When Paul Stastny went down with a broken forearm, I, like many hockey fans, thought the Avalanche were done. We're toast, build to next year, get a high draft pick and start from scratch. However, several centers have emerged to give Avs fans playoff hopes once again.
First is Wojtek Wolski. Since being moved to his new position, he has put new life in this team's offense. In his first three games at center he got six points (4g/2a). Wolski is a magician with his stick. He can stick handle with three defenders around him and still get the puck out of harms way. He also has a very hard, accurate shot, possibly the best that the Avs have. Wolski has been playing like a man possessed since being moved to center. His numbers notwithstanding, Wolski's been more active in all three zones, more physical and overall more inspired. He's given the Avs' faithful hopes and dreams of a Stastny-Wolski 1-2 punch.
Next on the list, is T.J. Hensick. Hensick hasn't had many highlights this year but he's progressing. Hensick is using his speed to get into scoring spots and he's not forcing plays anymore. He is making smart, safe passes and playing above average defense. Also, he's improved his faceoff winning percentage. Before Stastny went out, Hensick was hovering around 37% of faceoffs won. However, since then, Hensick has been around 45 to 50 percent. It has helped his linemates, usually Chris Stewart and David Jones, to make some very nice offensive moves off the draw and allows them to cheat up a little.
The third center that has emerged that no one is talking about is Philippe Dupuis. He has yet to get a point, though he's been on the ice for a few goals. His game isn't as noticeable but it is very good. Like his brother, Pascal, Dupuis is very good in his own zone. He gets in passing and shooting lanes, back checks very well and uses his stick to make a lot of steals. He won't put up a lot of points but he is shaping up to be the excellent fourth line center the Avs oh so desperately need.
That is all the centers currently with the Avs. However, the Avs have a few centers in the system that could make an impact on this team.
First is Ryan Stoa. At 6'3 217, Stoa is a complete package. He has great offensive instincts and good skills. He has a hard shot, good passing and nose for puck, especially around the net. He's not the best in the defensive zone but he's competent, especially in covering his man. He's good at faceoffs and is also a leader on and off the ice. Even though he's a junior this year, don't be surprised if the Avs sign him this offseason.
Currently playing with Lake Erie is another Avalanche prospect, T.J. Galiardi. Galiardi (6'2 172) is a playmaker to a "T." He has tremendous vision and usually finds a way to get a pass through. He keeps defenses adjusting to him and is creative with the puck. He's having a rough year with Lake Erie this year but he should be effective, given enough time to grow. He's listed as a Left Wing on the Avs Web Site but his natural position is center.
The last center in the system, though probably two years away from the Avs, is Kelsey Tessier. Tessier is small (5'9" 168) but has a lot of heart. He is very fast, very much like Pavel Bure. He has good stick handling skills and a very hard shot. He's as competitive as they get and isn't afraid to go hard into the corners. He is also blessed by playing for one of the most competitive players ever, Patrick Roy. Tessier should take a while to develop but once he does, look for him to be an impact for the Avs.
While things have looked rather dark for this year, there is most certainly a light at the end of the tunnel for the Avs, as far as the center position is concerned.