Avalanche Need to Give Newhook a Roster Look

As far as professional debut seasons go, Alex Newhook had a pretty good one. The collegiate star followed up being drafted by the Colorado Avalanche a year prior by scoring over a point-per-game for the Boston College Eagles, and signing his Entry-Level Contract (ELC) in the spring of 2021. In the aftermath of a promising regular-season audition prior to the playoffs, Newhook was shunted to the periphery of the lineup, playing fewer than 10 minutes a game in the postseason.

Morning Skate newsletter Click To Subscribe

After failing to make the Avalanche out of this season’s training camp, he was reassigned to the American Hockey League (AHL) with their minor-league affiliate, the Colorado Eagles. Due to a dazzling start to the AHL campaign, Newhook is pushing for a call-up, and Colorado could benefit immensely from his immediate NHL promotion.

Newhook Producing with AHL’s Colorado Eagles

After a disappointing demotion, it’s easily understandable for players to flail and despair once they’re back to slumming it in the minors. It’s difficult to find motivation after fulfilling a lifelong hockey dream, but Newhook has taken it upon himself to undoubtedly prove that the Avalanche have no choice but to reward him with an increased role at the NHL level, although he held his own in his brief stint last season. Despite being pushed to the margins once the playoffs began, Newhook made a strong impression in his limited six-game sample to conclude the 2020-21 regular season. In playing just over 12 minutes a night at five-on-five, Newhook produced a top-50 points-per-60 (P/60) rate of 2.41, and the second-best assist clip (2.41 A/60) among forwards who played at least 74 5v5 minutes.

Alex Newhook Avalanche Draft
Alex Newhook after being drafted by the Colorado Avalanche at the 2019 NHL Draft.
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In 10 games for the Eagles, Newhook ranks second on the team in scoring (11 points) and his corresponding nine primary points (goals plus first assists) are tied for 12th among all AHL forwards. Although his shooting percentage (SH%) has been essentially halved from his brief stint last season, he’s posted improved per-game assist (0.51 to 0.7) and shot (2.63 to 3) rates, showcasing the expanded versatility of his game. The logic behind his demotion is sound, and the early results suggest Newhook has benefitted from the move. As the Avalanche have discovered, even the best laid plans go awry, and Newhook represents the ideal antidote to an ailing Colorado offense.

Avalanche Need Improved Forward Depth

As I noted in my piece profiling early trade targets, the Avalanche have a scoring problem. Compared to their league-topping rate of 3.39 goals-per-game in 2020-21, the opening stanza of this season has the Avalanche struggling to convert while only potting a middling 2.9 goals a night. The offseason slashed their enviable forward depth with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Joonas Donskoi, and Brandon Saad leaving town and taking their collective 41 goals (20% of Colorado’s 2020-21 total) to their new destinations.

Related: Avalanche Youth Needs to Replace Lost Veterans

Their scoring issues are compounded on the power play, where a loaded Avalanche unit comprised of the likes of Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen has capitalized on just over 10% of their opportunities, which ranks 29th in the NHL. It’s not as though Colorado is just suffering from an untimely finishing slump with the man-advantage (although that’s certainly a pressing concern), they’re not generating expected goals (xGF), scoring chances (SCF), or high-danger chances (HDCF) at anywhere near their familiar level. The Avalanche have seen their underlying metrics drop precipitously in going from ranking in the top-three, to now residing in the mushy middle range between 15th to 19th.

Avalanche per-60-minute rates on the power play over the past two seasons

Sheltering Newhook in a less demanding role, where he can focus on generating offense at even-strength and on the power play, could reverse Colorado’s fortunes. He’s evidently gained some confidence from his productive stint with the Eagles, and the Avalanche could benefit from a fresh set of eyes on one of their two power play units. Their struggles could be the result of unpredictable lineups every night due to a combination of unfortunate injuries, inconvenient suspensions to their top forwards, and incalculable run-ins with COVID protocols. Thus, calling-up Newhook may be unnecessary as the Avalanche gradually settle into normalcy. What’s the worst that could happen, though?

Is Newhook’s Chance Coming?

All things considered, general manager Joe Sakic is a patient and prudent executive. Newhook’s demotion was undertaken with the intention of handing him greater offensive responsibility in the type of expanded role that is not always readily available with the Avalanche. Colorado’s early offensive struggles have slackened their previously sturdy grasp on the playoffs, with hopes dwindling as each lost point accumulates in the standings. Newhook has made good on his end of the bargain, and the Avalanche could certainly make use of his reliable playmaking instincts. It’s a gamble as Newhook’s defensive game hasn’t necessarily matched his offensive outputs, but Colorado risks watching another year of contention (and of MacKinnon’s sweetheart contract) slipping through their fingers. Do they bite the bullet?

Data courtesy of AHL Tracker and Natural Stat Trick.

Sign up for our regular 'Avs Newsletter' for all the latest.