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The unsung heroes of the Colorado Avalanche offense

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We all know who carries the offense in Colorado, but who is bringing the most support for the big-3

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Colorado Avalanche Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

There are three very obvious leaders of the Colorado Avalanche forward group. Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen have made up one of the best offensive lines in the NHL over the last two seasons and they are the heartbeat that drives any success the Avs have had. The team has been near the top of the Western Conference in terms of goals scored all season. Of the 240 times Colorado has found the back of the net, 101 of those - or a whopping 42% - have come from the big-3.

Though the All Star trio is carrying the heavy load, the Avalanche wouldn’t be close to a playoff spot without a little bit of help.

Carl Soderberg is the team’s fourth leading scorer in terms of both goals and point. His 22 goals put him are nine behind Rantanen while there is an incredible 22 point gap between the big-3 and Big Ol’ Carl.

The Avalanche are likely going to finish the season with only three forwards over the 50 point plateau - Tyson Barrie will also be there - but it’s important to remember that there is a lot more that goes into driving offense in hockey than the names that show up on the score sheet.

Over the past few years, a ton of research has been done by Ryan Stimson with regards to passing and how to properly track how good a passer a player is and how much it contributes to his team’s offense. Stimson’s Passing Project has led to a lot more in-depth tracking of passing that allows us a bigger picture as to how players contribute to creating scoring chances.

Colorado Avalanche shot contribution

As you can see from the graphic above, it is Alexander Kerfoot and Colin Wilson who do the most with their ice time. Both Kerfoot and Wilson have more primary shot-assists per game than any Avalanche player not named MacKinnon. They may not have the point total to show for it - though Kerfoot is closing in on a career high for points - but what they’re doing on the ice is leading to shots on net. The problem is that they are playing with guys who haven’t been able to finish. These two have among the lowest on-ice shooting % on the team. At 7.12% and 6.37% respectively, their teammates are shooting well below the team’s average of 9.6% when Wilson and Kerfoot are on the ice. They’re setting up the shots - the teammates just aren’t finishing.

Both Wilson and Kerfoot generate shot-assist at a rate higher than 23 of the team’s All Star forwards. A lot of that has to do with the fact that MacKinnon is a possession monster. When he is on the ice, he has the puck and is either shooting it or setting up his linemates. Rantanen and Landeskog’s passing rates are skewed downward as a result.

Wilson and Kerfoot aren’t better offensive players than Landeskog and Rantanen, but what these numbers show is that there are guys other than MacKinnon that are able to create offense for the team’s best scorers when Jared Bednar chooses to separate his top line.

Thanks to underwhelming point totals, they don’t necessarily get the credit they deserve but guys like Wilson, Kerfoot and to a lesser extend Matt Nieto (who is set to return to action after missing the last 15 games) are helping to provide secondary offense for a team that has desperately needed it.

Despite needing a new contract this summer, Alex Kerfoot is a young player who looks like he is going to be a key part of the build in Colorado. It wouldn’t be a big surprise that he has been able to help drive offense this way. It’s Wilson’s micro-stats that might be more of a choke for fans in Denver.

While many thought Wilson was going to be traded at the deadline, the team ultimately held on to him for the playoff push - and it makes you wonder if the analytics department had something to do with it. There is more to offense than what you see in the box score. Wilson is proof of that. If the Avalanche are able to hang on to one of the Wild Card spots, Wilson is going to be a big reason even if he doesn’t show up on the score board every night. Goaltending has been a key part to the turn around over the last month, but so has Wilson’s return to health.

Guys like Kerfoot and Wilson will never be mistaken for MVP candidates, but the role they play is essential for any good team. Whether we notice it on a game to game basis or not - try to keep an eye out for their play with the puck over the final six games - Kerfoot and Wilson are doing more than many fans would expect.

Secondary scoring has been a much criticized aspect of this Avalanche team, but right now they’re getting it and these two players are a major reason why the forward group as a whole is having so much success putting the puck in the net.