Can Avalanche be slowed down? How to counter Cale Makar? 4 scouts weigh

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The Nashville Predators were outscored against the Colorado Avalanche. They faced their third goaltender for most of the first-round series, and the Avalanche’s depth advantage was palpable. Even in Game 4 of the sweep, when Nashville played well and Colorado struggled, coach Jared Bednar’s team came out on top.

But if Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Gabriel Landeskog and company are going to reach new heights this year, they’ll have to go through much tougher teams than Nashville, starting with St. Louis in the second round. The Blues thrashed Minnesota 5-1 in a sixth game closing Thursday, their third straight win.

Ahead of the second-round game, four league scouts weighed in on what they see in the Avalanche, the game, what it would take to slow down the West’s No. 1 seed and more .

Note: some answers have been edited for clarity and length.


Who is the Avalanche’s most underrated player?

Scout 1: Probably Devon Toews to some extent. I don’t think Landeskog is underrated as a captain, but I think he’s the greatest driver in the team. Most people would think it’s probably MacKinnon or whatever. I think it’s the captain.

Scout 2: Valery Nichushkin. Swiss knife. Able to contribute up and down the range.

Scout 3: They are all appreciated. It’s such a deep team, and everyone contributes, and everyone gets a piece of it. I wouldn’t tell anyone. They are just so good.

Scout 4: They have a slew of superstars, and then they have a really good complementary core of players who are good hockey players who would probably get a lot more ice time on non-playoff teams or bubble teams. There are probably a couple, like Nichushkin. You look at where he came from in Dallas and as a young kid. Looks like he’s really fitting in, in Colorado, and he can play up and down the lineup.

JT Compher is another guy I really like. He’s a guy who can replace, in the top six if necessary. They have a great luxury of having players like MacKinnon and Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, but if for some reason one of those guys can’t be there at the last minute, Compher is one of those guys. who can go there and is capable, whether it’s protecting a one-goal lead or defensive situation or trying to score a goal to tie the game. You can’t just rely on your star players because other teams also have star players or great defensive players, and they’re going to come up with a game plan to take out your stars. You still need the secondary score and the game in general, and these are two guys who can provide that.

What or who is the Avalanche’s most important X-factor?

Scout 1: I fucking love Colorado. I like the way this team is built. I think Calgary might give them a bit of a hard time, and I think St. Louis might. St. Louis has something because of the way they play off the cycle, and they’re big and heavy – that will really test some of the Colorado D’s. I think the addition of Josh Manson was awesome and huge. But Samuel Girard, how will he react to some of these big players, confrontations? They could challenge the Avalanche, but I don’t see anyone beating them, actually.

Scout 2: Darcy Kuemper. Brought as final piece and should be a big part of getting over the bump.

Scout 3: MacKinnon is the lead dog. He’s the lead pony, but if he doesn’t go, it’s not a team that everyone won’t go. They have a lot of auto-starters there. But he’s an impressive player, and it just seems like he’s on a mission right now.

Scout 4: For me, it’s the goalkeeper. I think it’s the keeper of both sides. Pavel Francouz is an adequate number 2, but I think they need Kuemper to be healthy. Jordan Binnington proved he can win a Stanley Cup, but he hasn’t played like that since, and Ville Husso has such a small body. It’s a lot more pressure, especially as we approach the second round. For Kuemper, I don’t think he had very long runs in the playoffs. Playing in Arizona, they didn’t win much there. Everyone can say they prepare the same way, but at the start of Game 1 and as you progress through the series – especially on a team that should not only last long, but probably win the Stanley Cup this year – the pressure builds up, that’s where the mental game comes in.


Darcy Kuemper (Ron Chenoy / USA Today)

Is there a way for the Blues to slow down the Avalanche?

Scout 2: They can slow down the Avs with a forecheck, limiting the chances of transition and trying to extend play into the Avs’ game with a heavy game down. They will have to do it without penalties.

Scout 3: Deflate the tires of their plane perhaps? It’s a pretty strong hockey team. I will leave it like that.

Scout 4: In today’s game, the Blues are seen as a bit heavier team, so I think the answer is physical. But if they try to run a little too physically, Colorado’s speed and skating could expose them. They still have a good number of players in their Cup-winning side’s squad. The coach, Craig Berube, is still there. They know what it takes to win. They know what it takes to leave for a long period. It’s only been one round, but Ryan O’Reilly had a very good first round, given that he had a very average season, in terms of points. And you have some of these young guys: Jordan Kyrou, who is a very good player. Even on their fourth row — Alexei Toropchenko — they bring energy. Tyler Bozak is on that fourth row; he is a veteran who can help these young people. I think they’re a little more mobile in the D with Nick Leddy. Justin Faulk moves not too badly compared to Alex Pietrangelo. Obviously, if Torey Krug is out, that’s a hole to fill because he’s a veteran who knows how to play in the playoffs.

What is the most interesting element of the match?

Scout 2: The team that’s been there against one that’s trying to take that step. Talent versus pedigree. Also, Kuemper versus Binnington.

What did you think of the Avalanche trade deadline?

Scout 3 on Artturi Lehkonen: He was a good player. The Habs have struggled quite a bit this year, but he’s always been a positive player, for me, even in their worst times there, and it looks like he’s made a good step since he left. Maybe a little higher in the lineup than I thought, but you saw him at the lowest point where the Canadians were until their coaching change, so that was nice to see.

Scout 4: With Nico Sturm, I liked him in Minnesota in his role. It’s basically the same role: fourth line, penalty killer. He has the size. When you can use guys on the penalty spot who are adequate penalty killers, who can do the job of minimizing those heavy minutes on your star players, it really benefits a team. Lehkonen, he seems to fit in pretty well. Andrew Cogliano is a veteran. He’s a guy, whether he’s in the lineup or out of the lineup, he works hard. He tracks the puck. He’s not a big guy, but he’s not afraid to go into tough areas, and he can provide energy and be solid on the penalty kill.

Manson is your old-school type of defenseman if you have him in your third pair – killing penalties, physicality, and he’s pretty straightforward with the puck. He complements some of the attacking guys, especially Makar and Girard. Toews is also a great two-way guy. Manson really added to their depth that they already had.

What do you think of MacKinnon?

Scout 1: MacKinnon’s speed — no one skates like him. I think he’s better than Connor McDavid, personally. I just think he makes everyone around him better.

How would you describe Makar in one or two words?

Scout 2: Different level.

Scout 3: I will need two words: Absolutely amazing. I was a fan watching it. I was not a working scout. What incredible talent.

Scout 4: There are many words you can use, but he’s a superstar. He has so many adjectives you can use whether it’s “superstar” or “dynamic”. I don’t mean a name like Bobby Orr or Paul Coffey, because Cale is going to be one of those guys, but the next guy that comes along is going to be, “He’s like Cale Makar.” He’s going to be special until the day he retires.

Is there a way to slow it down?

Scout 1: He’s an elite skater. Ryan O’Reilly is going to hit it, and O’Reilly is so smart, but he can’t keep up with it. Pavel Buchnevich is smart. But no. Cale doesn’t care if he gets hit or not. He is very elusive. It’s hard to touch. The only guy who could, actually, would be MacKinnon or Landeskog, but they’re playing him.

(Cale Makar top photo: Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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