We’re previewing the upcoming playoff series between the Colorado Avalanche and the Seattle Kraken.
What’s on the docket today? Taking a look and comparing the forward groups for each team.
This is where the Avalanche will have the advantage between the two forward groups. The Kraken are a deep team up front, but they don’t have a true superstar talent. Jared McCann scored 40 goals and averaged nearly three points-per-60 minutes, but he’s not typically someone you will think of as a game-breaker. This has been a big time breakout season for him, though. He averages less shots-per-60 than a lot of Avalanche forwards, including Valeri Nichushkin and Evan Rodrigues, but he’s a great shooter and has really taken off in a bigger role with the Kraken. He did, however, shoot nearly 22% at even strength this season. Can he keep that up?
After McCann, it’s veteran Jordan Eberle and rookie Matty Beniers. Eberle has been alternating between good and average seasons the last few years, and this is one of those good years. The 63 points he put up this season are the most he’s had in nearly a decade. Beniers is the likely rookie of the year winner and will likely be the guy to lead the Kraken down the middle for the next several years. Is he ready to go toe-to-toe against Nathan MacKinnon, though? I guess we’ll find out.
What more can be said about Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen? Both had career years, and MacKinnon has been the best 5-on-5 player in the NHL. His 3.28 points-per-60 at 5-on-5 is far and away the best in the league, and only David Pastrnak had more even strength goals than Rantanen. The only question surrounding these two in the first round is: will they play together? They’ve been together the last month, but for the majority of the season, they played on separate lines. It will be interesting to see how Jared Bednar deploys these two against a team that makes it’s living on being four lines deep.
If the Kraken are going to hang with the Avalanche in this series, they’ll do it because of their team structure and perhaps most importantly, their depth up front. Anyone who has watched the Avalanche this season can see that they’re a pretty top-heavy team who has struggled with depth scoring. The loss of Landeskog, as well as losing two important forwards in free agency has left their forward depth a little lacking. Guys like Andrew Cogliano and Logan O’Connor have been punching above their weight class all year as third liners, when the reality is they’re better suited on the fourth line. Luckily for the Avalanche, the guys at the top are all-world.
But the depth of the Kraken? It’s pretty impressive.
The Kraken had seven different forwards average two or more points-per-60 at even strength. The Avalanche had only three (Malgin is the other). Now, one of those players on the Kraken will be missing, and it’s a pretty important one. Andre Burakovsky, the former Avalanche forward, is out due to injury, and it sounds like it’s unlikely he’ll play at all in the series. He’s one of their game-breakers, so that’s a plus for the Avalanche. But depth is where the Kraken are going to have to make up for their lack of high-end talent in this series. While the Avalanche had seven forwards finish with 13 or more goals, the Kraken had 12. Yes, 12. That means that up and down their lineup, they’ve got some guys who can chip in offensively.
Where they’re going to look to take advantage of the Avalanche is on lines 2-4. They know they can’t match the top guys the Avalanche have, but their depth may give the Avalanche some trouble. Colorado also has a little bit of a health concern with their depth up front. If any of Andrew Cogliano, Denis Malgin, or Darren Helm aren’t able to go or play at any point, their depth takes a big hit. But it sounds like it might not be as big of a concern as originally thought.
Matchup to Watch
Yanni Gourde vs. Nathan MacKinnon
I have to imagine Gourde is who the Kraken are going to try to get out against MacKinnon as much as they can. He’s got a winning pedigree, is a pain to play against, and has some skill offensively.
But is this the matchup Bednar is going to want?
The Avalanche coach liked going best-on-best in the playoffs last year. Against a team like the Kraken, is there really one line that stands out that he might want MacKinnon matching up against? Down the stretch this year, he did tend to give J.T. Compher the tougher defensive assignments, so matchups up front is something I’m going to be fascinated to watch.
If there’s one area where the Kraken are close to the Avalanche, it’s up front. They’re deep and they have four lines that can score.
But can I really pick against Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen? Right now, I can’t. If the Kraken had a true star up front to go with that depth, this might be another story, but they don’t. The Avalanche have the game-breakers and sometimes in the first round, that’s what matters the most. I do, however, think this is pretty close, simply because of how deep the Kraken are.