December 18, 2018

Relevanche: How the Avalanche Have Regained Relevancy: Forwards

Yesterday we discussed how the goaltending and defense had changed in Colorado. Today, we are looking at the forwards, if you are looking for the most improved part of the Avalanche, this is it. The depth is there and getting better. The Avalanche actually have a bonafide TOP line with Landeskog – MacKinnon – Rantenen unlike years past. The veterans who looked horrendous in Soderberg and Comeau now anchor a line with Nieto that has become Bednar’s most reliable. Guys like Mikhail Grigorenko, Cody McLeod, and Jarome Iginla have been replaced by guys like Alexander Kerfoot, Tyson Jost, and Nail Yakupov. In order to win games, you have to put pucks not only on the net (major issue last year) but IN the net (bigger major issue last year). The Avalanche scored only 166 goals last year. They have 135 this year. And there are 41 games yet to play. The defense mentioned yesterday is doing a better job of getting the forwards the puck. The Power Play was the league worst last year and now 8th best in the league. The penalty kill is now 3rd best in the league including 36 straight kills, this after being 2nd worst in the league last year. Special teams are what win you and lose you close games. Those close games are what dictate if you are a playoff pretender or contender. If the Avlanche make the playoffs, you can just hand the award to Nathan MacKinnon because he is carrying them right now.

(Numbers are taken from Hockey Reference found here for NHL numbers and all minor/juniors/college stats taking from Elite Prospects here.)

Nathan MacKinnon
2016 – 82 games, 16 goals, 37 assists, 53 points, 2 PP, -14, 16 PIM, 19:57 TOI
2017 – 41 games, 18 goals, 34 assists, 52 points, 7 PP, +5, 32 PIM, 19:25 TOI

The best player on the team right now and it’s not even close. He’s second in the league in scoring and that was after a slow start. He silenced any and all critics saying he wasn’t worth the #1 overall pick over Seth Jones. He is a game changer. The fact that his numbers are identical to last years ENTIRE season and the Avalanche win total also matches, is no coincidence. Landeskog is the captain but Nate is THEE guy on the team. 7 power play goals is a sneaky stat showing how improved the Avalanche are on the man advantage under the new system. Nathan has also had highlight after highlight reel goals this year. Oh and he’s only 22 years old. The NHL needs to jump on the bandwagon and market this kid like they did with Crosby.

Yes he’s real.

 

Dangle much?

 

Gabriel Landeskog
2016 – 72 games, 18 goals, 15 assists, 33 points, 5 PP, -25, 62 PIM, 18:47 TOI
2017 – 37 games, 16 goals, 16 assists, 32 points, 5 PP, +13, 16 PIM, 20:17 TOI

The Captain. His Captaincy was questioned by many after the past couple of years but he’s proven himself this year, maybe more than any other year. Like many, he’s nearly matched his total from all of last year. He’s playing almost 2 more minutes a game and his penalty minutes are way down. He’s playing smarter. He’s possibly the best two-way player on the team and leads the team in +/- with a +13. He’s smiling a whole lot more because this team is much better and having more fun. The Cubs have Kris Bryant, the Avalanche have this fella.

Mikko Rantanen
2016 – 75 games, 20 goals, 18 assists, 38 points, 4 PP, -25, 22 PIM, 18:03 TOI
2017 – 41 games, 15 goals, 26 assists, 41 points, 7 PP, +1, 22 PIM, 18:34 TOI

He led the team in scoring last year, and if it wasn’t for MacKinnon playing like a God among insects, he’d be the household name right now. But for a quiet guy who goes about his business and just wants to play hockey (very Milan Hejduk-like) that may not be a bad thing. It almost seemed lucky that he got 20 goals last year. He has been a point per game player this season on the top line. To think he could have 30 goals and 80 points would be tremendous for a guy who is constantly overshadowed by MacKinnon and even Landeskog. Mikko can straight score and he could be the quietest 30 goal scorer in the league. He seems to get better as the year goes on, so he might even surpass those lofty numbers.

