Alex Galchenyuk was recalled from the Eagles on Tuesday, but don’t expect him to step into that role, at least right away.
In reality, the Avalanche will likely look to all three members of their most recent fourth line to fill in. Unless one player really steps up, look for a revolving door of skaters to take Lehkonen’s spot. Let’s take a look at those three players who are likely to get a chance at a bigger opportunity, and why they might be a fit.
Judging by Tuesday afternoon’s practice in Toronto, Malgin will get the first crack to step into the top six while Lehkonen is out.
Bednar says Denis Malgin likely to have a top 6 role tomorrow for the Avs vs the Leafs
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) March 14, 2023
If you’re looking to go with the hot hand, Malgin certainly makes the most sense. In his last 14 games, he has six goals, with three of them coming in the last five games. He’s a very skilled player who has been able to create offense out of nothing. In terms of points-per-60, Malgin is fourth on the team at 5-on-5, sitting behind only MacKinnon, Nichushkin, and Rantanen. Some of that comes from easier matchups, but he’s filled a role in the bottom six that the Avalanche were desperate for two months ago.
How long Malgin lasts in the top six will depend on his ability to defend. This has not been a strong suit for him in the past, and if he plays on a line with Compher and Nichushkin, he’s going to get some tough matchups. If he struggles with more responsibility, Bednar will not hesitate to move someone up to take his spot. He tends to hold onto the puck a long time, and not use his teammates very well, so he might have to distribute the puck a little more in a bigger role.
His first crack will come against his former team in Toronto, so he should be extra motivated on Wednesday.
If I had to guess whose role is likely to increase the most in the last month, I’d bet on Nieto. He doesn’t have the skill of a Malgin or a Newhook, but if you’re looking to replace Lehkonen, he’s the one who can come closest to filling that specific role. He’s not as good as Lehkonen, but he’s dependable defensively, can skate, will go to the tough areas, and has played with guys like Compher extensively in the past.
It would not be a sexy pick, but Nieto is a safe player for coaches, and if any of the skilled players struggle, I expect him to get bumped up the lineup.
Is it a surprise that Malgin is getting a look before Newhook in the top six? Not really, but it’s not just based off production. While Malgin has scored some pretty goals of late, Newhook has actually been producing well himself, with seven points in his last 10 games.
So why is he not getting the first look to fill Lehkonen’s spot? Easy. The Avalanche need a center on that fourth line. And Jared Bednar has been very happy with Newhook’s play at center since the start of January. If the goal is to develop Newhook down the middle, then they may want to keep him there while he’s playing well.
Now, I think that is all subject to change. Darren Helm is on the road trip, and finally taking contact. If he can return to the lineup, he fills that fourth line center spot. That would allow Bednar to move Newhook up in the lineup if he chooses to do so. Maybe Newhook doesn’t have the big offensive numbers people were hoping for, but he’s done well in the ice time he’s gotten. He currently sits sixth on the team in points-per-60 at 5-on-5, ahead of J.T. Compher.
He’s the most skilled player on the team currently sitting outside of the top six, so eventually, they should give him that opportunity down the stretch. I do think it will happen, but he might just have to wait until Helm gets back in.