Okay, so maybe it’s a little past “mid-season” for the Colorado Avalanche, but I’m going to cheat a little bit here.
It’s the All-Star break, and there likely won’t be much news breaking over the next week, outside of the All-Star fluff. Over the last two weeks, the Avalanche have gotten their season back on track. With wins in seven of their last eight games, they’ve gone from looking like potential sellers at the deadline to looking as dangerous as any team in the (weak) Western Conference.
With all that in mind, we can have a little more fun with this at the moment. So without further ado, let’s have a look at who the Avalanche mid-season award winners are.
Most Valuable Player
Winner: Mikko Rantanen
It might seem like he’s slowed down a bit of late, but he hasn’t. It just seems that way because other players have come back to take the pressure off him.
For most of the season, he was the guy carrying the load, and in many ways, he still is. He still leads the league in even strength goals with 27. He still has 23.1% of the teams goals on the season. He’s 10th in the NHL in scoring overall. He seems well on his way to his first 40 goal season, and at this rate, 50 goals appears to be a real possibility.
Is he the best player on the team? You might find some people that would take him over Cale Makar or Nathan MacKinnon, but probably not a lot.
But has he been the most valuable to the team this year? I think so. Conor McDavid has the league MVP award wrapped up, so Rantanen has to settle for the team award.
Winner: Alexandar Georgiev
The Avalanche have hired some specialty coaches in the last decade that have proven to be extremely valuable. Skills coach Shawn Allard is one, but goaltending coach Jussi Parkkila is certainly another. It seems like everything he touches turns to gold. And what he’s done with Georgiev this season has been spectacular.
Georgiev has always been a talented goaltender, but he lost his way a bit in New York, and when Shesterkin showed up, he was stuck. His save percentage had dropped every season in New York, and plummeted down to .898 last season.
The best thing to happen for him was a trade to Colorado, and it has worked out for both sides so far. Goaltending was probably the biggest question mark for the team heading into the season, but to be honest, it’s probably been the most consistent part of the team to date.
Most goalies start slow with their new team. Georgiev did not. He hit the ground running. And I can’t imagine many Avalanche fans had him starting the season as well as he has. He’s currently eighth in the league in overall save percentage, and he’s second in the NHL in five on five save percentage. And it did not take long for him to become a fan favorite.
His start has been a pleasant surprise, and the team will need him to continue at this level to go on another long run.
Winner(s): Jacob MacDonald and Martin Kaut
I couldn’t give the award to something broad like “injuries”, so I had to pick some players.
This isn’t meant to kick these guys on their way out, but it’s the truth, and probably why both are no longer in the organization.
MacDonald had been a really valuable swing player in prior seasons, posting great possession numbers and eating up valuable minutes when defensemen got hurt. This year, he didn’t quite look the same. He struggled on defense, so much so that the team used AHL call-ups like Brad Hunt and Andreas Englund over him. By the time he was traded, it was clear he had fallen out of favor with the staff.
For Kaut, he needed a fresh start. He got a big opportunity to cement himself as a full-time NHL player with the injuries, and failed to do so. 27 games is a lot, and he had plenty of chances to take a stranglehold on a roster spot. It just never happened. He’s never looked like a fit, stylistically, on the team, so him being dealt might be best for his future.
Comeback Player of The Year
Winner: Andrew Cogliano
Let’s take a look at Cogliano’s goal totals the previous four seasons: Four, five, three, and six.
This season, he already has eight goals.
The injuries up front have forced the Avalanche to lean on Cogliano more than they probably wanted to. He’s played in all but two games this season, and is tied for third (yes, third) on the team in five on five goals. He’s pretty much been stapled to the third line all season, when, in a perfect world, you want him on your fourth line.
The offense might not stick through the rest of the year, but it’s been huge in the first 48 games on a team that hasn’t gotten much even strength (or depth) scoring.
Unsung Hero Award
Winner: Brad Hunt
Hunt has had a solid career. The Avalanche are his seventh NHL club, as he’s bounced around a bit, but 265 career games over 10 seasons is nothing to sneeze at. In a way, him chipping in and helping should not have been a surprise.
He’s the winner of this award for a few reasons. One, as mentioned above, MacDonald struggled this year, and Hunt essentially replaced him and did a little of what MacDonald had done in prior years. And two, without Byram and Manson for the majority of the year, they needed someone who could chip in from the backend. That’s how this team is built to play.
Hunt’s goal in Edmonton a few weeks back turned out to be massive in a game they really needed. Given how little they’ve gotten from call-ups this season, Hunt being able to chip in stands out in a big way.
Most Improved Player
Winner: Alex Newhook
This is more “most improved through the season” for Newhook.
He did not have a good start to the season at all, and has bounced around the lineup a lot. But in recent weeks, he’s really found his game, and the last two weeks is the best at center he’s ever looked. He’s second on the team in five on five goals as well. If he can continue this upward trend for the rest of the season (big if), it’s a huge boon for the team heading down the stretch.
Rookie of the Year
No one is winning this one, because no “rookies” have really stepped out. Plenty of young players have gotten opportunities, but no one has fully taken advantage of their chance.
If I was forced to pick one, I’d pick Jean-Luc Foudy, because he gave fans some hope with his short stint, but he didn’t produce anything. He’s been fantastic in the AHL, however, so he’s as close as it gets.
Winner: Artturi Lehkonen
He’s already set his career high in points, and it won’t be long before he hits his career high in goals.
But he’s currently sitting fifth in the NHL among forwards in time on ice per game. Injuries have certainly played a part in that, but he plays in every situation for this team, and most importantly, he’s consistent with his details.
You’re going to get non-stop effort, and you’re going to get smart hockey. He does every little thing a coach loves, and he does it well. Jared Bednar knows what he’s going to get out of him every single night, regardless if he contributes offensively or not. That’s huge for a coach, and why Lehkonen gets this award.
Most Likely to Graduate
Winner: J.T. Compher
Compher chose a nice year to have his best career season.
A pending unrestricted free agent on July 1, he’s only three points off his career high. With over 30 games left in the season, he will surpass that and probably by a large margin. He’s also currently sixth in the NHL in face-offs taken. Now, he’ s not great at face-offs (48.5%), but teams love someone they can trust.
With the cap looking like it might not go up as much as originally thought, it’s going to be very difficult for the Avalanche to keep Compher around. At 28 and playing a valued position, he will be highly sought after on the free agent market. With a Cup on his resume and some big postseason goals, teams will be ready to fork over some cash. It’s great for him, but not so much for the Avalanche.
Keeping him appears as though it will be difficult, but never say never.