As most stories as of late on this site have been, all roads lead back to Nazem Kadri. It seems all but official that the Avs' former second-line center is headed to Long Island. It leaves a big gap in the Avs lineup, including a loss of 35 goals and 67 assists in the regular and postseason.
There are limited options out there for the Avs to acquire to fill those shoes left behind by Naz. There are internal options to move to 2C, such as Alex Newhook, J.T. Compher, or Mikko Rantanen. They may hit the market and perhaps bring in a young Sonny Milano from the Anaheim Ducks. There could also be a reunion with Paul Stastny. A veteran like Jonathan Toews could be a rental pick-up at the trade deadline from the doomed Chicago Blackhawks.
However, one name stands out above the rest. This player hasn’t seen the most success and point-getting in his career but would certainly be a fit in Colorado. The first name’s sake is the same as the author: Evan Rodrigues.
The 29-year-old season has called the Steel City home, playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins for the last three seasons. Previously with the struggling Buffalo Sabres, Rodrigues came to the Sabres out of Boston University’s system with little success from 2015-2017. He spent the next three years doing some solid work in the Sabres system, recording 21 goals and 42 assists.
It called for a trade to a competitor and work his way up the ranks, to the aforementioned Penguins. He would only play seven games in 2020 after being traded before COVID shortened the season. He spent the shortened 2021 season on and off the ice, only playing 35 games before collapsing with the rest of his team in the first round against the New York Islanders.
However, he bounced back in a tremendous way in the 2021-22 season. Rodrigues played alongside renaissance veterans such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the majority of the 82 games he played in the regular season. It was a career year of his own, with 19 goals and 24 assists. This included seven power-play goals in just under 16 minutes of ice time on average.
Evan Rodrigues (PIT9) made his presence felt in the Pens' thriller 7-4 win over NYR.— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) May 8, 2022
He scored 2 goals and a primary assist with a 78% xGF% at 5v5.
Here are his most notable plays and puck touches from last night. #LetsGoPens #NHLPotN pic.twitter.com/HMZdko7aPh
He’s also a solid defensive forward. Just this past season, he’s earned 33 takeaways along with 30 blocks and 89 hits. Out of all the available market players outside of Kadri, Rodrigues should be high on the Avs list to replace Naz.
A key to his game that may be influential to the Avs is his ability to take faceoffs. The Avs struggled severely in the face-off dot last season, with an average of 47.3% faceoff win percentage (FOW). Rodrigues’s career FOW is 45.1%, which some may not say is impressive at a glance. However, he gradually got better in his Pittsburgh days and would be able to at least have an influence in the dot in an Avs uniform.
Rodrigues is also a player who could come into Denver on the cheap. The last three contracts he’s received have all been “prove it” one-year deals under $2M. The Avs certainly have the cap space to pull this off internally and have no need to move any guys around to make it happen. Keeping players such as Sam Girard and J.T. Compher in the current system will keep the depth in place which was critical to the Avs’s run to the Cup. On the backend especially, coming back with the same defense you had to help raise the Cup would be huge for the Avs en route towards a back-to-back run at the Cup.
Back to Pittsburgh’s No. 9 - there have been plenty of theories that his numbers are simply inflated for playing with great stars like Crosby and Malkin. His naysayers make it seem as if he didn’t work and earn the 43 points he got last season. While playing with those guys helps, Rodrigues has built himself into a solid middle-pairing player that would fit well in the Avs organization.
His projected linemates if he were to join Colorado would work well alongside him just as Crosby and Malkin did. Whatever combination of Rantanen, Artturi Lehkonen, Gabriel Landeskog, and Valeri Nichushkin will provide several of the same benefits for Rodrigues as that of his former teammates.
Joe Sakic, while not the General Manager of the Avs anymore, certainly enjoyed giving out similar “prove-it” deals as Rodrigues has received as of late. Look at the success of guys recently such as Nichuhskin and Jack Johnson. Sakic may put a word in with the new GM Chris MacFarland to take a shot with another “prove-it” deal in Colorado.
It’d be a great move to replace Kadri if he is to go. Rodrigues would see similar success to his previous season in Colorado in the second-line center role. If it doesn't work out on a one or two-year deal, then they can move on to the next one. It’d be worth the risk and could definitely pay off if it all works out for Rodrigues and the Avalanche.