Throughout the month of March, the Colorado Avalanche have only suffered two losses in regulation. The team in the mile-high city did this while suffering from many injuries on the roster. With all of this, they needed several healthy pieces to step up from across the roster to have success. Surprisingly, one of those names is Jacob MacDonald.
The 28-year-old rookie was acquired from the Florida Panthers in a minor trade two summers ago. Last season, his first in the Avalanche organization, he spent his entire time with the Colorado Eagles in the AHL. During his time, he put up 42 points in 56 games, which was second on the team in point totals.
The Brighton, Mich. native began to consistently be in the lineup at the end of February to fill the void left by the injured Avalanche blueliners. Since then, he has found a comfortable spot on the left side of Samuel Girard. Throughout their time together, Girard has cemented himself as a Norris Trophy contender, and not to take any credit away from him, but a part of that is due to how well MacDonald has played.
Sudden Emergence Onto the Scene
Before joining the Avalanche in 2019, the majority of MacDonald’s career was in the AHL and ECHL. He only played two games for the Panthers during the 2018-19 season, where he scored his first NHL goal. When he was acquired, it didn’t cause a major rift within the organization, as it seemed like a meaningless trade. However, in all actuality, general manager Joe Sakic acquired the former Cornell Big Red to strengthen his defensive core in the AHL, not knowing the impact it would have in years to come.
When the Avalanche’s defense was decimated with injuries, many were worried. With the talent of players missing, it didn’t seem as if they had the bodies capable of filling the void. However, MacDonald has proved otherwise. During the whole of this month, the 28-year-old has shown how good he is at protecting his own zone. Currently, he has the highest shot suppression statistics on the roster and is second in expected goals against percentage.
He is doing all of this while playing big minutes. As mentioned previously, MacDonald has been paired with Girard, and a lot of ice time comes with playing alongside the team’s current No. 1 defenseman. Over the last month, he has been one of the leaders in even-strength minutes for Colorado. This is done without playing any time on special team units. Not bad for a guy who has rarely played in the NHL.
This sudden, but very impressive, emergence has benefited Colorado in many ways. Now they have shown that their system can improve the game of many players. In the offseason, this will make the mile-high city more viable for players looking to redeem their careers. This will allow them to take on many small contracts to fill up their cupboards. They have done this in the past with Ryan Graves, and now with MacDonald.
Making a Case to Stay
MacDonald’s impressive play is the textbook definition of taking advantage of the opportunity presented. It has reached a point where head coach Jared Bednar might have to keep him in an Avalanche uniform on a nightly basis.
The chemistry shown between Girard and MacDonald is undeniable. They know when to extend their plays, and when not to, because they realize where their partner is. The pair has shown incredible on-ice awareness when playing together.
To be fair, Girard has done this with many of the partners he has played with over the past few seasons, which you can attribute to him. However, the blueliner has looked his best in his career in the last month, which was spent with MacDonald.
If I was Bednar, I would be wary of separating the two, simply because of the performances they have consistently provided for my team. All in all, this is an incredible problem to have as a head coach.
Once Bowen Byram and Connor Timmins return to the lineup, expect to see them both on a consistent basis. However, don’t anticipate this to mean that MacDonald will be left out. It seems as if he has firmly passed Graves on the Avalanche depth chart. It doesn’t look like Erik Johnson is returning from injury any time soon to claim his spot back, either.
When everyone returns, the Avalanche defense core could look something like this for the latter half of the season, barring any more injuries or inconsistent play.
Devon Toews – Cale Makar
MacDonald – Girard
Byram – Timmins
The exclusion of Graves can be seen as mind-boggling by some. However, this season he has been somewhat bumped down the lineup — he went from playing with Makar to playing predominantly on the third pair.
If he can regain some of his confidence from last season, and show promise alongside Girard, then maybe he can take MacDonald’s spot, but right now that second pair has looked too good to pass up on.
In essence, MacDonald has definitely emerged onto the scene in Denver within the last month. He has gone from a name involved in a nothing trade to a player that consistently provides impact for his team. The AHL veteran is squeezing out every last drop of the chance he has been given. If he can keep up this impressive play, he will be with the Avalanche longer than anticipated.
My name is Ilyas, I’m 18-years-old, I was raised in Toronto, and currently enrolled in the Ryerson School of Journalism. I cover the Colorado Avalanche here at The Hockey Writers.