In the third and final chapter of our season breakdown we take a look at non-rookie additions to the team. All but Sven, Bourque and Rocco were acquired over the summer or later and those 3 didn’t play enough to have a hand in the previous season’s collapse. Lucky for us the Avs used a healthy dose of their young stable of prospects to fill in the roster holes from the purge of deadbeats but there were only so many available. Some of these guys were counted on to take regular roles, some were typical organizational depth. Here’s what the BR staff thought of them:
full staff grades shown below
Sven Andrighetto was acquired at the deadline 2017 and immediately had an impact on the slovenly Avs at the time. He was a fair complement on Mack & Mikko’s line but when the revelation of putting Captain Gabe there happened last November he was shuffled down the lineup. His biggest strength is individual shot generation where he was second only to MacKinnon at 16.4 per 60 minutes. What held him back was a 5v5 shooting percentage of 4.5% which put him among the defensemen along with JT Compher. I think most agree that pairing him up with the very passy Alex Kerfoot is promising but finding the complementary wing on the other side never happened. The optimum player for those two would probably be someone with some size and defensive ability that’s a solid puck retriever. Let’s hope the Avs can come up with that next year. The staff gave him a B-, which seems fair.
Colin Wilson was acquired in a trade for reasons unknown on the first day of free agency last summer. This looked like a poor fit from day 1 and that’s exactly what it turned out to be. His lack of speed and poor defensive ability make it tough to find him a role and he spent most of the year, when he was healthy, on the hodge-podge 4th line. His on-ice shot metrics and individual rates were all in the 4th line range compared to the team’s forwards, I don’t know if that was a self-fulfilling situation or not but it never felt like he had more upside with better linemates. His main strengths are neutral zone play and zone entries, which should be useful to the Avs, and heavy cycle play in the offensive zone, which probably won’t be. Wilson earned a C from the staff, which I considered quite generous.
Nail Yakupov was this season’s Avalanche reclamation project and he got off to a hot start with Matt Duchene scoring 5 goals with 3 assists in the first 10 games, all at even strength. After the trade he tailed off massively, playing only 48 of the remaining 72 games and scoring 4 more even strength points. If you look at his contribution as propping up Dutch’s stats so that we ended up with the haul that we did then this would be a sneaky good move by Joe Sakic. What happened after was unfortunate for a guy that seems truly passionate about playing the game but he got his last shot at the NHL for now and it just didn’t work out. Staff grade was D-, harsh but true.
Patrik Nemeth was claimed on waivers as training camp was winding down, a victim of the numbers game in Dallas. He wasn’t exactly greeted with open arms by Avs fans since a big defensive defensemen ran counter to “younger, faster” and he seemed to be in the mold of many D’s that were banished during the summer. Looking back, the Avs needed a solid PK defenseman, several candidates had wilted early in training camp and the thought of playing Anton Lindholm, Chris Bigras and Andrei Mironov as the 3rd pair guys was somewhat terrifying. Nemeth ended up playing most of the season with either Tyson Barrie or Sam Girard, in the case of the former that’s no easy task but he and Sam found some chemistry at times. The oddity of the season was his plusminus which ended up +27. It’s a dumb stat of course but any outlier is interesting. A lot of the plus comes from shorties and ENGs so it’s more of a testament to his usage rather than being “good” at something. The staff saddled him with a C, which I thought was low. For what he is, he was pretty good this year.
Gabriel Bourque earned a contract on a try-out at the beginning of last season but spent all of it in San Antonio after a handful of games in October. You can’t help but get the feeling that this was one of the guys that Jared Bednar thought “why the hell was this guy in the minors all year when we were getting killed every night?” when he was doing roster evaluations over the summer. Bourque is your typical speedy grinder that can kill penalties but won’t help you much offensively. His Corsi for percentage was tragic, lowest among regular players by a mile at 40.11%, but individual shot generation wasn’t bad and ended ahead of players like Mikko, Wilson, Nieto and Kerf. Coaches seem to feel a need to have a depth vet like this on the roster so I’m fine with Bourque being that guy. The staff marked him C+ but I’d put that a little higher just for the fact that the PK was top 5 in the NHL and he did his share there.
Jonathan Bernier was signed right off the bat on free agent day, an obvious target from Avs management. With Pickard gone in the XD and Varly’s health a major question they had to get the top guy and they sealed the deal. The highlight of the season was the 10-game win streak starting right after Christmas break but the fact that both he and Varly were injured a bunch and the 3rd goalie only started one game says a lot. Like they both played hurt more than we knew. With Varly on the shelf for the foreseeable future, Bernie played almost 4 playoff games before his LBI finally became unmanageable and we were left in Andrew Hammond’s hands. Getting a backup that wins 19 regular season and one playoff game in free agency is pretty stout. He might be done here in Colorado but I’d call his time here a success. Staff gave him a B+, I gave him an A.
David Warsofsky was signed as AHL depth over the summer and ended up playing in 16 regular season games and 4 in the playoffs. I’m not sure if that says more about the pro scouting department’s evaluation or the coaching staff’s fear of using others. Safe to say when he is in the top 6 on your depth chart that things have gone pear-shaped in a hurry. He’ll be back next year in the same role so we have a measuring stick for prospect progress now, or perhaps a measuring stick for the org’s passion for using prospects as depth. Staff gave him a C- which seems about right.
The final three guys played so little they aren’t worthy of separate sections. Andrew Hammond was acquired in the Dutch trade and played one regular season game and got a couple starts in the playoffs. He did better than expected so good on him. Rocco Grimaldi was on the Avs protected list in the expansion draft but played only 6 NHL games this year and will be moving on as a Group VI free agent. Mark Alt played 7 regular season games and looked pretty good, not good enough to dress in the playoffs but good enough to sign to a two-year contract last week. No idea what that says.
Looking through the players that were brought in specifically for NHL roles there were some tangible positive results for most. Despite being totally snakebit, Sven produced 0.44 points per game. Bernier played no small part in getting the Avs into the playoffs. Nemeth and Bourque did defensive things ok. Yak and Wilson were downers but by percentage the guys brought in to fill roles were successful. The goal is to reduce the number of guys needed for these situations in the future. The team had 12 returning starters in training camp, which is low, and used 10 rookies and these 10 other additions to round out the roster. That sounds like a bit of a gong show and maybe it was, but this was definitely the year to do it.
The staff’s final GPA for the whole roster was a 2.68 or solid B- which is about right for a team that squeaked into the playoffs with the final spot and had 15 teams above them and 15 teams below. The goal now is to build off this, they went from bottom of the barrel to mid-pack with a thin team that still had little prospect capital in the minor leagues to call upon. There’s always urgency to get results but the Avs tragic flaw has always been mortgaging the future then languishing because of the lack of organizational depth.
Fun fact: The Avs have never improved their record in successive years
That’s right, never. Even in the dynasty years they couldn’t manage to make improvements that lasted more than one season. That’s a scary trend whether it’s driven by organizational philosophy or just random luck and it’s going to be difficult to break the cycle. GM Joe Sakic is saying the right things, staying the course, sticking with youth and showing confidence in the coaching staff and players. The Avs AHL affiliate has never had as much talent as the Eagles seem to have next year and they will pick 9 times in the top 100 over the next 2 years (barring trades of course) so the organization is finally taking shape. They’ve put themselves in a position to finally sustain some improvement, now all they have to do is execute.
What say you, dear reader? Was this a B- lineup? Each of us used different criteria for judging this year’s Avs roster. Some went off expectations, some went with comparisons to other players around the league in similar roles, some went with straight up production & value to the team. What standards would you use?