Tanguay and Skoula both making an impact

By Billy Gilliam
The Colorado Avalanche have eight starters out with injuries including Peter
Forsberg, Chris Drury, Adam Deadmarsh, Adam Foote, and Stephane Yelle.
Colorado still has the best record in the NHL mainly because of the emergence
of two young guns. Alex Tanguay and Martin Skoula. Both have made large
strides in their development from last year. Both have been counted on to
play on the top 2 forward and defensive lines for the Avs, and they have
looked stellar, not out of place like most 21 year olds would.

First lets take a look at the progression of Alex Tanguay. Ever since
Colorado took Tanguay with the 12th pick in the ’98 draft, they knew they had
a kid with star potential. They may have even more than that, as Tanguay is
dominating out on the ice with a vast array of plays such as perfect tape to
tape backhand saucer passes, blistering slapshots, and serious moves one on
one. Last season as a 20 year old, Alex put up very respectable numbers with
51 points and led the team in shooting percentage (23.0), and was also second
in rookie scoring to Scott Gomez. This season, Tanguay has 25 points in 23
games including an NHL best 11 game point streak. One reason for his success
is his improved skating. Last year, he didn’t have that breakaway speed that
is necessary in the NHL today. Now, his skating is much more fluid, and he
can really fly. Another reason Alex is on the verge of superstardom is his
hockey sense. Tanguay anticipates the play as well as anyone is in the NHL
right now. He has taken full advantage of playing on a line with Joe Sakic
and Milan Hejduk. The line has a great mix of speed, skill, and even
toughness. Since the injuries, it has been Tanguay’s responsibility to stand
in front of the net and take punishment. In a recent game against LA, Alex
scored a powerplay goal after taking cross checks and slashes for over a
minute from Rob Blake and Kelly Buchburger without giving up any ground.
Tanguay is proving to everyone he is one of the most complete young players
in the game today. When you combine his skill with his work ethic, the sky
is the limit. Tanguay reminds me of Peter Forsberg when he was first
breaking into the NHL, and believe me, Tanguay could be that good. If
Tanguay stays healthy, 70-75 points would not be out of the question.

After taking Tanguay in the ’98 draft, the Avs nabbed Czech defenseman
Martin Skoula with the 17th pick. While Skoula has yet to live up to the
offensive defenseman label put on him, he has still played very well. Last
year, he played a simple, but solid defensive game that kept him in the top 4
rotation throughout the year. This season he has a few new tricks in his bag
and hasn’t been afraid to show them. His numbers offensively aren’t
breathtaking, ( 0 goals 5 assists, 23 games ) but he has 30 shots and has hit
the post or the crossbar at least four or five times. I wouldn’t worry about
his offense, because defensively he has been one of the Avs most dependable.
He is a master at poke checking already. Forwards better learn to stay away
from the back of the net because Skoula will either take the puck away from
you then skate right by you, or take the puck away from you and smartly use
the boards or put a perfect outlet pass to a teammate, or he might just throw
his 6’3″ 220 pound body on you. He is not considered a physical player, but
he will hit when needed. His skating is very natural, and well balanced.
With the trade of Sandis Ozolinsh, Skoula has more responsibility to produce
offensively. The puck isn’t going in for him right now, but he picks his
spots to jump in better than Ozo did. He could establish himself as a
classic two-way defenseman, and one of the top 5 D-men in the NHL in the next
couple of years. A future All-star for sure.

As you can see, the Avs have a few gems in their hand. Is it fair for a
team to have Sakic, Forsberg, Deadmarsh, Drury, Hejduk, Bourque, Foote, Roy,
Skoula, and Tanguay? Not just that, but also two young future stars in
Vaclav Nedorost and Jared Aulin in their system. With Tanguay and Skoula
emerging, this team may be as deep as the ’96 cup champion team. If the Avs
don’t win the cup this year, regardless of what happens to Sakic and Bourque,
the Avs will be ready again in ’01-’02 thanks in large part to Alex Tanguay
and Martin Skoula.