Avalanche line combinations: Eight configurations that coach Jared Bednar could look at ahead of the playoffs

Avalanche coach Jared Bednar doesn’t have to worry about his team making the playoffs or staying atop the Western Conference, but he still has a lot to think about as the playoffs draw closer.

Bednar has spoken about wanting to try different line combinations during this upcoming preplayoff stretch. If things go wrong and Bednar changes the lineup in a must-win game, that’s how players will be familiar with each other.

Health has limited the Avalanche’s ability to experiment, but Colorado has 12 games left. So let’s take a look at line combinations — some more realistic than others — that Bednar could be considering in either the remaining games of the regular season or in the playoffs.


The straight lineup

Gabriel Landeskog-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen
Valeri Nichushkin-Nazem Kadri-Andre Burakovsky
Artturi Lehkonen-Alex Newhook-JT Compher
Andrew Cogliano-Nico Sturm-Logan O’Connor

Healthy scratches: Darren Helm, Nicolas Aube-Kubel

The top line is a well-known commodity. When they’re together, Landeskog, MacKinnon and Rantanen have been as good as any line in hockey in recent years. They have chemistry, skill and, with Landeskog, grit in front of the net.

Though Landeskog and MacKinnon missed significant time before injury, the topline has played 340 five-a-side minutes together this season, according to Evolving Hockey. And regardless of how game lineups begin, this is the trio likely to take the ice in big situations. Bednar kicked them out together at the end of periods, even if he kept them apart for the rest of the game.

Nichushkin, Kadri and Burakovsky have found success this season, recording a percentage of 54.78 expected goals per evolving hockey as the Avalanche’s second-most line. Lehkonen was an aggressive forechecker and he, Newhook and Compher would likely be reliable defensively. That leaves a fourth line of grinders, including two of the team’s deadline acquisitions in Cogliano and Sturm. Helm and Aube-Kubel could also be involved here.


Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon (Stephen R. Sylvanie / USA Today)

The “Here’s who’s healthy right now” lineup.

Burakovsky-MacKinnon-Rantanen
Lehkonen-Compher-Nichushkin
Newhook Storm Aube Kubel
Cogliano Helm O’Connor

injuries: Landeskog, Kadri

The Avalanche used that lineup against Pittsburgh on Saturday, and Colorado scored while both the first and third rows were on the ice. Cogliano, Helm and O’Connor haven’t scored but they all play with pace and vivacity and could be a line Bednar draws in the playoffs depending on which players he scratches.

The Lehkonen-Compher-Nichushkin line interested me the most on Saturday. Pairing two relentless forecheckers (Lehkonen and Nichushkin) with a quality defensive center in Compher results in a premium checking line.

The “Holy cow, Nichushkin and Lehkonen are a force together” lineup

Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen
Newhook-Kadri-Burakovsky
Lehkonen-Compher-Nichushkin
Cogliano Storm O’Connor

Healthy scratches: Helm, Aube Kubel

As previously mentioned, Bednar knows what he’s getting off the top line. This lineup would allow him to keep that intact while also spreading wealth throughout the center six forward group. If he goes that route, could Lehkonen, Compher and Nichushkin emerge as Colorado’s cutoff line in the playoffs? Kris Letang certainly didn’t enjoy playing against them:

Newhook, Kadri, and Burakovsky have played together a bit and have an xGF% below 50% according to Evolving Hockey. But a sample size of 60 minutes isn’t large and depending on when Kadri returns from injury, they could have time to build some chemistry before the end of the season.

A potential downside to this line-up: Nichushkin has been an elite player this season. Would the team be better served by keeping him on the second line and maximizing his minutes?

The Spread the Wealth lineup.

Nichushkin-MacKinnon-Rantanen
Landeskog Kadri Compher
Lehkonen-Newhook-Burakovsky
Cogliano Storm O’Connor

Healthy scratches: Helm, Aube Kubel

Although Landeskog’s absence was felt in the top line, Nichushkin has filled in admirably and shown his ability to play with elite players. Keeping him with MacKinnon and Rantanen would allow Bednar to play Landeskog with Kadri, which wouldn’t be a fun duo to go up against. Burakovsky could stay as a second line wing but to even out the lines I paired him with Lehkonen and Newhook.

The Spread the Wealth chart, Part II

Burakovsky-MacKinnon-Rantanen
Landeskog-Kadri-Nichushkin
Lehkonen Newhook compher
Helm Storm O’Connor

Healthy scratches: Helm, Aube Kubel

The Avalanche know that Burakovsky is a mediocre player. But when he’s on, he’s got top-notch abilities. Check out his highlights from his December hat-trick against Florida.

Playing like this gives Bednar the flexibility to play Landeskog in the second row with Kadri and Nichushkin. This is a line that can wear down opponents while adding offense.

The “Bottom Line Shakeup” constellation

Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen
Nichushkin-Kadri-Burakovsky
Lehkonen Newhook compher
Helm Storm Aube Kubel

Healthy scratches: O’Connor, Cogliano

If Colorado is healthy, it will scrape at least two forwards, so there could be multiple fourth-line variations by the end of the season. Sturm seems to be the only player who can play because he’s the best on the team when it comes to drawing. Aube-Kubel quickly demonstrated the ability to combine physicality and skill. Consistency will define his role. Helm is one of the few players on the team who knows what it takes to win a Stanley Cup so he could be valuable and he can play fast and is a solid penalty killer.

The “Let’s get an enforcer in there” lineup

Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen
Nichushkin-Kadri-Burakovsky
Lehkonen Newhook compher
Cogliano Storm Kurtis MacDermid

Healthy scratches: O’Connor, Helm, Aube Kubel

This lineup is similar to the previous one, only with the newly expanded MacDermid in the crease. He’s fluctuated between defense and forward all season, but Colorado is better at protecting him when he’s playing up front. The Avalanche can double down on top 6 forwards to limit their ice time, only putting them on the ice when they feel an opponent is taking liberties away from players.

The “Let’s get funky” cast

Landeskog-MacKinnon Compher
Lehkonen-Rantanen-Burakovsky
Newhook-Kadri-Nichushkin
Cogliano Storm O’Connor

Healthy scratches: Helm, Aube Kubel

I was trying to figure out a way to make three trios that could qualify as top lines. To do this, I focused on Rantanen, a position in which he was successful this year. MacKinnon, Rantanen, Kadri in the middle would be difficult for any team to counter.

To round out the ranks, I paired each center with a different top six forward: Landeskog with MacKinnon, Burakovsky with Rantanen, and Nichushkin with Kadri. Then I filled in the gaps and made sure the remaining forwards stayed on their shooting side.

Is this the best way to use the team’s top players? Probably not. Is it fun to think about? Yes.

(Top photo by Artturi Lehkonen, Alex Newhook and Andre Burakovsky: Brett Holmes / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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