This past offseason, Joe Sakic made a concerted effort to do two things: Make the Colorado Avalanche lineup more well rounded and make it deeper. He accomplished this mostly through flashy trades for Brandon Saad and Devon Toews, moves that were meant to strengthen the top end to the team and moves that got a lot of attention from both the media and fans. Sakic also made a couple depth signings that didn’t really move the needle but are the kind that can make a difference for good teams, particularly ones that are hoping for a very long playoff run.
One of those moves was signing Kiefer Sherwood. The 25-year-old left winger was brought in on a one-year contract at the league minimum. When the signing occurred, most expected him to settle in as a middle-six winger with the Colorado Eagles in the AHL—until training camp when Sherwood began to outplay familiar depth forwards like Logan O’Connor and Sheldon Dries.
He worked his way onto the taxi squad to start the season, and now that Matt Calvert is out indefinitely, Sherwood has been called upon to step in. He’s being asked to fill the role of a defense-first winger who coach Jared Bednar can count on to play nearly 10 minutes a night.
Sherwood is no stranger to that fill-in duty at the NHL level. Over the past two season, he played 60 games for the Anaheim Ducks while logging six goals and seven assists. However, it’s not points that will matter for Sherwood during his time in the Avalanche lineup.
Colorado ‘s top-six forward group is among the most lethal offensively in the entire league. It will more than carry the load in terms of goal scoring, leaving any production from the bottom half as a bonus.
Sherwood is there to help the team defensively—and he’s been doing it quite well so far.
Sure, it’s only been two games, but Sherwood has had the best expected goals against rate on the team in both. That’s made even more impressive when added to the fact that he leads the team in defensive zone starts. The coaches are deploying Sherwood in a shutdown role, and so far he’s passed the test with flying colors.
Despite being new to the team, Sherwood hasn’t looked out of place. We don’t know how long Calvert will be out of the lineup—his post-concussion syndrome is acting up again, and that’s a very scary thing—but as long as he is, Sherwood should continue to see game action. With Pierre-Edouard Bellemare suffering a nasty injury Thursday and looking like he will miss time as well, Sherwood could find himself being called upon to play an even bigger role.
Early this season, Sakic’s attempt to make the team more well rounded has been successful. For the most part, the team has looked a lot stronger on its own half of the ice and is giving up fewer high-danger scoring chances on a nightly basis.
As the season goes on, guys like Nathan MacKinnon, Nazem Kadri, Cale Makar and Mikko Rantanen will carry the load offensively, but if the Avalanche want to finally break past the second round of the playoffs, the depth guys are going to need to keep dominating on the defensive side of the puck. The coaches will love the flexibility that comes from being able to trust the bottom-six to shut down opponents, and finding a guy like Sherwood to help do that is exactly what can help turn a good team into a great one.