The Colorado Avalanche roster still includes a plethora of centers. Naturally the top center is set — Matt Duchene. The other top-six center is ostensibly Carl Soderberg, but Nathan MacKinnon is being groomed for that spot.
The quandry of the Avalanche roster becomes who’s the fourth-line center. Colorado acquired Jesse Winchester last summer for just that purpose. However, after missing the entire season with post-concussion symptoms, it appears he’s going to miss more according to head coach Patrick Roy:
"€”The symptoms of [his] concussion are back. Obviously, he’s not ready to play right now.”"
We hate to speculate that could spell the end of his career — though that’s looking more and more likely. However, we can speculate that he’s not centering the fourth line on opening night.
Strangely, who centers the fourth line can have significant impact on the rest of the lineup.
The simplest — and least popular — option for fourth line center is Marc-Andre Cliche. Cliche spent the majority of last season in that role, and he didn’t do terribly. Granted he only earned seven points (two goals, five assists). However, he had a good turnover ratio (+15) and a winning faceoff percentage (51..3%).
Most Cliche opponents claim he doesn’t have much skill. It’s true no one’s going to accuse Marc-Andre Cliche of being a speedy stick handler.
However, his fitness for the job depends on what you consider the fourth line’s role. If the purpose of the fourth line is simply to get a favorable position for a scoring line to come in, Cliche is perfectly adequate to the job. If, though, you want the fourth line to score, Marc-Andre probably isn’t your player.
At the conclusion of last season coach Roy remarked that Marc-Andre Cliche’s role on the team is supposed to be 13th forward, which would mean he wouldn’t even suit up most nights.
John Mitchell is a rock-solid third line center — +20 turnover ratio, 50.8% faceoff percentage, 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists). It’d be a pity to drop him down to the fourth line.
However, it makes sense if coach Roy wants to give Nathan MacKinnon the chance to work on his centerman duties — on the third line. MacKinnon skated as a third line winger for part of last season. He’s supposed to skate on Soderberg’s line with Gabriel Landeskog, but prospect Mikko Rantanen has shown chemistry in that spot.
Mitchell would be an excellent fourth-line center, as long as MacKinnon was the third liner.
Joey Hishon has been looking to crack the lineup since his playoff debut in 2014. Longer, really, but his development has been hampered by injury.
In fact, that propensity for injury is what makes me hesitate to want Hishon as the fourth line center. I don’t see the point of putting him in as a regular center of Patrick Roy is just going to have to replace him when he goes down with injury. Might as well start with Cliche, then.
I’d feel more comfortable with MacKinnon taking over third line center, Mitchell fourth line center and Hishon at most skating as a winger on the fourth line.
Mikhail Grigorenko is a center, though he’s supposed to be on Mitchell’s wing. Grigorenko is on a tryout with the Colorado Avalanche. He has a contract, but it’s just one year. The understanding is he needs to impress in order to be given another contract.
And Grigorenko would have to impress. He only played 25 games last season with the Buffalo Sabres, and earned just six points (three goals, three assists). His turnover ratio was not great — -5. His faceoff percantage was also not winning — 46.2%
This season for Mikhail Grigorenko is also supposed to be his chance to work with talented players who actually have their heart in the game. Now, the fourth line center is almost certainly going to have Cody McLeod on his wing — he’s got heart, but no one’s going to call him overly talented. Said center is also liable to have either Patrick Bordeleau or a prospect on his other side.
This isn’t ideal for Grigorenko or the Avalanche. Again, it’d be better to keep him on the third line wing — especially if his centerman ends up being MacKinnon.
The Avalanche roster includes three other prospect centers — Freddie Hamilton, Conner Bleackley and Ben Street. Hamilton has already been sent down to the San Antonio Rampage. Bleackley looks a lot better than he did last preseason, but he probably won’t make the next wave of cuts. Ben Street… I definitely wouldn’t choose him over Hishon.
So, it looks like the least disruptive choice is Marc-Andre Cliche for fourth line center. The best-case scenario is John Mitchell. That only works if Mikko Rantanen is skating on Carl Soderberg’s right, freeing up Nathan MacKinnon to serve as third line center.
Who on the Colorado Avalanche roster do you see being the fourth line center, Avs Nation?
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