Avalanche Forward Evan Rodrigues Developing Into a Key Piece

Given the injuries they have suffered so far this season, the Colorado Avalanche have been one of the toughest teams to get a real grip on, as to how good they are, and how legitimate their Stanley Cup challenge is. In a bid to put together a contending roster once again this season, the Avs signed Evan Rodrigues in the summer to a one-year, $2 million contract.

The Avalanche are looking to repeat their success from the 2021-22 season, when they lifted the Stanley Cup in June, putting together a roster that was many years in the making. Their core is set and those key players are tied down to long-term deals. On top of this, not one member of that core is considered past their best, as they are either in their prime years or still working towards them.

But you need more than a core to win the Cup, you need other pieces too. When Rodrigues signed with the Avalanche he was brought in to be a depth piece, someone who could ultimately end up on the third line, but with the ability to step up and play in the top six should injuries occur. Despite being injured himself, he has spent most of the season in the top six, due to other injuries, and part of it on the top line, and it’s been fully deserved.

Evan Rodrigues Impressing After a Slow Start

The start of the season for Rodrigues certainly wasn’t great. On an Avs team that is designed to transition up the ice with speed, he looked slow and unable to keep up and contribute. His bad play could have been excused if he’d been putting points on the board, but he wasn’t doing that either. Through his first four games in an Avs uniform, he had zero points, with a plus/minus rating of minus-3.

Evan Rodrigues Colorado Avalanche
Evan Rodrigues, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In back-to-back games on Oct. 21 and 22 against the Seattle Kraken and Vegas Golden Knights respectively, Rodrigues got his Avalanche scoring underway, with a goal in each of those games. A week later he was amongst the scoring again, in a game against the New York Islanders on Oct. 29, he scored twice. This run of goals seemed to be the jumpstart his Avalanche career needed, and since then, everything has been moving in the right direction.

We’ve also seen the benefits of Rodrigues moving up and down the lineup, as well as playing on different lines. For example, in the Oct. 29 game against the Islanders, he was hot and played on the top line, registering a huge 27:10 of ice time in that contest. Two games later, he was off the top line when the Avs took on the Columbus Blue Jackets on Nov. 5. He played just 15:15 that game, far less, and lower down the lineup, Rodrigues was turning into a player that could be moved up and down the roster depending on the situation.

Related: 4 Reasons Why the Avalanche are Still Stanley Cup Favorites

The month of November was a real struggle for Colorado, alongside missing captain Gabriel Landeskog, they lost Arrturi Lehkonen and Valeri Nichushkin, while Rodrigues himself would add another injury to the list at the end of the month. This equates to more than half of their top six, but while Rodrigues was on the ice, he was producing and trying to fill the gaps. In November, he ended with five points in nine games, though he exited the final game with an injury early, so more like five in eight, a solid effort from someone brought in to provide depth scoring.

Rodrigues Delivers on Return From Injury

Since the injury to Rodrigues, the Avalanche have lost star center Nathan MacKinnon, to further add to their troubles, though Lehkonen and Nichushkin have returned to the lineup. Rodrigues joined them, returning in a game against the Buffalo Sabres on Dec. 15, and since then, has been outstanding.

He scored a goal against the Sabres in his return, and in his second game added an assist against the Nashville Predators. He wasn’t officially on the scoresheet in his third game against the New York Islanders but scored the only goal of the game, the winning penalty shot against the red-hot Ilya Sorokin, with a wonderful deke around him.

In the three games since returning from injury, Rodrigues has been impactful on the ice, alongside scoring vital goals. High-danger scoring chances while he’s been on the ice have been 9-4 in favor of the Avalanche. Despite no goals being scored in the game against the Islanders, he was still making plays and driving his line forward. In that game, he was on the ice for 16 Avalanche shots, while the Islanders managed just seven against him. He’s done this strong work mainly alongside Alex Newhook, as the pair appear to be forming a great bond on the ice, and if that continues, then it is certainly good news for the Avs moving forward.

Can Rodrigues Keep Delivering?

The hope is that Rodrigues can keep up his current play for the Avalanche, and I think he will. What role he has to play on the team, remains to be seen. The Avs could go out and get a second-line player to aid their scoring depth; should they do that and stay healthy, then Rodrigues would likely find himself on the third line, probably still alongside Newhook and possibly J.T. Compher.

That would give the Avalanche scoring depth that would in many ways be better than what they had last season when they won the Stanley Cup. Of course, health is needed, and fans of the Avalanche know that you cannot take this for granted given how the current season has gone. But if they can stay healthy, then Rodrigues should be able to provide excellent scoring depth, having already shown he can deliver in the top six. The Avalanche are on the hunt for back-to-back Stanley Cups, and Rodrigues has already shown he is going to be a key piece of any success they have.

Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick