As both Matt Calvert and Pierre-Édouard Bellemare are injured for an undetermined period of time, the seemingly age-old question of the Colorado Avalanche bottom-six roster depth is rearing its ugly face again. Both guys are primary penalty killers and are the glue to the fourth-line.
Calvert and Bellemare are vocal leaders both in the locker room and on-ice. Their NHL experience isn’t easily replaced, not by skill or by raw talent. As much as it’s been pleasant seeing Tyson Jost excel in a penalty-killing role and new kid Kiefer Sherwood hold his own in limited fourth-line minutes; the make-up of the bottom-six and special teams is going to need a drastic makeover for the next little while.
What are the Avs’ options? Let’s take a look, with a particular emphasis on the career situation of Martin Kaut.
Bowers, the former first-rounder who has long been lauded for his astute two-way acumen gets his shot. High-floor/low ceiling player with middle-six upside. He’s now 21 and owns 50 games of AHL experience. If you want to see if he has “the stuff” to kick it in the bigs, now is kind of the right time.
I’m a whimsical guy and if Bowers can produce how I believe he can, he can push the third line guys and start to force decisions. The third-line hasn’t been good, but that’s topic for another day. Or is it?
Then you have Logan O’Connor. The 24-year old former Pioneer is a reliable piece to put into the mix. Engery guy who can be a total pest out there. Kills penalties and won’t do anything egregiously bad to make you call for his head. I’m not a skeptic of his, but he will be embarking on his third AHL season and to be honest, at this stage he is what he is. For me, Logan is a great 14th/15th forward, but that’s where he tops out. Every team needs a guy like O’Connor to come in and provide depth if required.
Then there’s Sheldon Dries. A 40-game player with the Avs in 2018-19 through necessity, he hasn’t really shown anything more than being a good AHL veteran since. Surely the Dries experience doesn’t need to eventuate again.
How Quickly The Narrative Changes
Wasn’t that long ago (or was it?) that the Avalanche had to make a tough choice to not bring Kaut into the Edmonton bubble for the 2019/20 playoffs because they didn’t want the temptation of burning his ELC. His nine-game sample in that season was pretty good; three points (2G:1A) and he was able to churn out 25 shot attempts and play minutes on both special team units. For his 10-minutes a night average he generated 16.5 shots per 60 minutes and made the Avs’ a bit more dangerous down the lines. Small sample but it was also a step in the right direction for Kaut.
The bottom-six group needs to be able to produce, period. Be defensively sound and take the load off of the top-six and Kaut can’t get a look over O’Connor and Dries? As it sits right now Compher hasn’t looked great with his solo point and ‘Big Val’ is a mixed bagged shift-to-shift.
Kaut has the propensity to be more dangerous and his high points in-game are better than both Dries and O’Connor. Kaut so far this season has only been afforded five minutes and a change of game time against Anaheim. Granted It was a rough five minutes, but to toss Kaut out based on such a paucity of opportunity given his stint last season smells foul.
Now he’s got to sit and wait for a re-jigged AHL schedule to be released. He doesn’t even know when and where he’s playing next. At least on the taxi squad, Kaut would be getting reps with the NHL guys and immersing himself with quality players. Kaut hasn’t a whole lot let left to prove in Loveland. I don’t think he should be there.
What do Dries and O’Connor provide that Martin Kaut doesn’t? Martin Kaut has 13 pro games under his belt this season already, conditioning shouldn’t be a factor. It has to come down to trust and perhaps a lack of it with Jared Bednar and Joe Sakic.
Letting Kaut grind his way through any troubles he may have on a fourth-line is more beneficial for both Kaut and the Avalanche’s sake. I’d rather that than Kaut going through the monotonous grind of what seems to be a pretty uneventful and meaningless AHL season. Allowing Kaut to prove his worth, earn his time on the fourth-line and push to get a promotion up the lines seems sensible if his play warrants so. They threw Tyson Jost into the cooker early in his career, is this a case of being over-protective towards a prospect that you don’t want to rush? I don’t think so.
Girard, Byram, Makar, Compher and Jost all graduated at 22 or younger. From my outlook, there seems to be some sort of disconnect between what management/coaches see and want from Martin Kaut. The love affair with Compher and his continued chances in larger roles, that I don’t understand. That is a contributing factor blocking Kaut’s path. Getting second-line reps over Jost based on this season’s merits kind of drove that home for me. Compher hasn’t moved the needle at all for me, not once this season. His second half of last season wasn’t crash hot either. Yet there has been for a couple of seasons now, an irreplaceable vibe that surrounds JT. Do they purely want him to show he can play to his contract or is there some sort of affection with his game besides a lack of productivity when gifted opportunity?
Graduate Kaut already. Whether you agree or disagree, he isn’t taking Dries, O’Connor’s or even Sherwood’s job in taking a bottom-six role, they are taking his. There seems to be a sudden lack of trust in their former first-rounder. He has the upside advantage and the immediate skill one, just roll with him already. For those saying you don’t want too much youth on your squad, youth doesn’t impact you negatively if they produce better than aging AHL replacements. The defensive core is a perfect example of what good youth can do for your franchise.
The Avs’ drafted Kaut for a reason, time to put the skates into motion.