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Midseason Report Card: Forwards

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I've graded defensemen. I've graded the goalies. Now it's time to bring the sexy back: bring on the forwards.

In my preview, I got a few things right, although it seems I was dead on when I said that "I don’t think Colorado will miss a beat in the scoring department" and "I’m a bit worried about Colorado’s special teams". Even strength, the Avs can score - they are averaging 2.08 goals per game 5-on-5, 2nd best in the league. 17 times they've scored 4 goals or more so far. 7 Colorado forwards have more than 20 points, and just two have a negative plus minus. Unfortunately, they are still struggling for consistency with the man advantage. Colorado ranks a mediocre 13th on powerplay effeciency (21st on the road. guh.), but are 21st in 5-on-4 scoring, and that's just not good enough. Many times this year, the Avs have needed to convert on a PP to either extend a lead, or to cut into a lead, but have come up short. The penalty killing hasn't been much better (worse, really), but I blame the forwards far less than I blame a certain goaltender.

I'm going to try to keep these a little shorter...

Joe Sakic

 

What else really needs to be said? He just doesn't show signs of slowing down. If you watch him and Pierre Turgeon, Sakic looks 5, 6 years younger. He's the oldest player on the team and yet averages 2 and a half minutes more per game than any other forward. Sakic is (obviously) an offensive force, but also one of our better defensive forwards. And he's remarkably consistent. In the first half of last season: 44 points. Second half? 43 points. First half of this season? 44 points. My two minor complaints? He still has the same powerful shot, but doesn't seem to have the same accuracy (clang), and I personally don't think he's effective enough on the pp point to justify the increased workload he's been given. Still, no question, Grade: A

 

 

 

Andrew Brunette

 

Last season, Brunette started off looking for a home, shuffling around on a bunch of different lines. This season, Bruno has played all but one game with Joe Sakic, and his production has improved (he's on pace for a career-best 71 points). Brunette plays his best hockey behind the net, although he's shown some surprisingly good stickhandling in front of the net as well. His lack of speed gets leads to him taking a few too many bad penalties, and he's not much of a defensive factor. Still, second on the team in scoring nets you a solid B.

 

 

 

Tyler Arnason

 

It probably shouldn't be a big surprise that Arnason has been a bit on the inconsistent side this year; lack of consistency and intensity has been the big knock against him. At times, Arnason looks like a magician on the ice - weaving through traffic before firing a perfectly-placed shot past the goalie. Other times, he's invisible. At even stregnth, Arnason has 10 goals (tops on the team) and 21 points (second); imagine what that output would be if he was giving full effort on every shift? Arnason is 2nd worst among forwards for PP points per minute - he has a disappointing 5 points despite average 2+ minutes per game. Finally, on a bad faceoff team, Arnason is the worst, with just 41% won. Grade: C

 

 

 

Milan Hejduk

 

If I'm incorporating Hejduk's career (on his way to his 4th straight season with a scoring decline) or his salary ($3.8 Mill, 3rd on the team), then Hejduk's season so far is a pretty big failure. But, since I'm setting that stuff aside for this exercise, Hejduk is going to fair better. Unlike Arnason, I don't think Hejduk's issue is lack of consistent effort - he leads the team in shots taken, and seems to be skating well. It might be more a matter of shot selection: he's 9th on the team in shooting percentage. And, like Arnason, he's doing pretty well at EV, but lousy on the powerplay (worst among all forwards in terms of PP points per minute). Hedjuk doesn't spend a ton of time on the PK, but he's been a surprisingly effective killer when he's been out there. Grade: C+

 

 

 

Paul Stastny

 

Stastny has had a solid first half. He's tied for 3rd on the team in scoring, and is 2nd among forwards in ice time. He passes well, is an effective penalty killer (statistically, the best among forwards), and shows strong commitment to his defensive play. He could be better at faceoffs (47.9%) and maybe a bit more consistent in scoring, but overall he's been a solid B+

 

 

 

Wojtek Wolski

 

