Colorado Avalanche Need to Look to AHL Eagles for Bottom-6 Help

Five of the Colorado Avalanche’s top six forwards are off to a tremendous start. Nathan MacKinnon has 19 points in 11 games, and six times in the young season he has tallied multi-point efforts. Mikko Rantanen’s seven goals in 10 games are tied for 12th in the league, and even Valeri Nichushkin, sidelined for the last four games with a lower-body injury, has five power-play goals, which is tied for second in the league. Evan Rodrigues and Artturi Lehkonen are off to strong starts as well.

The only blemish among the top six forwards has been Alex Newhook who, having been elevated to the second line in the wake of both Nazem Kadri’s departure and Gabriel Landeskog’s injury, seems to be struggling. He has only two goals and one assist in the first 11 games. The good news for the 21-year-old center and his fans is that all three points came in the last three games, an indication he might finally be heating up.

Avalanche’s Bottom 6 Forwards Not Producing

The story from Colorado’s third and fourth lines is decidedly different. The Avalanche have played 11 different skaters in the bottom six, and they have a combined 13 points in 11 games, with nine of those coming from established NHL players Andrew Cogliano, J.T. Compher, and Logan O’Connor. Martin Kaut did have two points in the second of two games against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Finland, but they are his only two points in eight games played so far this season.

Martin Kaut Colorado Avalanche
Martin Kaut, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The lack of production has led head coach Jared Bednar to limit ice time for the bottom six forwards. For example, the three forwards on the fourth line in the team’s first game—Ben Meyers, Lukas Sedlak, and Kurtis MacDermid—averaged 9:45 time on ice (TOI) In the first game of the season. The fourth line in the game last Saturday (Oct. 29) against the New York Islanders—MacDermid, Martin Kaut, and Mikhail Maltsev—averaged just 4:51 TOI. This puts an additional burden and heavier workload on the top six skaters. In the game against the Islanders, Rodrigues had 27:10 TOI, MacKinnon 25:02, and Rantanen 23:36.

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By contrast, several players on the Avalanche’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Colorado Eagles, are producing. Here’s a look at three players they should consider auditioning on the fourth line in the coming weeks.

Charles Hudon

Charles Hudon has been bouncing between the NHL and lower leagues for the last seven years. Selected in the fifth round (122nd overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft by the Montreal Canadiens, the Alma Quebec native notched 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists) in 72 games with the Canadiens in the 2017-18 season. In other words, he has shown ability at the top level of the game.

Charles Hudon Montreal Canadiens
Charles Hudon, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This season Hudon is off to a blistering start with the Eagles, scoring five goals (including three power-play goals) and four assists in eight games. He also leads the club in both goals and points scored. He doesn’t project to be more than a fourth-line player, but he brings reliable, capable experience that would benefit the bottom part of the Avalanche rotation.

Jean-Luc Foudy

Selected in the third round of the 2020 Draft, Jean-Luc Foudy has skills. Elite Prospects had this to say about the 20-year-old center: “It’s not often that the clear-cut best skater in the draft finds themselves barely clinging to the second-round, but that happens to be the case for Foudy. Once he gets to top speed, he effortlessly maintains it, leading to drawn penalties or high danger scoring chances.”

Foudy’s eight points (three goals, five assists) in nine games so far with the Eagles is second-best on the team. Where Hudon is a low-risk/low-reward option, Foudy is just the opposite. If Colorado promotes him to the big club, he’ll have to prove he can play at that level. But if he can, he could be a diamond in the rough.

Shane Bowers

There’s no denying that Shane Bowers has been a disappointment. Coming from the Ottawa Senators in the blockbuster trade for Matt Duchene in 2017, Bowers was thought to be the centerpiece of the deal that brought not only defenseman Sam Girard to Colorado, but also a first-round pick in the 2019 Draft the team used to acquire burgeoning defensive star Bowen Byram.

Related: Matt Duchene Trade Analyzed

Bowers, also a first-round pick, the 28th overall selection by the Senators in 2017, was a highly touted young player. He had an explosive season as a freshman at collegiate powerhouse Boston University, scoring 17 goals and 15 assists in 40 games. His 32 total points were the most for any 18-year-old in Division 1 NCAA hockey that season. But that was then.

Shane Bowers Ottawa Senators
Shane Bowers, Ottawa Senators, 2017 Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Bowers has yet to see any playing time in the NHL—the only player from the first round of the 2017 Draft for whom that is still true—and has been adequate at best in the AHL, scoring just 45 points in 117 games for the Eagles prior to this season. But the well-regarded prospect has had his career interrupted by a series of injuries and COVID stoppages, and has never really had a chance to hit his stride. The 23-year-old native of Halifax, Nova Scotia is off to a fast start this season with two goals and five assists in nine games.

Like Foudy, Bowers is a high-risk/high-reward option for the Avalanche. If he lives up to his early promise, he projects as a top-six player. Given his fast start, he’s worth a look on the fourth line for Colorado.

Up Next for the Avalanche

After a successful trip to Finland as part of the NHL’s Global Series, the Avalanche have a four-day break. They travel back to Denver to prepare for a division-rival game against the Nashville Predators at Ball Arena on Thursday night.

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