The Colorado Avalanche have some questions at the centre position. They were set down the middle with Nathan MacKinnon and Nazem Kadri but injuries and suspension of play have altered many of the dynamics around the league. Colorado will return strong down the middle but they have several options worth exploring both if play resumes this year and for 2020-21.
Colorado Avalanche Centre Options Are Numerous
Option 1: Vladislav Namestnikov
The Avs acquired Vladislav Namestnikov in a trade with the Ottawa Senators before the trade deadline. The former first-round pick has been a solid edition through his first nine games. He has four goals and six points in nine games since joining Colorado. Namestnikov also brings a physical presence to the ice with 108 total hits and 47 blocks in 2019-20.
Namestnikov’s biggest problem is his ability to control possession at even-strength. He hasn’t posted a Corsi For above 50% for several years. That does not look good for a player competing for a top-nine role and a larger contract in 2020-21. He will also turn 28 next year and is not a strong candidate for a long-term deal in Colorado based on his play at five-on-five.
However, Namestikov has been very good on the power-play. His Goals For per 60 minutes hasn’t been below 4.5 over the past several years with Ottawa and the New York Rangers. Colorado has too many options for Namestnikov to factor heavily on the power-play but his production on the advantage is hard to ignore.
Option 2: Tyson Jost
Tyson Jost is almost Namestnikov’s exact opposite. The 21-year-old has better Corsi For percentages over the past three seasons compared to Namestnikov. He was also off to a strong March with one goal and three points in six games before the league halted play. However, Jost has not been able to put his skills together consistently to crack the power-play rotation. Colorado takes fewer shots relative to itself when Jost has played with the advantage.
Jost might lack raw production at this stage of his career, but he has a higher ceiling than Namestnikov. He will probably not count more than $2.5-3 million against future salary caps while Namestnikov could count as $4-4.5 million through his next contract. Jost still has the potential to be a top-six option. He just might need an extra year or two behind Kadri as the third centre.
Option 3: Shane Bowers
The team could also go a completely different direction in 2020-21 with prospect Shane Bowers. The 20-year-old was originally a first-round pick for the Ottawa Senators in 2017. He was then included in the massive trade that sent Matt Duchene from Colorado to Ottawa in November of that same year. Bowers played for Boston University until last year and made a brief debut for the Avs’ AHL affiliate near the end of the season.
Bowers’ rookie year has been fine. He has 10 goals and 27 points in 48 games. 16 of those 27 have come since the start of 2020. Bowers also has the frame to be a two-way force at 6′-1″, 178 pounds. Bowers probably doesn’t have the scoring ability to be a regular top-six option. However, he does have the skills to be an effective third centre that can contribute in multiple ways. He would be the cheapest of the three options as well as he is still on his entry-level contract.
What Choice Will Colorado Make
Colorado needs to decide on both Namestnikov and Jost. The two are scheduled to reach free agency this summer and have cases to stay with the team. Of the two, Jost is more likely to get a new contract since he will just be a restricted free agent with no negotiating leverage. He needs one more year in the pros before he can receive arbitration. It is entirely possible Colorado extends Jost but flips him for future assets at some point.
Namestnikov has reclaimed some of the skills he showed as a 20-goal scorer with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2017-18. He can do more than Jost right now but has far more say in where he plays next season. The Avalanche do not need to sign a player entering his late-20s to a long-term deal when there are several younger, cheaper options making their way up the system.
There is no “wrong” choice for Colorado in this scenario. All three of the most likely candidates can each do something to contribute to the team. The Avalanche almost have an embarrassment of riches at the centre position between these three and several others in the organization. They even have the cap space to retain all three if they desire. Expect some interesting contract decisions and training camp battles after the 2019-20 season has ended.