Colorado Avalanche forward Alex Tanguay has long had a reputation for his great awareness and passing. It’s something all the Avs could benefit from learning.
The Avs are loaded with different kinds of skilled forwards. Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene have blinding speed and quickness. Jarome Iginla still posses one of the best shots in the game. And Gabriel Landeskog is a great scoring power forward.
However, Alex Tanguay has something they all lack to a degree, something that I think defines hockey’s best players: awareness.
Now Tanguay also possesses some of the most fluid hands on the team, and great passing to boot. But without the hockey IQ to use them intelligently, especially as he ages, they don’t matter as much. Here’s why Tanguay is such a special player and why all of the Colorado Avalanche could benefit from his knowledge.
What Tanguay Does So Well
Let’s start with a quick video that wholly embodies what I’m talking about here:
First of all, God I love that play. 99.9% of players in the league shoot or deke on that play. The same 99.9% have no idea that they have a player on the backdoor. Tanguay probably scores the majority of the time if he makes a move there, but instead he knows exactly where Ryan O’Reilly is (not in Buffalo yet!), and takes it from being a high percentage shot into being a sure thing.
To be honest this article started as a “Tanguay Needs to Find His Touch Again.” And then I saw the Avs-Preds game on Saturday (30 second mark):
Again, the majority of the players in the league shoot that puck from the low slot there. It’s a great scoring area! But Tanguay possesses not only the hands, but also the smarts to know there’s a sure goal waiting for the Avalanche 8 feet to his left.
This is truly something you can’t teach. It comes from knowing the game and your teammates as well as tons of experience. But, man, is he a joy to watch pass the puck. He may have more backdoor set ups in his career then any other player in the league. He always finds the guy with the best scoring chance, no matter if that means giving up a high opportunity chance himself.
What The Rest Of the Colorado Avalanche Could Learn
Now I am by no means suggesting I want the Colorado Avalanche passing up high percentage shots to try and make the backdoor play often, (or ever really). The Avs already have a shot differential problem — I do not want them to exacerbate it any more.
But every player can take that awareness and use it in his own game. For example, I think Nathan MacKinnon has come a long way this year in his smarts and IQ on rushes.
Last year, and to start this year, MacKinnon would go on rushes, sometimes alone vs two defenders, and the defense would smartly give him a huge gap to respect his speed. Often at this point MacKinnon would just throw a long shot on net. However, lately we’ve seen him throw the brakes on and wait for support, aware of how much attention he draws from the opposing team and using it to find other players or open lanes.
In the same vein, Matt Duchene knows how much teams respect his quickness in the offensive corners. This sucks players down in case the D get beat, often opening up the defense. Does it happen every time? No. But part of the valuable IQ Tanguay has is recognizing different situations and making the right decision 9 times out of 10.
I don’t know how much Tanguay has left in the tank at this point. I think he has struggled to keep himself in the play with some of the faster Colorado Avalanche players — hip and knee injuries certainly don’t help that. But if he can find ways to get the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, good things will happen.
At the very least, he has it in him to mentor the younger players on the finer points of hockey IQ.