Without a doubt the Colorado Avalanche struggled mightily with chemistry for large parts of the 2016-17 season. When you take a look at the numbers, only four players provided 10 or more primary assists. For those four players we broke down who those assists went to:
1. Nathan MacKinnon
Nathan MacKinnon led the team with 25 primary assists. He had at least one primary assist to 11 different players on the Avs making it clear that no matter who you put him with offense was generated from his stick. His seven feeds to Rantanen was the largest direct connection on the team. Despite Rantanen only providing one primary assist to MacKinnon, the total of eight goals directly produced between the two is more than any two other players. With multiple primary assists to every player that saw significant time on his line 5 on 5, he stands as the only forward that can truly slot in with anyone and still generate chances on a consistent basis.
2. Tyson Barrie
The only defenseman who had more than 10 primary assists, he also beat everyone but MacKinnon with a total of 20. As a defenseman, the forwards in front of him rotate often and the numbers align with that as he had a primary assist to 10 different players. While MacKinnon is the one feeding his linemates, Barrie is the one who was most frequently setting up MacKinnon to do his thing. Interesting to note that of Barrie’s 20 primary assists, only a single one of them was to another defenseman. When he has the puck he is almost always looking to create a chance by moving it to a forward or putting it on net. For an offensive defenseman, Barrie did a good job creating opportunities when put on the ice with top six forwards.
3. Matt Duchene
With the revolving door on both Duchene’s wings, it comes as no surprise that Duchene never found chemistry with someone the way MacKinnon to Rantanen, or Barrie to MacKinnon did. It shows in his numbers with just 14 primary assists across eight different players. It really is a shame Grigorenko couldn’t find the effort level to situate himself consistently in the top six as he was one of, if not the only player Duchene was actually able to connect with on a relatively consistent basis. Duchene’s connection with Rantanen was interesting as Rantanen actually assisted him more with three primary assists to Duchene’s two coming back the other way. When put together, the two of them made for a more balanced attack than a line where everything ran through MacKinnon. Duchene’s primary assist numbers don’t exactly point to great things when it comes to chemistry. On the other hand, when put into the role of goal scorer, Duchene did receive primary assists from 11 different players. Before his absurd slump he was able to finish plays when teammates were able to find him. Simply put, without better quality wingers, finding chemistry for Duchene will continue to be a challenge.
4. Mikko Rantanen
The final player to get over the mark posting exactly 10 primary assists, Rantanen’s passing was just good enough to keep the other teams honest. From a chemistry standpoint, by the end of the year Rantanen was being strictly utilized as a sniper. You stick him with play-makers and you expect him to put it in the back of the net. As aforementioned, he flourished when playing with MacKinnon. He also did well when getting the puck from defensemen, scoring off passes from Barrie, Zadorov, Barberio and twice from Johnson. This could bode well with all of them coming back and likely being in the top four in the 2017-18 season. With his second season coming up, it is critical for the Avs chemistry that he avoids a sophomore slump.
Past those four you have a number of players with seven and eight primary assists and then it is on down the list from there. With those low numbers there are a lot of problems with sample size. Still, you can glean some not so fun facts such as: less than 50% of Landeskog’s assists were primary which is still better than Tyutin who posted a whopping 8.33%.
As always with stats like these, take them with a grain of salt. A primary assist is handed out for a whiffed shot that slides right to a teammate just the same as a behind the back no look spin-o-rama to the tape. A stat like this is just one piece to the puzzle. If it supports the eye test great, if not then it warrants further investigation beyond the surface.
With players like Andrighetto, Compher and Jost looking ready to play their first full seasons in an Avs Jersey one would hope that a lot more chemistry connections can be made in the coming season.