The Colorado Avalanche is heading to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs almost in full health. But even then, there are still a couple of big-name players who sat out the entire first round against the Nashville Predators.
The Avs lineup stayed mostly the same throughout the first round, with the exception of the injuries to Andrew Cogliano and Darcy Kuemper. This is what the Avs were running with against the Preds:
Valeri Nichushkin (13) - Nathan MacKinnon (29) - Mikko Rantanen (96)
Gabriel Landeskog (92) - Nazem Kadri (91) - Artturi Lehkonen (62)
Andre Burakovsky (95) - J.T. Compher (37) - Nicolas Aube-Kubel (16)
Darren Helm (43) - Nico Sturm (78) - Logan O’Connor (25)/Andrew Cogliano (11)
Devon Toews (7) - Cale Makar (8)
Samuel Girard (49) - Josh Manson (42)
Bowen Byram (4) - Erik Johnson (6)
Darcy Kuemper (35)
Pavel Francouz (39)/Justus Annunen (60)
Jared Bednar kept the same regular guys in the lineup for the first round which was a good thing. With that in mind, there were several notable names from the regular season left out of the lineup for the first four games.
Alex Newhook (18), Jack Johnson (3), Ryan Murray (28), Kurtis MacDermid (56), Hunter Miska (32)
You could easily make a case for any guy to get into the lineup (except probably for Miska) and what they can bring to the ice on a nightly basis. For a guy like Murray who struggled with injuries all year, it will be hard for him to find ice time in the postseason outside of injuries to the regular six defensemen.
MacDermid you can make an argument for just based on his physical presence on the ice. It had been debated whether or not to throw on No. 56 in Game 4 to keep the Preds from being too goony but it ultimately didn’t happen. Outside of the physical play, MacDermid does not bring enough production offensively or ability defensively. He doesn’t work in the system the Avs have this postseason and will struggle to crack into the lineup like Murray.
However, the last two on the list would be the easy candidates to join the lineup based on their play. Johnson, a tenured, grizzled veteran, could jump into the lineup probably for his same last-names sake. JJ can play a similar game to The Condor, but cannot do it to the same speed and skill as EJ can currently. With No. 6 being in the Avs team for over a decade now, he deserves his ice time over a player who just got to wear the ‘A’ this season and can ultimately do it better than JJ can.
Now comes the most interesting scratch of the first round: Newhook. Avs fans were clamoring to see the lines Bednar would run in Game 1 and certainly were surprised to see Newy kept off the ice. Myself included, Avs fans scratched their heads at the choice as Newhook had been a regular for the Avs. Here’s what Bednar had to say about his choice.
My read on this lineup: Bednar liked the way the fourth line played together the final few games of the season, and Nashville's physical nature likely led him to go with NAK -- whom he recently described as "built like a fire hydrant" -- over Newhook.— Peter Baugh (@Peter_Baugh) May 4, 2022
In 71 games this year, Newhook recorded 13 goals and 20 assists mostly from the third line. While those numbers aren’t spectacular, you’d think it should earn him a spot on the roster for the playoffs. The team had other ideas, and whether or not it was just for a better matchup against the Predators will be determined once round two starts.
When you look at the lineup above, it is hard to slot in Newhook somewhere. The best place would probably be for NAK on the right-wing on the third line. You could then theoretically push NAK down to the fourth line for Helm or even Cogliano. The point is, there are several combinations to work with including multiple guys rotating in and out on a nightly basis.
We saw this kind of rotation style towards the end of the regular season which included rotating out Newhook and Aube-Kubel among others. But you have to imagine that this is frustrating No. 18. He was visibly upset when he was sent down to the Colorado Eagles after the season opener back in October before coming back to the Avs later on. He might be, and rightfully so, feeling those same feelings after being left out of the playoff squad. It could eventually become a risk as he considers his future with the team and perhaps looks elsewhere for more ice time in the postseason.
With the amount of rotation and depth the Avs have, could it be a bad thing? It’s obviously great to have depth and resources available if/when a player goes down. But, it could be frustrating for those missing out on ice time. If it is, so be it. Hopefully, every member on the Avs can have a similar mindset to Burakovsky when he said this before Game 4.