Put on your lab coats, and fire up those Bunsen burners boys and girls. Time to talk chemistry! In grade school, everyone loved a good explosion. While you won’t find the reactants needed to create a volatile chemical reaction here, you will find an examination of the line combinations I believe will maximize the explosiveness of the Avalanche offense next season. Safety goggles required beyond this point.
In hockey, chemistry can be as unpredictable as it is in the lab. Synergy can glue average players into good lines, and good players into great lines. The trick is finding the right formula. When assembling lines, you want each player to bring something different to the table. If every player is too similar, you won’t get a reaction. No chemistry is created!
One of the great Avalanche lines of all time was Alex Tanguay, Milan Hejduk, and Peter Forsberg – affectionately known as the AMP line. The AMP monkiker was perfect, because it was an acronym for the players who formed the line, those players kept the crowd amped , and the scorekeeper required heavy doses of Amp energy drink to keep up. Each player brought something unique to the ice. Forsberg brought power and playmaking, and was a master at drawing the attention of the defense. Tanguay set up his line-mates with precision passing and offensive awareness. Hejduk had the hands, oh did he ever. In his prime the Czech winger was an elite sniper in the NHL, and his ability to finish plays set up by Forsberg and Tanguay, with a tickle of the twine, earned him a Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy in 2002-2003 for his league leading 50 goals.
What about this year’s Avs? In true scientific fashion, I’m going to make a hypothesis : an idea or theory that is not proven but that leads to further study or discussion. My opinion is that the driving force behind successful lines, is usually a pair of players who bring out the best in each other. These are players that should always be playing together. History is littered with dynamic duos – Batman and Robin, Starsky and Hutch, Oreos and milk. The third line-mate in hockey is a bit of a wildcard. These are players who are more likely to be shuffled around if the team needs a spark. Ideally they are the perfect reagent that compliments the other two players and finishes the line, but the perfect line is rare in hockey. Do the Avs have the pieces to create a line for the ages?
Dynamic Duo: Matt Duchene and Jarome Iginla
Wildcard: Ryan O’Reilly
At first glance, Duchene and Iginla may seem like an unlikely pairing. Why would the Avs want the old-man legs of Iginla being a bottle to the lightning that is Matt Duchene? Because, that theory is a misconception. It is true that Duchene has game-breaking speed, but often times it doesn’t matter who is on the ice, because Duchene is looking to blow by everyone (including his teammates). When Duchene sees daylight, he’s looking to go coast-to-coast and finish on his own.
Additionally, a team playing fast doesn’t require all five players on the ice to be going a million miles a minute. This goal is a perfect example. The play was set-up by MacKinnon using his speed to drive defenders back and open up the ice. Notice how Stastny and Landeskog are never skating particularly hard or fast. They both glide to open ice created by MacKinnon, and use some slick passing to light the lamp. You think future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla is going to be able to utilize the open ice Duchene creates? You think Matt Duchene can utilize a spinorama? You better believe it.
When this line isn’t on the rush, Duchene can set up shop behind the net. Duchene has evolved into a player who loves to make plays below the end-line. While he isn’t on Forsberg’s level down low, he shows flashes that remind me of the Swedish legend. Dutchy’s puck control, core strength, leg drive, and ability to spin to create space are all elite attributes. Giving Duchene the net presence of Iginla as a weapon has me drooling. Iginla won’t bottle Duchene up, but will be a lightning rod to help this duo strike… often.
When Duchene isn’t flipping biscuits to Iginla, he can look for his running mate from last year, Ryan O’Reilly. O’Reilly and Duchene had plenty of success together last season, especially on the cycle. Leaving them on the same line seems like a good bet. O’Reilly doesn’t possess the pure goal scoring track record of Iginla, but that doesn’t mean he is a slouch in that department. O’Reilly is crafty, competitive, and has a good shot – all of which helped him lead the team with 28 goals last year. The real strength of O’Reilly is his versatility. He is a utility knife of a hockey player, and while he doesn’t truly shine in one area, he does almost everything well.
Look for this line to be one of the most versatile lines in the NHL, and for Iginla to feel right at home, just as he did playing in Boston.
Dynamic Duo: Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog
Wildcard: Alex Tanguay
The bromance you can find between Nate and Gabe on social media doesn’t seem to miss a beat when they get on the ice. MacKinnon had a dream opening campaign in the NHL. He had two assists opening night and was the catalyst behind his coach losing his mind after the game, led all rookies in goals and assists, became the talk of the playoffs in the opening round with 10 points in 7 games, and started dating Canadian babe and TV personality Vanessa Morgan. Not bad for an 18-year old. One of the big stories entering next season is what MacKid will have in store for an encore. The captain is the perfect partner in crime for MacKinnon.
This line is two-thirds of the unit that was an offensive juggernaut at Pepsi Center against Minnesota in the playoffs. The key loss being Paul Stastny. It is a big loss to be sure, but a healthy Alex Tanguay has all the tools to replace Stastny on the offensive end. The Avs were 15-1 when Tanguay was in the line-up last season, proving he is the ultimate wildcard. Tanguay brings great vision, passing, and hockey sense to the game – the same attributes that Stastny is known for. I don’t expect this line to miss a beat on the offensive end. Tanguay will have the ability to make crisp passes to spark MacKinnon in transition and set up Landeskog when he drives the net. Think of Tanguay as the facilitator who will keep the youthful talent operating at maximum efficiency.
The area where Stastny will be missed is the defensive end. Stastny was one of the Avs best possession players, while playing some of the hardest quality of competition. Even when Stastny wasn’t scoring, he was winning face-offs (54.1% win-rate) and shutting down the best players on the opposition (3rd highest quality of competition on the Avs last season). MacKinnon will slide over from wing back to his natural center-ice position, and will acquire all of the responsibility that comes with it. His ability to become a two-way center, and handle his own zone while still being a threat on offense will be critical, but if anyone can handle it, it’s MacKinnon.
The strength of this line will be a deadly transition game. I expect to see a lot of Tyson Barrie with this line to compliment the run-and-gun style.
This concludes your Avalanche Chemistry Lab. You may remove your safety goggles.