Why Mikko Rantanen might stay on wing with Nathan MacKinnon out


All the Avs want for the holidays is Nathan MacKinnon back in the lineup.

Their wish probably won’t come true at least until the new year. So how does coach Jared Bednar formulate an interim top-forward line?

The initial solution after MacKinnon’s upper-body injury in Philadelphia was to move right winger Mikko Rantanen to center. That experiment lasted five games, with a smorgasbord of skaters beside him. The return of left wing Artturi Lehkonen from his own injury certainly helped form a complete picture.

But Bednar made a change in Colorado’s 3-1 win over the Predators on Saturday night. Rantanen was back in his natural position. J.T. Compher was moved up to top center.

Further experimentation can never be ruled out with Bednar, but based on Compher’s recent performance and the nuances of Rantanen’s game, this might be the best makeshift line for the remainder of MacKinnon’s absence.

First and foremost is Compher’s addition. He has 16 points in 29 games, an impressive uptick in production from a player who doesn’t need to produce points to be successful. His first three games of Colorado’s five-game homestand have been impressive. He tallied a goal and an assist against Philadelphia, and he is providing a huge boost in the faceoff circle: 62.4% during these three games, including 17-for-29 against Nashville. He handled 56% of the draws for the Avalanche.

“For us as a backend, it gives so much confidence, going into a draw,” defenseman Cale Makar said. “… I feel like it can be a really overlooked part of hockey, taking faceoffs, so when you can find guys that can do that and ultimately win a lot of them, they’re a really key piece.”

The only question with Compher was whether Bednar would want to separate him from linemates Andrew Cogliano and Logan O’Connor. Those three played with a distinct synergy that made Bednar keep them together as he made other adjustments early in the season. Their analytics were solid together. But Bednar said Friday that he’s OK with the idea of splitting them up.

“(Compher) is not going to create as many chances with the top line or for himself as Nathan MacKinnon, because he’s not Nathan MacKinnon,” Bednar said. “But I have a ton of confidence in him there. I think he’s a real good, responsible checking center that helps in a bunch of different ways. Faceoffs, power plays. … Plays in every situation for us. Up a goal, down a goal. Doesn’t matter.”

Then there’s Rantanen’s role. It’s clear that he can score at a high rate regardless of his position on the ice. He scored five goals in the first five games without MacKinnon, including a hat trick to single-handedly steal two points for the Avalanche in St. Louis. Not a bad top center, right?

Bednar has noticed subtle differences.


Source link