Matt Duchene
2016- 77 games, 18 goals, 23 assists, 41 points, -34
2017 – 14 games, 4 goals, 6 assists, 10 points, +1 (Colorado)
2017 – 26 games, 6 goals, 4 assists, 10 points, -9 (Ottawa)

As for the “Joe Sakic is still an idiot, Matt Duchene is still a prisoner, and the Avalanche are still the laughing stock of the NHL according to almost everyone not in Denver.”  Other than ESPN having Colorado ranked 25th in the league in their power rankings while also mentioning players not even on the roster, the hockey world is taking notice of the Avalanche. Oh, and Joe Sakic is a genius for pulling off a trade that has put the Avalanche into the playoff race with three prospects, an AHL goalie who could be an emergency backup (and is), and three draft picks for a guy in Duchene who wanted to go to a “playoff team” and is now on one of the worst teams in the NHL in Ottawa that has less upside than the Avalanche not to mention less wins. So that “Big Splash” that Joe was supposed to make in the off season? He did it in the middle of a game against the Islanders and changed his franchise for the better. The guys in the locker room made it known that he was not missed. About the only guy who misses him is Nail Yakupov who developed tremendous on ice chemistry with Dutchy. Dutchy is a great dude, HUGE Avalanche fan, but he needed to move on, and the Avs did too. It worked better than anyone had ever hoped. Dutchy struggled mightily for the first 20 or so games in Ottawa but has had some great games recently and hopefully he’s found his mojo again.

Sven Andrighetto
2016 – 27 games, 2 goals, 6 assists, 8 points, +1, 4 PIM, 11:29 TOI (Montreal)
2016 – 19 games, 5 goals, 11 assists, 16 points, 2 PP, +/- 0, 8 PIM, 17:30 (Colorado)
2017 – 37 games, 6 goals, 12 assists, 18 points, 2 PP, -11, 6 PIM, 14:35

Meh. Sven has not looked nearly as good as he did in his brief time with Colorado last year. His minutes are down but so is his productivity.  He HAS been solid on the power play with 4 assists and 2 goals. He was playing on the top 2 lines last year but hasn’t looked the same so he hasn’t got the same looks. He is still highly skilled but it seems to be feast or famine with the kid. He’s still solid enough to play every night because he’s not going to hurt you like a Rocco Grimaldi would. Still, everyone is expecting a little more out of the guy. He needs to be closer to 20 goals in a season rather than 20 points at the break.

Sven did have that cool moment with the young fan. Wish more NHL guys would acknowledge the kid waving at them while they are in the pit of misery.

Carl Soderberg
2015 – 82 games, 12 goals, 39 assists, 51 points, 3 PP, -7, 32 PIM, 18:01 TOI
2016 – 80 games, 6 goals, 8 assists, 14 points, 1 PP, -26, 22 PIM, 13:27 TOI
2017 – 38 games, 9 goals, 11 assists, 20 points, 2 PP, +2, 16 PIM, 16:59

The 2015 version of Carl Soderberg would like to know what happened to the 2016 version of Carl Soderberg. Dropping from 51 points to 14! was indicative of how bad the Avalanche actually were, last year. Carl is as solid an NHL player as you can find. He’s a pro. 14 point seasons shouldn’t happen for a guy like Carl due to his size and skill. He’s a total hockey player, a two-way player. He has been tremendous on the penalty kill (along with Comeau). His line with Nieto and Comeau is a security blanket for Bednar. They can be used in all situations and it’s Carl leading the way. Carl should be a 40-50 point a year guy. Solid 3rd liner than can hop up if needed but also a great special teams guy. He’s great at setting up the screen on the power play and offers a hell of a lot more offensively than Cody McLeod ever did. He doesn’t mind getting physical and with a team of young dynamic skaters, you need guys to bring the lumber. Welcome back, Carl.

Blake Comeau
2015 – 81 games, 12 goals, 24 assists, 36 points, -9, 58 PIM, 17:38 TOI
2016 – 77 games, 8 goals, 12 assists, 20 points, -19, 58 PIM, 14:59 TOI
2017 – 41 games, 7 goals, 9 assists, 16 points, +/- 0, 24 PIM, 15:19 TOI

Blake Comeau went from that dude that passed on a clean breakaway to give the puck to a defender to a guy that is helping anchor the Avs most consistent line. Nieto, Soderberg, and Blake  have been reliable and steady all year. Not flashy and sometimes nasty especially from Blake laying dudes out. But he and Soderberg look like the guys from a few years ago. Nieto struggles when he plays with anyone else. He has been amazing on the Penalty Kill including the Avalanche killing off 36 penalties in a row. (Thank you Christopher J Leeper for confirming that total.) Blake’s contract is up at the end of the season. Most people think he’ll get moved at the trade deadline. If you can get a draft pick, then OK. But if you are competing for the playoffs, do you want to give up the guy that is part of your most consistent line? Also your best penalty killer when killing penalties means even more in the playoffs? His numbers look more in line with 2 years ago, which would be very helpful in a playoff push.

