Evan Rodrigues Might Be Avalanche’s Secret Weapon

Nathan MacKinnon’s new contract was easily the biggest deal of the offseason for the Colorado Avalanche. But there was another contract that flew under the radar a bit. The Avs brought in forward Evan Rodrigues on a one-year, $2 million deal late in free agency that could be a boon for a team with some uncertainty on its second line.

Rodrigues is coming off a career year with the Pittsburgh Penguins and was brought in to provide some stability in the middle of a forward group that lost a big piece in Nazem Kadri to free agency. Despite the little amount of buzz around this late signing, this could be a very good acquisition for Colorado as they try to defend their Stanley Cup crown.

Rodrigues’ Value Is Versatility

Last season was a big one for Rodrigues. The 29-year-old broke out with 19 goals and 24 assists for 43 points, with all those easily being career highs. He’d never scored more than nine goals in a season before the last campaign. Colorado is clearly hoping for that type of season again, but the biggest value Rodrigues brings is his versatility. He showed last season he can get himself on the scorer’s sheet, but he also shines defensively. He’s a great two-way player that thrives in a shutdown role, making him an asset coach Jared Bednar can put anywhere.

Evan Rodrigues Pittsburgh Penguins
Evan Rodrigues with the Pittsburgh Penguins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Rodrigues can play every position across the front, and that plug-and-play ability could make him very valuable for a team with a lot of different offensive weapons. That versatility will be tested early, as the Avalanche will be without captain Gabriel Landeskog for the first part of the season due to injury. Rodrigues’ defense never takes a night off. However, if he can show the ability to score from multiple spots in the lineup and with a variety of different linemates, he’ll find himself logging lots of minutes in Bednar’s system.

Avalanche’s Style Makes for a Good Fit

There is no secret regarding what the Avalanche want to do on game day. They want to get out and fly. There is nowhere to hide from the high-pressure game of the Avs, and Rodrigues should fit right in with his penchant for zone entries and generating scoring chances off the rush. Rodrigues loves to get out and go in transition and brings a pretty rocking shot. Because he’s been in the league for seven years, he also brings a lot of awareness. That helps him use the threat of that shot to distribute the puck pretty well – and the Avalanche are not short on offensive weapons.

Colorado Avalanche Jared Bednar
Colorado Avalanche coach Jared Bednar (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

One issue for Rodrigues last season was his consistency; he had a 37-game stretch where he only scored two goals between Jan. 8 and April 2. The Avalanche are a deep team, and that should shorten some of those slumps because there likely won’t be as much pressure on him to score night in and night out. Still, Colorado needs to replace the 87 points Kadri scored a year ago. Rodrigues won’t be called upon for that type of season, but the scoring prowess he showed in 2021-22 will have to be there for him to stay in the lineup ahead of a group of hungry youngsters in the wings trying to gain more minutes.

Durability Will Be Key for Rodrigues

This goes without saying for any player in the NHL, but Rodrigues has to stay healthy for this contract to pay off. He played all 82 games last season, but that was only the second time in his seven NHL seasons that he played more than 48 games. There are plenty of other players on the Avalanche’s roster playing in the final seasons of their current contracts, and injuries are a quick way to lose your spot. That durability can help those younger players, too. If Rodrigues gets paired up with the likes of an Alex Newhook and Valeri Nichushkin, for example, the more games those players get under their belt together will benefit all sides.

Evan Rodrigues Pittsburgh Penguins
Evan Rodrigues with the Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

A big part of Rodrigues’ career year came because he was in the lineup every single night. Even through the slump mentioned earlier, his defense was always there, and the Avalanche need someone in that role night in and night out. If he can stay healthy, his defensive play will get him plenty of minutes from Bednar, and it will be the easiest way to contribute offensively on par with what he did a year ago.

Related: Penguins’ Rodrigues Is the NHL’s Most Improved Player

In the front office, team president Joe Sakic has made a number of great moves that helped build the Avalanche into a Stanley Cup champion for the first time since the days he played for them. This is another one of those moves. The deal doesn’t count that much against the salary cap, and the team isn’t locked into a long-term deal with Rodrigues if last season winds up being a fluke.

That said, this seems like a pretty safe bet. The weapons the Avs have in place will give Rodrigues every chance to replicate the season he had a year ago, and his experience should help as the Avs try to groom their younger players. Winning is something the Avalanche have gotten used to lately, and this deal with Rodrigues seems like a win-win for both sides.

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