Top Lines in Colorado Avalanche History
The Colorado Avalanche have played host to some of the best hockey players in the league. During their run of multiple championships, and even beyond, the Avalanche have frequently had a combination of skills that made them one of the most exciting teams to watch.
From top to bottom, the Avs lines have always provided fans with great hockey. Here are the top lines in Avalanche history, in no particular order.
Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Matt Duchene
Dubbed “The 9 Line,” this combination was thrown together during the 2015-16 season to try and get some scoring going, and they did not disappoint. During the time this line was together, it was the hottest line in the NHL and was the only line that did any scoring during that stretch. Though Patrick Roy was adamant that he wouldn’t split the line up, he ended up mixing up line combinations as injuries mounted over the course of the season. (from ‘Patrick Roy won’t split up loaded “Nine Line” of Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog,’ Denver Post, 11/20/2015)
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While this line was together, Matt Duchene set a franchise record for goals in the month of November where he scored 11 times. It was a line that had a ton of skill and speed that could take over games. (from ‘Hot-Scoring Matt Duchene Leads Avalanche Past the Devils,’ New York Times, 12/02/2015) While the line was very productive, it also highlighted exactly how much the Avs lacked depth at the time. They tried to re-create the magic the following season, but during the 48-point season, few things worked well. This line definitely didn’t have the staying power of some of the best lines in team history, but it was one of the most dynamic.
Gabriel Landeskog-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen
Sometimes great things come from a simple change. Ironically, the Duchene trade in Nov. 2017 opened a door for Mikko Rantanen to take Duchene’s former slot on right wing. The change propelled all three players to new heights and ushered in a rebirth of playoff hockey for the club. They became an intimidating line of speed, skill, and power. By their second year together, the trio developed into one of the best lines in all of hockey. The top line’s 261 combined points propelled the Avalanche to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in eight years, battling to an exciting game seven.
Each player brought their own unique skillsets. Gabriel Landeskog challenged players with his physical two-way game, opening up the ice for his swift linemates as he deflected goals into the net. Rantanen hustled to create scoring chances while using his size and shifty puck handling to protect the puck. Nathan MacKinnon rocketed to stardom, as the line’s chemistry unleashed his scoring prowess. He was named a Hart Trophy finalist their first year together as his scoring nearly doubled and he racked up 196 points in the trio’s first two seasons together. The dynamic combination evolved into a nearly unstoppable force of exciting hockey, featuring powerful scoring which wore down opponents.
Shjon Podein – Stephane Yelle – Eric Messier
This is one of the most underrated lines in the history of the Avalanche. Stephane Yelle was a part of two championships in Colorado and was a defensive stalwart for both teams. Eric Messier was an excellent utility player that frequently swapped between defense and checking forward roles, depending on what the team needed at the time. Shjon Podein was a long-time Flyer that the Avs acquired in a trade for Keith Jones.
Related: Top 10 NHL Lines
While this line wasn’t one of the more exciting lines to watch, they are still one of the best. Their job was to shut down the opposing team and play the hard minutes. Defense may have been their primary function, but this line was also capable of possessing the puck in the offensive zone, even chipping in a bit of offense. In fact, this line was responsible for one of the biggest goals of the 2001 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Ville Nieminen – Chris Drury – Dan Hinote
Another line from the 2001 Stanley Cup championship team, this one featured prominently in the playoffs. This line was the absolute epitome of “hard to play against.” All three players were fast skaters, tenacious on the forecheck, could play physically and quickly transition turnovers into scoring chances.
This line was an excellent change-of-pace line for the Avalanche, who usually sent this trio out as their third line. First teams would have to deal with Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg (until his spleen was taken out), only to see this group come at you. Nieminen and Hinote were the bangers, and Drury would usually reap the benefits with his speed and skill. Go back and watch these guys, they were exciting.
Alex Tanguay – Joe Sakic – Milan Hejduk
The “JAM Line” is still one of the best lines ever to come together on the ice in Denver. Joe Sakic is one of the best all-around players in NHL history, Alex Tanguay could stick-handle in a phone booth and Milan Hejduk had one of the best scoring touches of any player in the league. Put them all together at the same time and you have sheer dominance. During their time together, Sakic tallied one of his two 50-goal seasons and was named league MVP. Simply put, you couldn’t stop this line…you could only hope to contain them.
Scott Young – Joe Sakic – Adam Deadmarsh
Not quite as dominant from a point production view, but still one of the best to play in Denver. This trio was another excellent combination of skills that made a complete line that gave opponents fits. Scott Young had speed and a wicked shot, Adam Deadmarsh brought grit and a net-front presence impossible to ignore and Sakic was Sakic.
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Super Joe notched his first 50-goal season while playing with these two on his wings and went on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy after scoring 18 playoff goals. This line produced very well, but most of it was on Sakic’s back.
Valeri Kamensky – Peter Forsberg – Claude Lemieux
Back to the early days of the Avs, this group absolutely dominated. Claude Lemieux was acquired just before the season began after winning the Conn Smythe with the New Jersey Devils the year before. He was one of the acquisitions that took the Avalanche from being a good team to a championships team. Peter Forsberg’s greatness was just beginning to show and Valeri Kamensky is one of the most underrated scorers to ever play in Colorado.
To give you a picture of exactly how good this line was, during the 1995-96 season, all three of these players scored 30 goals. They combined for 107 goals, 165 assists, and 272 points. From a sheer production standpoint, this may have been the most dominant line in Avalanche history.
Alex Tanguay – Peter Forsberg – Milan Hejduk
This line rivals only the previous Forsberg line in skill and dominance. Tanguay and Hejduk have the unique distinction of being the wingers for both Avalanche players to win the Hart Memorial Trophy, first aiding Sakic’s MVP. In the 2002-03 season, this line combined for 105 goals, 166 assists and 271 points. Considering that this was right in the middle of the “dead puck” era, this accomplishment is astonishing.
This line earned a lot of hardware at the end of the season. Forsberg came home with the Hart and Art Ross Trophies as league MVP and scoring champion. Hejduk also won the Rocket Richard Trophy with the only 50-goal season of his career. It is hard to argue against this being the greatest line in the history of the Colorado Avalanche.
The NHL honored both Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg by inducting them into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not only were they important to the Avalanche, their played garnered the respect of the hockey community.
The Avalanche considered the contributions of Sakic, Hejduk and Forsberg significant enough to retire their numbers. While Forsberg’s career ended early due to ankle problems, he averaged an impressive 1.30 points per game over his career with the Avalanche while Hejduk spent his entire career with the team. The trio’s performances in the postseason are the stuff of legend. Sakic still holds the record for most postseason overtime goals with eight.
The younger players on this list still have quite a bit of hockey left to play, but one wonders if it’s only a matter of time before MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog join other Avalanche legends in the rafters.
* originally published on August 3, 2017
J.D. has followed the Colorado Avalanche since the days of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. Blessed to cover the team for nearly 5 seasons, 3 of those at other venues, J.D. enjoys working with the Hockey Writers. Proud parent of three humans and two dogs, you can follow all the escapades @JDKpirate.