Matt Nieto
2016 – 16 games, 0 goals, 2 assists, 2 points, -3, 4 PIM, 12:13 TOI (San Jose)
2016 – 43 games, 7 goals, 4 assists, 11 points, -9, 4 PIM, 15:56 TOI (Colorado)
2017 – 34 games, 7 goals, 7 assists, 14 points, -1, 14 PIM, 14:08 TOI

Nieto was a waiver wire pickup from the San Jose Sharks. It was odd because he was involved in a Sharks goal that NHL.TV played during every commercial break. But he only played 43 games in Denver and was 10th on the team in goals. He showed some flashes last year but this year he’s not been nearly as dangerous but…he’s still been solid. He skates with Comeau and Soderberg and they have been the most consistently solid line on both ends of the ice. Bednar can drop them in the defensive or offensive zone and it doesn’t hurt what the Avalanche are trying to do. He’s a great 3rd line winger.

JT Compher
2016 – 21 games, 3 goals, 2 assists, 5 points, 1 PP, +/- 0, 4 PIM, 14:56 TOI
2017 – 31 games, 7 goals, 6 assist, 13 points, 3 PP, 2 SH, -15, 12 PIM, 17:04 TOI

Flashy, can’t finish had been the issue for most of the early season this year. He would get breakaways but not goals. (I think it’s an issue that comes with having the name JT.) But he had really found his stride recently with a couple short-handed goals and had already doubled his numbers from last year. He is playing 2 minutes more a night and has earned it. It’s a shame he got hurt because he was just starting to put it all together. He has all the tools to be a 20 goal scorer in the NHL. He’s got the talent to play on a 2nd line and produce. Certain media members in Denver have a crush on the guy, and it’s easy to see why.

Nail Yakupov
2015 – 60 games, 8 goals, 15 assists, 23 points, 1 PP, -16, 24 PIM, 14:13 TOI (Edmonton)
2016 – 40 games, 3 goals, 6 assists, 9 points, -3, 14 PIM, 10:39 TOI (St. Louis)
2017 – 35 games, 8 goals, 5 assists, 13 points, 3PP, +/- 0, 20 PIM, 11:30 TOI

Clubhouse morale booster. Tremendous shot, maybe the best on the team. Almost half of his goals have come on the power play. As good as he is on offense, he is as bad on defense. He was a constant healthy scratch in St. Louis especially in the 2nd half of the season last year. He’s been a healthy scratch a few times this year. But a clubhouse that was hostile and not fun to be in has been a great place because of guys like Yakupov. He’s always smiling, happy, and having a good time. His productivity has dropped off a ton since Matt Duchene left (and so has Matt’s). He’s making the league minimum this year. Hopefully he can do enough to stay in the NHL with the Avalanche but if not, he might have to head overseas to play. He seems to be having the time of his life in Colorado.

Goofing around with teammates

There’s that wicked shot

And the dude loves dogs.  What’s not to like?

Colin Wilson
2016 – 70 games, 12 goals, 23 assists, 35 points, 6 PP, +7, 18 PIM, 14:57 TOI (Nashville)
2017 – 32 games, 3 goals, 8 assists, 11 points, +1, 4 PIM, 13:16 TOI

Sakic gave up a 4th round draft pick for a guy who played on a team that took the NHL by storm and made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Avalanche needed depth at center with Duchene on the move (eventually) as well as some depth with some veteran leadership. Colin filled both and also had the experience of playing for a Stanley Cup which few on the Avalanche roster could provide. Colin isn’t flashy but he never has been. He’s asked to be a depth guy for the Avalanche and has done just that. You would rather see him get closer to 30 points on the season but we’ll see how many minutes he gets. Someone has to sacrifice minutes for the youth movement.

