The Colorado Avalanche are heading towards a trade deadline where they are expected to be very active. Big names have been mentioned, the cap space is ready and waiting to be used, but lower down the lineup, Colorado needs a plan. While the rumored addition of Claude Giroux would be a boost to the top six, over the past few weeks, the Avalanche have shown they need scoring from their bottom six as well. As things stand, the team has too many players of the same skillset who cannot be relied upon to score regularly.
Alex Newhook has been the shining light so far with 23 points in 48 games. He was sent to the American Hockey League (AHL) at the start of the season but came back stronger, and is now the only bottom-six forward assured of a place in the lineup.
Elsewhere, J.T. Compher, Tyson Jost, Logan O’Connor, and Nicolas Aube-Kubel may have flashes where they produce, but overall, the consistency is simply not there. Couple those four with Darren Helm, a minimal point-producer, and Kurtis MacDermid, who plays an enforcer role, and there is not enough scoring in the group.
The Avalanche have played 15 games since Feb. 1, and in those games, O’Connor and Compher have contributed three points each, while Jost and Aube-Kubel have just two. Helm has one point during the same period, while MacDermid hasn’t hit the scoreboard.
Time for Avalanche to Change Bottom-Six Focus to Scoring?
One of the biggest problems the Avalanche are facing right now is that they don’t have a strict plan for their bottom six. We have seen the team choose reliability, penalty killing, and players in a shutdown role over someone with offensive potential.
Perhaps the biggest example of this has been the constant backing of a player like Helm over giving someone like Mikhail Maltsev a longer look after he played 18 games earlier in the season. He didn’t score a point in those, but his 34 points in 39 games in the AHL for the Colorado Eagles show that he has the potential to bring offense to the Avalanche’s bottom-six group.
Dylan Sikura is another internal option. He has 49 points in 43 games for the Eagles, including 20 goals, and he added another five points to his tally over the last three games. Again, this would need a change of focus from the franchise, something they don’t appear to be interested in doing. Having penalty-killing abilities and the coach’s trust are valued far more than scoring, it seems.
Who Could Help the Avalanche?
Many names have been thrown around in trade deadline rumors, but from the Avalanche’s point of view, most of those are either high-end forwards or defensemen. What about third-line options to go alongside Newhook and bring scoring to the bottom six?
One option is Jake DeBrusk from the Boston Bruins, a player who was declared available earlier this season, though his current play has made the Bruins think again. He has 25 points in 52 games, including 15 goals. In many ways, he is the ideal linemate for Newhook, who tends to take a pass-first approach.
At the moment, Newhook is being asked to drive a line that has little offensive output, which is putting even more pressure on his young shoulders. In time, he will be able to handle that, but the Avalanche need to find him better players to play with at this stage of his career.
Another option would be for the Avs to bring back someone who has already played for the franchise, as they did last season. This time around, that player would be Paul Stastny, who played for the Avalanche before leaving and signing with the St. Louis Blues as a free agent in 2015.
Although nearing the end of his career, Stastny has shown he can still find the net. He has 29 points in 46 games, with 17 goals, and is a natural centerman to help take the load off Newhook in that position if the team wants to move him to the wing. Wherever he slots into the lineup, the experience Stastny brings, his scoring ability, and the fact he will slide straight back into life in Denver make him an appealing proposition to play alongside Newhook on the third line.
Other options are out there, but in terms of a player type, this is exactly what the Avalanche need to look at ahead of the trade deadline. Currently, their bottom six is providing very little in terms of scoring, there is a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Newhook, and before the deadline, they need to get him some scoring help.
Craig Jones is a freelance NHL writer from the UK, covering the Colorado Avalanche. Watching the NHL from afar, Craig has followed the Avs for more than two decades, and wrote about them for almost one. To get the UK perspective of the NHL and everything Colorado, follow Craig on Twitter @craigjones29.