The Matt Duchene saga has finally come to a conclusion in Colorado but a big question remains - Who will fill Duchene’s spot as 2nd line center?
Considering the Avalanche have had almost a year to plan for his departure, they are in pretty good shape down the middle. Sakic and Co. brought in a wealth of centers during the unraveling of Duchene’s relationship with the Avs.
We’ll take an analytical dive at the numbers later on but the new 2017/18 Colorado Avalanche 2C lies within the names below.
Alexander Kerfoot - another unsung hero for the Avalanche this season. Kerfoot doesn’t have the name recognition nor many NHL minutes but he has the numbers to back up his claim. He’s been moved around a lot this year but has proven chemistry with Yakupov.
Tyson Jost - the people’s choice candidate, was drafted 10th overall in 2016 to fill this exact position on the depth chart. Although it may be earlier than the Avalanche had hoped for, the floor for Jost starts as a top 6 forward with his ceiling ranging much higher than that.
J.T. Compher - rumored to get the first crack at centering Andrighetto and Yakupov but Coach Bednar decided he wasn’t ready yet and assigned him to the third line. He’s also nursing a broken hand and for a centerman, that’s a pretty important piece of equipment.
Carl Soderberg - quickly rising the ranks in whom Coach Bednar trusts. Soda has really turned his game around after doubtingly having his worst season of his career last year. He’s gaining minutes night in and night out which bodes well for his consideration.
Vladislav Kamenev - throwing Kamenev’s name in the pool here. He’ll be joining the Avalanche on their return from Sweden and his natural position is center. You never know what could happen throughout a long NHL season.
I’m a numbers guy. I enjoy looking at troves of data and painting a picture from it. For this reason, I am also a truther of advanced hockey stats. Otherwise known as “fancy stats.”
I know many of you aren’t and even I have my skepticism's. This was especially true in the 13/14 season when it was being shoved down our throats as Avs fans.
“Puck possession numbers are horrible”
“The Avalanche are on the path of regression.”
“Are you going to put Corsi and Fenwick on the same line as (Nathan) Mackinnon?”
I miss Roy sometimes.
For the purpose of evaluating who best fits as the Avs new 2C, I will be looking at 6 key concepts for a centerman.
- Games Played - Having a small sample size can really skew your numbers. Such as Kerfoot scoring on 35% of his shots. That’s obviously not sustainable but since we’re still in the beginning stages of the season we’ll have to make due.
- Faceoff Win % - This one is pretty clear and important for a centerman. The idea is that you win more than you lose and want to hover around 50%. Easy enough right? Not necessarily, the Avalanche only have one guy who is above 50% this year.
- Corsi - The stat you hate to love and love to hate. This statistic measures total shots for and against at even strength. It illustrates a players puck possession numbers. When you have the puck you are more likely to shoot for and without the puck...well...you get the idea. Players who have a CF% above 50% tend to be more of the elite players who keep the puck on their stick.
- Relative Corsi - This is the difference between a team’s corsi rate when a player is on the ice vs off the ice at even strength. Basically, does your team improve with you on the ice or on the bench? A positive number the former, a negative number the latter.
- Zone Starts - As a centerman, this is an important concept as it relates to whether a coach sees you as an offensive-minded player or defensive as well as your ability to win faceoffs. Zone starts is the ratio of offensive zone faceoffs to defensive zone faceoffs at even strength. Give or take a couple icings a game, this proves who is trusted when needed the most.
- PDO - The ‘how-lucky-are-you’ statistic. Though this isn’t a great measurement to base a player on since it’s just that, luck, but it gives a better understanding of if we should see a player improve or regress. It’s the sum of on-ice save percentage and on-ice shooting percentage at even strength. League average PDO is 100. Above 100, you’re considered lucky. Below 100 and you should eventually start seeing the breaks come your way.
Kerfoot was given the first look to take over the 2C position with Jost still not ready to return and Compher easing his way back from a broken hand suffered a few weeks back. It would be an understatement to say he made the most of his opportunity in Sweden potting 2 goals and 4 points. He’s quietly on a 4 game point streak with 7 total points and is making his case to stay on the 2nd line. First thing that jumps out to me is his FO% at 39.7%. That’s just not good enough relative to others in the league. Compared to his teammates however, he ranks 3rd in eligible centers behind Compher and Soderberg. Kerfoot’s zone start ratio is far and away the most offensively minded of all the centers. Coach Bednar likes to roll out Kerfoot in the O zone and the results are there as he leads the team in goals with 7. His relative CF% is also the best out of the 5 centers we’ll be looking at. When Kerfoot is on the ice, the Avalanche generate more shots and are a better team than without him. His PDO is extremely high and is a little cause for concern but that is due to the fact that his shooting percentage is 35%. He’s making the most of his shots when he takes them but we can expect his PDO to return closer to the mean when he doesn’t score on every third shot.
By the Numbers: Kerfoot is trusted in the offensive zone and the Avalanche are a better team when he is on the ice rather than off it. Regardless of his poor FO%, he still ranks as one of the better centers on this Avalanche team.