Alexander Kerfoot
2016 – 36 games, 16 goals, 29 assists, 45 points, +20 (Harvard – NCAA)
2017 – 38 games, 10 goals, 17 assists, 27 points, -5, 3 PP, 22 PIM, 13:44 TOI

Will Butcher who? He signed with Colorado after not signing with New Jersey. So basically you swapped Butcher for Kerfoot, and the Avs won that “trade”.  In his first season in Colorado he’s already older than several teammates including Zadorov and MacKinnon. Kerfoot is the best passer on the team. The puck seems to stick to his well…stick (as pointed out on the BSN Podcasts). Kerfoot is the smallish guy with a ton of skill that never would have seen the ice with Roy. If there is any gripe it is that he doesn’t shoot enough. 10 goals on 38 shots in 38 games for a sick 26.3 % shooting percentage. That’s Tanguay territory right there. He’s 12th in the NHL but would be 7th of guys who played 10 games or more and 3rd in guys that played half the season (20 games). The Avs were a horrendous passing team and terrible power play team and Kerfy has helped with both. Those small details turn a lot of close losses into close wins.

Tyson Jost
2016 – 33 games, 16 goals, 19 assists, 35 points, +17, 44 PIM (University of North Dakota)
2016 – 6 games, 1 goal, 0 assists, 1 point, -5, 15:41TOI (Colorado)
2017 – 25 games, 3 goals, 5 assists, 8 points, -3, 12:54 TOI

He seems to be a victim of lack of playing time. He’s stuck on the 4th line with a bunch of guys that don’t have his skill and speed. He’s also been dealing with injuries. He really only got a cup of coffee in the NHL last year but his numbers at North Dakota show he can be a solid to elite player in the NHL. He’s only 19 years old so it’s waaaaaaaaaay too early to make any major judgments on him quite yet. He’s got the raw skill but he just hasn’t really been given a chance to display it yet.

Gabriel Bourque
2016 – 61 games, 10 goals, 23 assists, 33 points, -17, 20 PIM (San Antonio – AHL)
2016 – 6 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points, +/- 0, 0 PIM, 4 shots, 11:12 TOI
2017 – 17 games, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, +1, 2 PIM, 13 shots, 11:14 TOI

He’s…on the team. He’s been playing in the NHL for 7 years now including 5 in Nashville (before they were good). He’s 27 and just scored his first goal in Colorado this past week. It WAS a very nice shot. His did NOTHING last year in the 6 games he played, only getting 5 shots. He’s not a terribly exciting player and his days in Colorado are almost certainly numbered. He should be nothing more than a healthy scratch or 4th liner. Good for him on his first goal but the Avalanche have a number of better players that could take his spot. He’s a smart, steady player, but on a team full of skill, he seems out of place.

AJ Greer
2016 – 63 games, 15 goals, 23 assists, 28 points, -15, 78 PIM (San Antonio – AHL)
2016 – 5 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point, -2, 4 PIM, 13:39 TOI (Colorado)
2017 – 16 games, 6 goals, 4 assists, 10 points, +5, 8 PIM (San Antonio – AHL)
2017 – 9 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point, -1, 20 PIM, 7:53 TOI (Colorado)

Gritty, nasty, and gets under the oppositions skin. He was sent down to the AHL due to lack of playing time available in Colorado as well as them wanting him to develop and contribute more offensively. He even played in Des Moines for the Buccaneers for a couple of games where he netted 3 points. AJ is a going to be a great depth winger, some day. He’s a feisty player that loves to get under the opponents skin. He’ll do some extra curriculars. But you need him DRAWING not TAKING penalties. That is his biggest issue, staying out of the penalty box. He’s done a good job of that since going back down to San Antonio this year and has started to find the back of the net more often now. He’s just now starting to tap into his potential, offensively. Getting less than 8 minutes a night in the NHL is going to help him develop. Next year there should be some spots for AJ to compete for. For now, he’s a great guy to throw in if you need some more nasty, in your lineup.

Vladislav Kamenev
2016 – 70 games, 21 goals, 30 assists, 51 points, +11, 59 PIM (Milwaukee – AHL)
2017 – 10 games, 3 goals, 5 assists, 8 points, +3, 25 PIM (Milwaukee – AHL)

Part of the Duchene trade and got hurt almost instantly getting hurt after just 4:06 of ice time in his Avalanche debut. Not much to say about the guy at this time but his AHL number are nice. Milwaukee can be a bit of a nasty team so the PIM probably won’t translate to the Avalanche. He could end up being a great 3rd line Center. He looks to be a depth guy at worst but he’ll have a chance to shine in Colorado once he comes back from his broken arm.

