When the Colorado Avalanche sent a fourth round pick to the Phoenix Coyotes for forward Daniel Winnik, few expected the 25-year-old winger to be anything more than a fourth line gap stop.
How wrong they were.
40 games into his fourth NHL campaign, Winnik is in the process of earning himself a long term contract. Playing along side center Ryan O'Reilly, Winnik has averaged a career high 17:06 in average ice time, and is second only to O'Reilly in short handed time on the ice for forwards.
Offensively, he's completely turned his game around. In 74 games last season, Winnik scored four goals on 83 shots. This year? He already has seven goals and his 85 shots have miraculously eclipsed his total from last season in nearly half of the games.
It's essential for a team to have a good checking line presence in the defensive zone. The Avalanche found out the hard way last season, as O'Reilly's game was brought down by the fact that he regularly centered a line with players who wouldn't crack most other NHL rosters.
As Paul Stastny has with Chris Stewart, Ryan O'Reilly has found a partner in Winnik that will help him strengthen one of the Avalanche's biggest areas of need in recent seasons.