really exploded.

Ritchie is having the type of season that makes you wonder if he can play in the NHL next season, kind of like what Wyatt Johnston did in Dallas. That would make things really interesting next year.

From Sage: How likely is Kovalenko to make it into our current line up come playoffs?

That’s up for Kovalenko to determine. It’s been a strange season for him in the KHL. For the first month, he was arguably the best player in that league, doing everything for Torpedo as they got off to a ridiculous start.

Then he got hurt, and missed six weeks. He came back and picked up right where he left off, but faded a bit and disappeared again for four weeks. Since returning, he hasn’t played very well, in my opinion. There’s a month left in the KHL season before their playoffs, so he has time to turn it around, but my concern is injuries have ruined whatever momentum he had built up. He also may have something lingering.

I should note that while Kovalenko’s game has dipped, the entire Torpedo team has taken a big step back. I don’t anticipate them going on a long run in the playoffs, as they’ve been pretty average for a while.

The Kovalenko I watched for most of the season is an NHL player. I have no doubt of that. If he gets that back before coming over, he’s a true wildcard for this team.

Do you think the team feels any desperation to move on from Johansen sooner than later, or are they content to let the year play out and assess options in the offseason?

If they could get out of it, I think they would, but that’s way easier said than done, especially mid-season with teams up against the cap. If the team acquires another center, and I am expecting them to, what role would Johansen even have? I don’t see him in that 4C role.

From an outside perspective, finding someone to take on Johansen’s $4 million seems very difficult, but that’s why I’m not an NHL GM. The Avalanche also may just want to see this through until the end of the year either way. Johansen has historically performed quite well in the playoffs. If you can’t find a taker, may as well see if that version of RyJo shows up in April.

From Kathryn: If there were an award for best defensive defenseman, who would be your top three in the league this year?

That’s a good question, and an award I think many people would love to see. It’s also an award that I think some people would struggle to vote on correctly.

Devon Toews would be up there. After a slower start, he’s been the Toews we all remember. This is the type of award that Jaccob Slavin probably would have won a few times by now. While he’ll likely be up for the Norris, Charlie McAvoy would be a good choice as well.

From Mile Hi Goalie: Question one, why is there a bye week? Sorry, rhetorical.

I believe it was negotiated into the CBA by the players. If you recall, the bye week used to come during a random time in the season, but they decided to combine it with the All-Star game to just have one long break as opposed to two. Players like it that way, as well.

One of the other reasons for the move is the team coming off the bye week would always get crushed by some team who had still been playing in their first game back, so they made some changes. When the Avalanche and Rangers face-off on Monday, neither team will really have an advantage because they’ve both been off for over a week.

From Christopher: Where does Landy slot in if all things align for the playoffs? 4th line wing? 

I’ll be honest and say I’m not holding my breath for a Landeskog return in the playoffs, and if he does come back, it would be a very minor role. The timeframe was 12-16 months after the surgery, and he had the surgery in May of 2022, so that gives you a general idea of when he could return.

We’re talking about a guy who hasn’t played a hockey game in almost two years. Seeing him step back into the lineup during the most intense time of the year, while not impossible, seems unlikely to me. The Avalanche also have to be very careful with not rushing him. He’s under contract for several more years, and they want him to play out that contract. If he comes back too quickly and something happens, they’re in trouble.

I will say that Landeskog, in the most recent time I saw him skate, was moving better than I expected.

From Val Drury: Has Malinski done enough to be considered a roster player next year?

Yes, barring a collapse, I’d be surprised if Malinski isn’t a full-time NHL player next season. He’ll be 26 at that point. Heck, he’ll probably play a decent chunk down the stretch this season.

From Val Drury: Do you see the Avs moving on from Ben Meyers?

I could see it, but I wonder how much value he actually has, if any. The Avalanche chose to protect his waiver status by sending him to the Eagles, which may make him more valuable to any team acquiring him. Meyers is currently hurt in the AHL and out a few weeks, but expected back by the deadline.

From Gabs: Seems a lot of people are murmuring that a Bo trade feels possible, that it makes sense out of the lineup that we have. Any thoughts?

It wouldn’t surprise me…in the summer. How often do contending teams move a top four defenseman in the middle of the season? That’s not to say it won’t or can’t happen, but teams rarely do something like that when making a big push. It would have to be a really good deal.

I’ll probably touch on this more in my upcoming piece looking at what pieces the Avalanche have to trade.

From Jackie: How do you see the Avs handing goaltending on the upcoming road trip, in particular the NY/NJ back to back.

The Avalanche made this answer really easy. Ivan Prosvetov cleared waivers today, and will likely be headed to the Eagles. Justus Annunen will start one of these games, but which one? I’d guess New Jersey, but it could go either way because Alexandar Georgiev didn’t exactly get a break.

From Luke: What is the best James Bond movie and why is it Casino Royale?

Casino Royale is the correct answer, so much so that this question inspired me to download it for my flight to New York. Close runner ups, in my opinion, are From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and The Living Daylights.

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