Rocco Grimaldi
2016 – 4 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point, – 4, 2 PIM, 11:00 (Colorado)
2016 – 72 games, 31 goals, 24 assists, 55 points, -24, 39 PIM (San Antonio – AHL)
2017 – 6 games, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, – 4, 0 PIM, 9:39 (Colorado)
2017 – 26 games, 12 goals, 7 assists, 31 points, +3, 16 PIM (San Antonio – AHL)

The guy who lost his spot to Yakupov. The guy everyone wants to make it in Colorado and make it in the NHL. Quick, little, offensive only forward that brings little to the defensive end but man, can he score. In baseball terms, he’s a AAAA guy. Too good for the minors, but not good enough for the majors. He did have a very emotional moment in Denver when he scored a goal right after burying his grandfather. He scored 55 points and was a -24 in San Antonio last year. That’s why he’s not in the NHL. He’s so dynamic as a scorer but his lack of defense makes him a huge liability. You already have a guy who can do that in Yakupov, who has a much better shot. Everyone loves Rocco but he looks like he’ll never make the NHL full time. Which is a shame because he’s a blast to watch.

Dominic Toninato
2016 – 42 games, 16 goals, 13 assists, 29 points, +25, 30 PIM (Univ of Minnesota – Duluth)
2017 – 8 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, 1 point, +1, 2 PIM, 7:58
2017 – 27 games, 6 goals, 6 assists, 12 points, +3, 18 PIM (San Antonio)

He’s played less than 8 minutes a game in 8 games this season. He was also a free agent signing out of college like Kerfoot. In fact he was supposed to be the better signing, of the two. He hasn’t been bad, but he really hasn’t got much a chance to prove himself in Colorado. He costs the Avs nothing in terms of a draft pick and could be a decent depth forward. The numbers in college were nice but he’ll need to prove himself in San Antonio before he gets a shot in Denver. If a guy like Comeau gets traded, perhaps Toninato gets a call up.

Empty Netter

The Avalanche retired Milan Hejduk’s number on Saturday. During the ceremony the Stanley Cup made a surprising appearance. The boys at BSN Avalanche think it was completely intentional, and one has to agree. Sakic is sutble, always has been. Subtle and quiet, unlike Patrick Roy. He’s as even keeled as Bednar is right now. And that is what a young  team needs. As the boys said on their podcast. The young kids need a guy who supports them, not a guy like Torts who will tear their heads off. They are going to make mistakes but they need to be able to make them without fear. Make a mistake and learn from it, don’t dwell on it. Other than early on in the season when Zadorov was in Bednar’s dog house, Bednar has not buried guys for messing up. The Avalanche put a lot of faith in Hejduk when he first came in the league. They let him do his thing. It helped win a Stanley Cup. The last one to come to Denver. Maybe, just maybe the peices are there for Lord Stanley to come back to Colorado. It’s a long shot, yes. But the Cleveland Cavaliers have won an NBA Title. And in MLB the Chicago Cubs ended the longest title drought in American history, the Astros won it this year, and the Royals won it the year before that. All of the MLB teams relied on youth, hunger, and depth. Their coaches LET them make mistakes. That’s how you build not only a championship team, but an annually contender. The Blackhawks best years look to behind them. Someone needs to be the powerhouse in the Central Division. The Avalanche have built the depth and after the Duchene trade, have more pieces and prospects coming, and soon. They have the depth and desire to take over the crown from the Blackhawks. Nathan MacKinnon will be leading the way, as the Patrick Kane of the Avalanche. He already has 52 points this year. Hejduk scored 50 goals (the only Avalanche to do that) with Joe Sakic on his line, assisting on many of those goals. Maybe just maybe Sakic’s last assist will lead to the Avalanche hoisting another Stanley Cup.

J.T. Nutt 28 Articles
Staff Writer

JT "the" Nutt graduated from UNI in 2006 and worked at WHO-TV for a few years including Soundoff. JT then spent the past five years covering UNI most recently for On Press Row. He works as a cameraman for the Iowa Wild, Iowa Energy, and Iowa Barnstormers. JT loves the Cubs, UNI, Avalanche, Chargers, beer, hockey, the WWE, and cat memes.

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