If this was just for December, Wolski would be near perfect (as his December Rookie of the Month award would attest to). Before joining Sakic and Brunette on the top line, Wolski had some issues - he was often guilty of standing around waiting for the puck to him. He struggled when he had to move with the puck, and seemed to relish contact as much as a germophbe on the NY subway. Those have all improved substantially, especially the stickhandling, and Wolski looks poised to have a (Pierre McGuire warning) monster n2d half. Grade: B-

 

 

 

Marek Svatos

 

Last years hot rookie has had some growing pains in his sophomore year. Not surprisingly, he's been a bit banged up and his production has been kind of off and on all year. One big concern: his shots per game have dropped each month (4.1, 3.0, 2.4). While he can be fun to watch with the puck, his game really does depend greatly on having linemates who can get him the puck and that can really hurt your scoring consistency, even if the effort is there. Svatos has quietly improved his defensive game, not that he'll ever get confused with Guy Carbonneau or anything. Grade: B-

 

 

 

Mark Rycroft

 

I'll just come out and say it: I don't get the love affair with Rycroft. He has energy and he's not afraid of contact (both atypical of Avalanche forwards). But that energy doesn't seem to translate into many scoring chances, and he seems to be more often on the receiving end of contact than initiating. He's a very good penalty killer, but there doesn't seem to be enough to his game to justify the 10 games he's played on the 2nd and 3rd lines. Grade: C-

 

 

 

Antti Laaksonen

 

There's no real way to sugar coat it. Laaksonen has been a huge disappointment so far. Normally good for about 30 points, Laaksonen has just 2 points this year, with very little in the way of value-added intangibles to sweeten the pot. Even his trademark speed has seemed to disappear this year. He kills penalties...but not as well as others on the team (Stastny has allowed half the goals Laaksonen has in the same amount of minutes). Grade: D-

 

Ian Laperriere

 

Like Laaksonen, Lappy has also seen a large scoring dropoff from his career year in 05-06. Unlike Laaksonen, though, Laperriere still is making plays on the ice (11 assists) without being able to put the puck in himself. He's also the protector - he is the only Colorado player with a fighting major this year. It would be great if he was scoring, but, honestly, he isn't here to score goals. Grade: B-

 

 

 

Brett McLean

 

Kelowna, Brandon, Cincinnati, Johnstown, St John, Cleveland, Houston, Norfolk, Chicago, Malmo, Colorado. Eleven cities in 9 years, and never more than one year any any city. Until now, that as, as Brett has now put in a season and a half in Denver. McLean is a surprisingly good playmaker, although deosn't find himself with a plethora of scoring chances. Certainly not a superstar, but a nice depth player to have on the team. He's even been killing some penalties of late, a newish role to him with the Avs. Grade: C+

 

 

 

Brad Richardson

 

77 games into his NHL career, and Richardson has just 22 points. You can certainly pin some of that one the checking role he's been primarily used in, but some of that blame needs to be on Richardson's shoulders as well. Richardson is simply too talented to have just 9 points in 36 games, even while riding the 4th line for most of the season. He's a good passer, isn't afraid to work the corners, and has a deceptively good - and underutilized - shot. Richardson was assigned to Albany on the 3rd; I would hope he'll have a chance down there to play on a scoring line and find his offensive touch. Because he's a waste of talent to be relegated to the 4th line at this point in his career. Grade: C

 

 

 

Pierre Turgeon

 

Turgeon missed the first 27 games of the season with an injury, and, frankly, after seeing his terrible play in the playoffs last spring, there wasn't much reason to wish him a speedy recover. When he finally made his debut, though, he was like a new player - skating all over the ice, making slick passes and taking sneaky shots - and was a big factor in reviving the Avs slumping offense. He had 7 points in 7 games, and, briefly, didn't look so old on the ice. It was fun while it lasted; in the next 7 games, Pierre has no points and 1 healthy scratch. Now that is more like it! Grade: C

 

*this article originally appeared at inthecheapseats.com*