When training camp started in September, there were plenty of question marks about who would make the opening night roster for the Colorado Avalanche. Coming off an unprecedented season of futility, few roster spots felt solidified. The Avs’ front office, try as they might, struggled to make many of the roster shakeups that fans were hoping for. This left the youth in the system to fight for spots on the bottom two lines, particularly on the wings.
Enter Alexander Kerfoot.
Taken in the fifth round of the 2012 draft, only Mark Barberio was drafted later on the Avs’ active roster (by two picks). There were questions as to whether or not Kerfoot could crack the 20 man roster to start the season. But after strong performances early in the preseason, Kerfoot received increased ice time with Matt Duchene and Nail Yakupov on the second line. This combination consistently put up strong performances, and Kerfoot was penciled into that second line combination to open the season in New York.
Even while playing on a flashy, productive scoring line, Alexander Kerfoot can be easily overlooked on the ice. Matt Duchene has elite speed and hands, and Nail Yakupov has a ridiculously quick release on his shot. But Kerfoot? Before Thursday’s two goal game against the Blues, he had played a quiet, complementary role for his line mates. However, digging into the analytics, he has been one of the most productive members of the Avalanche early in this season.
Of players that have played all eight games thus far, Alexander Kerfoot currently leads the Avalanche in Corsi (shot attempts) percentage (56.59), Corsi relative (10.0), Corsi against (56), and is sixth in the league in Corsi against for teams that have played eight games thus far. And all of this is done with a zone start percentage of 46.94.
What does all of this mean?
Simply put, Kerfoot puts in the work defensively that allows Duchene and Yakupov to work around him. His Corsi percentage and low shot attempts against tells us that the Avs are controlling and shooting the puck more when he is on the ice. With Duchene and Yakupov often handling forechecking duties, Kerfoot drops deeper into the neutral zone to break up rush attempts before they happen, allowing the Avs to retain possession of the puck longer.
Bednar also trusts Kerfoot’s abilities defensively, as he has taken more defensive zone faceoffs than Duchene and Yakupov, while still allowing an incredibly low number of shots attempts against. He’s active in the defensive zone and has great vision of the ice to start the rush. These are the kinds of things that don’t always show up on the scoresheet, but make teams competitive.
It is important to note that these numbers take into account the high volume of shots coming from his line mates, particularly Matt Duchene. Duchene leads the team in shot attempts at 92, which pull Kerfoot’s Corsi numbers up. But the zone start numbers show us that Duchene and Yakupov take more faceoffs in the offensive zone, while Kerfoot’s starts are more likely to come defensively, and 19 fewer shots have been attempted against with Kerfoot on the ice than Duchene. This highlights Kerfoot’s defensive efforts. Plus, we know that Nail Yakupov is prone to lapses in effort, making Kerfoot’s numbers all the more impressive.
The Avalanche already broke this line up against the Blues on Thursday, moving Duchene and Yakupov to the top line with Sven Andrighetto. This didn’t seem to phase Kerfoot one bit, as his multi-goal effort helped the Avs get to overtime... er... kept the Avs in the game. With the injuries to J.T. Compher and Tyson Jost, lines are going to be shuffled considerably. Kerfoot may be called on to continue his defensive duties with more inexperienced line mates moving forward.
Keep an eye on Kerfoot’s work in the neutral zone this year. He isn’t the flashiest player on the Avalanche roster, but he is one of the most effective.