Colorado Avalanche's Stock Watch for Top-Six Forwards
At 17-5-0, the Colorado Avalanche have greatly surpassed many expectations for them under first-year head coach Patrick Roy. While a big part of that has come thanks to the stellar goaltending of Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, it’s hard to discount the role that the top six forwards have played in producing consistent offense.
Colorado’s de facto top six forwards, including the injured Matt Duchene, have each cracked double-digit points in the team’s first quarter of the season. They also have each of their forwards playing with either a positive plus-minus rating or at zero, which suggests a team that plays with defensive responsibility.
The problem: Colorado only has six players with a positive or even Corsi rating, suggesting that the Avs’ top six forwards are mostly just benefiting from the unreal work Varlamov and Giguere are doing between the pipes.
With Duchene and his point-per-game offense returning shortly from an oblique injury, it should be expected that Colorado’s offense picks up. But for some of the team’s top six forwards, the numbers suggest that things may be headed back to Earth in the near future.
With 12 goals and 8 assists in 19 games, Duchene is an undeniable star—with an oblique injury, he’s also been on the sidelines since November 16 at Florida. The biggest question about his impending return, which should come on Wednesday against the Blues, is when he’ll regain the scoring touch.
Duchene had a goal and was +1 against St. Louis on November 14, in a game where he also drew his only seven penalty minutes of the season thus far. If he doesn’t warm up immediately, expect the spark to come on December 5 at Edmonton, against whom Duchene has 23 points in 20 career games.
Landeskog has 16 points in 21 games this season, but only a single point—a goal in the Avs’ 5-1 rout of Chicago—in the past four games.
The good news: the captain is nearly a point-per game player against Minnesota (10 GP, 3-5-8) and Calgary (10 GP, 2-5-7), against whom Colorado will play three of their next five games. With Matt Duchene close to a return, don’t be shocked if Landeskog turns it around in the coming weeks, as he regains his normal center.
O’Reilly has almost been a point-per-game player since the start of November, scoring six goals (including the OT winner against Phoenix on Thursday) and three assists in 10 games as Colorado has gone 6-4-0.
The question is whether O’Reilly’s momentum will override his so-so career play against the Avs’ next four opponents: He has a combined 11 goals and 25 assists (and a minus-nine rating) in 73 career games against St. Louis (Wednesday), Minnesota (two weekend games), Edmonton (December 5) and Calgary (December 6). That may hinge on how well Matt Duchene plays in his return; if O'Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog regain chemistry with Duchene at center quickly, he should play above that level.
Stastny’s 17 points in 22 games have him poised to return to the point-per-game pace he carried in his early years, but he’s a more well-rounded player now (his +10 rating is his best since 2007-08 and his .536 face-off win percentage is the second-best of his career). His shot percentage is also a career-high .195, compared to his career mark of .126.
That’s all against players whose average relative Corsi rating is a 1.064, the toughest opposition for any forward on the team.
Stastny only has two points in three games without Matt Duchene in the lineup, and both came in Colorado’s 5-1 blowout of Chicago. But with Duchene returning from his oblique injury, teams may focus less on Stastny’s line, allowing him to shine once more.
Bouncing between right wing and filling in for Matt Duchene as Colorado’s first-line center, MacKinnon has four points in his past eight games, compared to nine points in the 14 games prior. The good news is he’s played between Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O’Reilly; the bad news is that Duchene’s oblique injury should be healed shortly.
As such, MacKinnon’s scoring opportunities may decrease as coach Patrick Roy adjusts his lines—he won’t be a scoring line center with both Duchene and Paul Stastny in the lineup, meaning he would have to adjust back to the wing to stay in the top six.
Despite never having been a plus player in his NHL career, Parenteau currently boasts an even rating in 22 games for the Avalanche. That’s despite the Avalanche boasting only a .903 save percentage with him on the ice, while his on-ice Corsi rating is -11.12.
Top-six forwards aren’t exactly expected to be defensive superstars, but one has to wonder if Parenteau’s current pairing with Jamie McGinn, whose Corsi rating is even worse at -19.18, is going to come back to bite the Avalanche against teams like St. Louis (16 players with positive Corsi stats) and Minnesota (13). With a minus-five rating in his past six games, Parenteau seems to be coming back to Earth—and an offensive player earning frequent minus stats isn't quite in the offensive zone.
McGinn’s clutch goal against the Kings on Saturday broke a goalless drought dating back to October 12 against Washington. Granted, he sat out a handful of games due to a knee injury, but after five points in five games to start the season, and with only three points in nine games since rejoining the lineup, the writing may be on the wall for McGinn as a top-six forward.
With 47 hits, he ranks third on the team in that category. A shift to the checking line alongside John Mitchell and Max Talbot may actually be a welcome move, removing McGinn from the Avs' current top six.
Chris Leone has written for Bleacher Report since 2008 in multiple capacities. Follow him on Twitter @christopherlion.