Heading into the condensed 2021 season, everyone knew that depth and a surpluss of healthy bodies would be critical. Not only because of the threat of a COVID outbreak, but because injuries become more prevalent with less time to recover between games. The Colorado Avalanche have witnessed this first-hand. There is never a “good” COVID outbreak, but being shut down for two weeks allowed previously injured players to get healthy without missing too much playing time.
However, their blueline has been decimated. Currently, Erik Johnson, Bowen Byram, Cale Makar and Dennis Gilbert are all out. And while that’s certainly not an ideal scenario, Colorado’s deep defensive corps allows the team to get by while it waits for those players to return.
More of an issue is forward depth. The Avs have done a great job building depth behind their stud scorers. But the bottom line was always going to be a question. There were 11 clear players for the roster before the season began, with two on the fringe. However, thus far a third player has emerged as a solid depth option: Kiefer Sherwood.
While he has yet to play himself onto the starting 12 when everyone is healthy, Sherwood is becoming an extremely reliable guy to slot in when the team needs a change or an injury occurs. The 25-year-old Columbus, Ohio, native was brought to the Avalanche over the offseason as a free agent. He was originally undrafted, but in 2018 he signed with the Anaheim Ducks. Over two seasons with Anaheim and 60 games, he had six goals and seven assists for 13 points. He spent most of last season with the AHL’s San Diego Gulls.
This season, Sherwood has chipped in two assists for the Avalanche in six games. He isn’t lighting the lamp by any means, but he’s doing exactly what Colorado needs from a depth player—just play even hockey.
Where Sherwood is really excelling at is fitting in with the bottom line and controlling play. The Avalanche are an extremely efficient team at 5v5. In fact, none of their main forwards have a CF% below 50%. It also means that when depth players do well, you should take it with a grain of salt because it also likely suggests the system is helping as well. However, it still remains impressive that Sherwood leads the team in CF% at 61.8%. He also ranks sixth in xGF% with 58.21%.
That doesn’t mean he’s a top forward on the team. It also doesn’t mean that he will continue to play at such a dominant pace, given such a small sample size. However, the results should be extremely encouraging for Avalanche fans and management. Because at the bare minimum, Colorado found a guy for $700k who can slide on and off your taxi squad and be an effective player on the ice.
The biggest thing for Sherwood is finding himself a spot on the roster. The Avalanche have done a solid job of filling out depth, especially on the wings. That leaves one or two spots open for three or four players most nights on the bottom line. Currently, the three names that seem to be competing for these spots include Sherwood, Logan O’Connor and Tyson Jost. Matt Calvert is drawing back into the lineup after missing six games.
The biggest question then becomes, how does Sherwood match up to his peers?
None of the options have been particularly skilled at putting the puck in the net. That’s not the main concern for the Avalanche’s fourth line, but there is a chance for someone who can do it to take the role and run. All of the players are solid when it comes to possession, as well, but O’Connor and Sherwood have been the best relative to the team.
A big part of most teams’ depth is their ability to succeed at the penalty kill. That’s where Sherwood really needs to make a name for himself if he wants to stay in the lineup.
Calvert and Jost are two of the team’s most relied-upon forwardsin this area, averaging over two minutes a game. O’Connor ranks fifth at 1:18. However, of the seven penalty killers who have played more than 15 minutes this year, Calvert ranks last in CA/60 with 115 shot attempts being given up. O’Connor is first with just 68.68, and Jost ranks third at 87.02. Calvert’s large number could partially be attributed to a small sample size. However, last season he averaged 96.29 CA/60, which still isn’t fantastic.
In Anaheim, Sherwood managed to post a 70.16 CA/60 in the 2018-19 season, so he does have experience, albeit limited, in this area. The biggest takeaway though, is that Sherwood has the capability of providing more to the team than just 5v5 play.
Limitations and Looking Forward
No one is asking for Sherwood to get massive minutes or move up the lineup. However, he has shown promise in the handful of games he’s played in so far. Odds are, the Avs will face more injuries before the playoffs. Having a guy like Sherwood show he can fit into the system and play well, even as a 13th or 14th forward, is valuable.
Even once Colorado starts to get some of its forwards back from injury, finding a way to mix Sherwood in every other game could prove beneficial in the long run. If he continues to look like a legitimate useful contributor on the fourth line, it will only help the team, especially with his price tag being so cheap. Of course, there’s always a chance he falters, but the Avalanche won’t know until he plays more and really has the opportunity to show his worth. It’s been a promising start, and exploring what the team has in Sherwood could go a long way.