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TRADE ANALYSIS: Avalanche Upgrade Depth With Nieto Pickup



Avalanche Nieto trade deadline

The Colorado Avalanche read my mind.

Just earlier today, I wrote in my mailbag how the Avalanche needed not just one, but potentially two depth forwards.

One down. Another one to go.

With the addition of Matt Nieto, the Avalanche might finally be able to roll four lines again. Anton Blidh, who the Avalanche sent down yesterday, surpassed nine shifts just once in his most recent five game call-up. That game was a blowout victory over the Red Wings, so naturally he got a little more ice time.

Bringing back Nieto, 30, gives Jared Bednar a forward he knows and trusts, particularly in the defensive zone. His eight goals this season is more combined than all of the AHL call-ups the Avalanche have used this year. He’s not going to average 15:39 a game like he did in San Jose, so I doubt that production continues, but he’s going to provide valuable minutes in the bottom six.

The way the Avalanche have been using their lineup is unsustainable over the course of a full season. While they’ve been winning games of late, they’ve been doing it with essentially three lines. That probably could get them to the playoffs. But that’s not good enough make it through four rounds of playoff hockey.

And the Avalanche know that.

Nieto’s speed is a perfect fit in the lineup, and like Cogliano last season, he’s a veteran whose played a lot of playoff hockey.

He also might be exactly what Ben Meyers needs.

The young forward has struggled to score, but has not really had a stable linemate since coming back up to the Avalanche. While it might not necessarily be Nieto, the acquisition of another depth forward means someone is getting bumped down. That should mean more consistent ice time for Meyers. Nieto could be a good veteran mentor for Meyers.

While we are unlikely to get confirmation of anything soon, the trade probably doesn’t mean good things for Darren Helm’s health. Nieto is a good pickup to replace a lot of what Helm can bring.

Ryan Merkley

This is the classic prospect swap portion of the trade. Merkley had asked for a trade from San Jose earlier this month, and got his wish.

What kind of player are the Avalanche getting? Well, one that has a lot to work on, to put it mildly.

Our friends over at San Jose Hockey Now did a great visual breakdown of the issues that plague Merkley‘s game. There’s a lot of work needed on the defensive side of the puck, but offensively, he’s not providing a lot either.

In 30 games in the AHL, he has 14 points. All of those points are assists.

An NHL executive told SJHN that Merkley’s “Offense isn’t [consistently] special and he doesn’t defend well at all.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement. There are certainly tools to work with, but this is a project for the organization.

Given they didn’t give up anything of real value, it’s a risk worth taking, in my opinion. The Avalanche have had success in recent years developing defensemen, and they are in no rush to get him to the NHL. Merkley being a right handed shot fills the hole left behind by the trades of Justin Barron and Drew Helleson last season. Greg Cronin has some work to do with Merkley, but the talent is there.

Martin Kaut

The writing was on the wall.

This season, Kaut got a bigger chance with the Avalanche than he ever has in past years, playing 27 games amidst all the injuries. Unfortunately, he didn’t really take advantage of that chance. When he was sent down over a week ago, it felt a little bit like the end of the line.

Like Merkley, Kaut needs a change of scenery. Style wise, I don’t believe he fit in with the way the Avalanche want to play. He likes to slow things down a lot, and the Avalanche play at a pace that I’m not sure he can hit. He’s a smart, defensively responsible winger, but there isn’t one skill that really stands out. That makes it tough to really break through at the highest level.

I would imagine he’ll get a chance in San Jose, given their record, to play more in the NHL. Is he a full-time NHL player? I’m not sure, but if he’s going to make it, it’s now or never.

Jacob MacDonald

In past years, MacDonald had been a real valuable depth piece for the team. This season, he hasn’t been quite the same.

He got a pretty good look on defense, but the consistency was not there this year. When they moved him to forward and called up Brad Hunt to take his place on defense, a message was sent. It appears both Hunt and Andreas Englund jumped him on the depth chart. When that happens, you are replaceable.

By trading Jacob MacDonald, the Avalanche do seem pretty confident that not only will Josh Manson return after the All-Star break, but Bowen Byram as well. You don’t trade a depth defenseman unless you know some defensemen are returning.

The Verdict

This is a big win for the Avalanche.

They get a clear upgrade up front for a defenseman they’ve been reluctant to use all season long. The coaching staff knows what Matt Nieto brings and will have no issues throwing him into the lineup and playing him 10-13 minutes a night. It’s a perfect fit.

The Kaut/Merkley portion of the trade will be a wait and see thing, and both could ultimately struggle in their new locations, but the Avalanche are now a better team today than they were yesterday.

And that’s what really matters.

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