Avalanche’s Newhook Making Big Impact In Rookie Season

After a disappointing beginning to the 2021-22 campaign in which Alex Newhook was assigned to the American Hockey League (AHL) rather than start with the Colorado Avalanche, the rookie forward has rewritten the narrative. Newhook admirably took his demotion in stride and used his brief NHL hiatus to build up his confidence. After tallying 11 points in 10 games for the Colorado Eagles, he returned to the Avalanche lineup poised to carve out a role with the Western Conference juggernaut. Let’s dig into how his rookie season has unfolded thus far and why he’s a key piece of a Stanley Cup contender.

Newhook Gives Avalanche Another Scoring Threat

Despite playing just over 11 minutes a night at 5v5 in a top-nine role, Newhook has already become a prominent figure in a frightening Avalanche attack. He sits seventh on the team with 11 goals in 39 games, and he’s added seven assists to his overall productive tally of 18 points this season. To account for discrepancies in ice time, his per-60-minute scoring rate demonstrates how efficient the freshman forward has been thus far.

Related: 2021-22 Calder Trophy Tracker – February Update

His 1.27 goals-per-60 in all situations sits fifth among all Avalanche skaters, and his 2.07 points-per-60 comes in at 10th overall on the roster. It’s not as though Colorado needed another scoring option given that they have six other forwards that are scoring at a pace greater than 0.5 points per game, but it hammers home how devastating their offensive contingent is at full-strength.

Alex Newhook Colorado Avalanche
Alex Newhook, Colorado Avalanche (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Although his statistical repertoire prior to playing the NHL suggests that he should eventually develop into a dual-threat offensively, Newhook has profiled as more of a shooter to this point. The tracking data collected by Corey Sznajder offers a pointed evaluation of how the rookie has generated offense in his first full NHL season.

Newhook ranks fourth among Avalanche forwards with 6.68 chances per-60 and his 1.91 shots off of high-danger passes (going across the slot or from behind the net) represent the most prolific rate on the team. He looks more comfortable getting into opportune areas and finishing off plays than driving play, but his approach should evolve as he gains more confidence at the professional level. Still, he deserves some consideration in a crowded Calder Trophy field.

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In particular, Newhook thrives in creating chances off of the rush. He’s entered the offensive zone with possession on 64% of his 13.4 entries per-60 and is fourth on the team in the rate at which his entries lead to scoring chances.

Both of Newhook’s rates for 5v5 shots per-60 and scoring chances per-60 have increased compared to last season, which means that he’s more confident in challenging goalies in his second stint with the Avalanche. It’s yet to be seen if he can maintain his pace through to the end of the year, and it could become more difficult if Colorado trades for offensive reinforcements such as Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux. In any case, it bodes well for the future that he doesn’t appear fazed by NHL competition, and he’ll be called upon come playoff time.

Newhook Can Improve On Defensive Side of the Puck

As is common with most freshman forwards, Newhook has yet to become a considerable two-way presence. Mastering defensive responsibilities often takes rookies more time than finding their offensive niche, and the Newfoundland native is no different.

Although his on-ice results aren’t terrible, Newhook hasn’t been much better than break-even during 5v5 play. With the young center on the ice, the Avalanche have controlled 49.8% of shot attempts (CF%), 49.6% of the expected goals total (xGF%), and 51.2% of scoring chances (SCF%). It’s not fair to say that the team is being caved in when Newhook plays, but it’s clear he hasn’t discovered how to exert his influence over the run of play just yet. He also ranks 13th on the team in expected goals against per-60-minutes (xGA/60), and he is second to last in terms of high-danger chances conceded per-60 (HDCA/60), only better than Kurtis MacDermid.

Alex Newhook Avalanche Draft
Alex Newhook, Colorado Avalanche, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Having only just turned 21, Newhook still has the better part of his aging curve to figure out how he should approach the defensive aspect of play before he hits his prime. Given that he likely slots into Colorado’s second-line center role in the near future, it’s a crucial and necessary milestone that he must hit if the team is to extend its window of contention.

2022 Playoffs Are Newhook’s Next Big Test

The Avalanche have had no difficulty torching the rest of the league during the regular season, but the real test for the organization and its cadre of young talent will be in the playoffs. Colorado has yet to advance past the second round in the Nathan MacKinnon era, and failing to do so once more could have significant ramifications on the team’s makeup next season. Serious questions will be asked of the team’s core if they fall flat again, making this one of the most consequential postseasons in franchise history.

Newhook has shown that he is already a reliable contributor at the NHL level, but has yet to prove himself on the sport’s biggest stage. The playoffs are an arduous trek, and making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final often requires a mix of good health and significant contributions from a team’s depth players. If Newhook can rise to the occasion, the Avalanche could romp their way to unexplored territory. Does the rookie forward have it in him?

Data courtesy of All Three Zones, Hockey Reference, and Natural Stat Trick.

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