Obviously, with Jost we have an extremely small sample size to work with as he’s only played in 6 games this year. And most of the games he was delegated to 4th line duties and didn’t get much 5v5 ice time. As mentioned above, Jost was drafted to eventually take over the 2C position. He’s an extremely talented goal scorer and it won’t be long until he starts paying dividends for the Avalanche. In the meantime, we’ll see his ups and downs throughout the year. His FO% is abysmal and is the worst out of the 5 eligible centers. I know Coach B will be taking that into account on where to put Jost when he returns. 3 things stick out to me on how Jost has preformed so far this year and they all relate in some way or another. We’ll start with his CF% of 42.2. His possession numbers are not great and is getting thoroughly outplayed in the defensive zone. That leads us to his 37.14 zone start ratio which basically means he lives on his own end of the ice. To add to his poor possession numbers, his relative CF% means that when Jost is on the ice, team play suffers. That being said, he’s only played in 6 games on a line with teammates who’s possession numbers are about the same if not worse than his. Considering his PDO is in the low 90’s, we can expect the bounces to come his way at some point.
By the Numbers: Jost struggles at the faceoff dot which doesn’t bode well for his chances to take over the 2C role. Currently, the Avalanche are a worse team when he is on the ice compared to when he’s on the bench though I would expect that number to creep up based on the quality of his linemates.
J.T. Compher returned from a hand injury that kept him out a few weeks while in Sweden. Leading up to the games Coach Bednar told us that Compher would start as the 2C but during the week decided to go with Kerfoot instead. Best guess is that Coach B didn’t think Compher was ready to go and that Kerfoot was playing some great hockey as of late. One thing I notice is when Compher is on the ice he gets physically dominated every shift. He’s not a very large man, listed at 6 foot 194 pounds, and I think that’s being generous. His most dominant trait has been his ability to win faceoffs. At 51.5%, he surpasses every other Av in the circle. You can point out that his relative CF% is the 2nd lowest on the team which is why his zone start ratio is also putrid, but faceoffs in the defensive zone are much more important than in the offensive zone and Bednar trusts Compher on draws. J.T. excels as a penalty killer but unfortunately, most players are measured by how they play in 5v5 hockey and for Compher, that hasn’t been good enough this season.
By the Numbers: All of Compher’s “fancy stats” really does prove the kind of player he is at the moment. He doesn’t generate a whole lot of offense and is caught more than not chasing the puck around in his own end. He’s a big liability for the Avalanche right now at even strength.
Carl Soderberg missed the Global Series in Sweden and his on-ice presence was severely missed. Soda has quietly become one of the most consistent players for the Avalanche this season. He’s on pace to destroy last years totals in goals and points and has seen a significant amount of minutes for the Avs. Last season he was averaging around 10 minutes a game, this year he’s right around 18 minutes. Coach Bednar rewards players who play a strong game and Soda has earned every minute. His CF% is average for a player like Soderberg as well as his relative CF%. His FO% so far is his worst of his career at 40% but what stands out most is his PDO. Spot on 100 means that his statistics are consistent and his play on ice dependable. Living in his own end is a little concerning but based on overall team CF%, 44.93, good for dead last in the league, the number makes sense.
By the Numbers: What Soderberg lacks most is speed. And Coach Bednar flourishes on speed players. When Soda is on the ice, he doesn’t hurt the team nor does he generate a lot of offense. His defensive zone play has been his biggest strong suit. Though pairing a big brute like Soderberg with speed players like Yakupov and Andrighetto could prove costly to the production of that line.
Obviously, we don’t have any data on Kamenev as he’s only played in 2 games at the NHL level. Both were last year for Nashville. But I wanted to talk about Kamenev because he was one of the big trade acquisitions we received from the Duchene trade. He’s immediately making an impact on the Rampage this year as he has 4 assists in 3 games and has locked down the #1 center position in San Antonio. Now I don’t expect Kamenev to slot right into the 2C position, but I do think over the course of the year it’s possible. He is scheduled to join the Avalanche this week, likely taking over for either Grimaldi or Bourque. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Grimaldi being sent down. He was downright awful in Sweden. Kamenev has raw scoring talent and brings some size with speed down the middle for the Avalanche. At only 21, he’ll have a bit of a learning curve at the NHL level but this is a pretty good year to do it. The youth movement is in full swing in Colorado.
I thought Kerfoot has really stepped in nicely in the 2C role. His CF% and relative CF% are by far the best out of the 4 others we touched on. His zone start ratio is also on par with what a 2C should have. His chemistry with Yakupov does not look in jeopardy after Duchene’s departure. The addition of Andrighetto to the line I don’t think has gone as well as Bednar expected though Landeskog needs to stay on the top line with Mackinnon and Rantanen. That being said, I still believe Jost will have the opportunity to fill in somewhere on the 2nd line. Either that being as the 2C or playing on the left side with Kerfoot and Yakupov. The sound of Kerfoot/Jost/Yakupov is music to anyone’s ears but it’s one thing to look good on paper and another to be effective.
For now, the numbers point to Kerfoot as keeping the 2C job. He’s been one of the best, if not the best, offseason signing for the Avalanche this year and will continue to be an integral part of the offense. Even when his PDO comes back to the mean, he’ll still be an effective center for the Avalanche. You can tell he’s a playmaker first, scorer second, so the team leading 7 goals is just an added bonus at this point.