Evan Rodrigues’ versatility is a perfect fit for the Avalanche
It took Evan Rodrigues a long summer to sign with an NHL team. With training camps set to start next week, the 29-year-old forward was overlooked in the first couple of waves in free agency, despite coming off a breakout season in Pittsburgh. Rodrigues, who played in all 82 games, set new career highs in goals (19) and assists (24) while playing all over the Penguins’ top three lines.
The expectation around the league was that Rodrigues’ solid two-way game and ability to chip in on the offensive end would net him a medium-sized, multi-year contract around $3 million per year. But with so many of the league’s top teams cap-strapped, and the rebuilding ones uninterested in a middle-six player nearing the age of 30, he slipped through the cracks.
When the Colorado Avalanche lost Nazem Kadri to Calgary in free agency, however, an opportunity presented itself for both parties. On Monday, the Avalanche signed Rodrigues to an economical, one-year, $2 million deal, and Rodrigues got to bet on himself while joining the best team in the league — and one that helped lift Kadri’s numbers to new heights.
“I was fortunate enough to have a good amount of offers this offseason in free agency, but the most important thing to me was joining a good team,” he told The Athletic.”It wasn’t easy waiting as long as I did, but my agent kept reassuring me, telling me to stay patient. I had full trust in him. I’m really happy the way it worked out — the fact that it’s a Cup-contending team; I’ve heard nothing but good things about the coach. It was one of those things where it seemed like a really good fit for me.”
Head coach Jared Bednar did a masterful job of manipulating his line combinations through last season and the playoffs. It’s easy to forget that the majority of the Avs’ stars missed some time, in part because Bednar mixed and matched a collection of versatile players to compensate for each loss. That requires not only the ability to play center or wing — Rodrigues can play center and either wing — but the willingness to adjust to different linemates and roles as needed.
That was part of what endeared him to the Penguins during their brief playoff run. Rodrigues was routinely shuffled from line to line all season; no Penguin played in a larger number of line combinations. That certainly caught new general manager Chris MacFarland’s eye.
“We are excited to add a two-way player with Evan’s versatility to our group,” MacFarland said in a press release that followed the signing. “He is coming off his best offensive season and has shown he can play in a variety of roles and help a lineup in many ways.”
A reliable passer and opportunistic scorer with a snappy wrist shot from the right side, Rodrigues prefers playing center, but has no issues with being placed on either wing; perfect for an Avalanche team that needs not only versatility, but to ensure that no roadblocks stall the ascent of youngster Alex Newhook, who looks earmarked for the second-line center role eventually. Rodrigues will likely compete with fellow free-agent-to-be J.T. Compher for the job, but after outscoring both Compher and Newhook by 10 points last season, it’s likely he claims the role — at least at the beginning of the season — allowing Newhook to progress at his own pace on the third line.
Rodrigues expects to arrive in Denver this week, and after a whirlwind tour of the town, he’ll find himself skating in an Avalanche sweater in mere days. After watching his new teammates celebrate with the Stanley Cup all summer, Rodrigues is itching for his chance as Colorado aims to repeat.
“Whatever I’m needed for, I relish the opportunity and try to take advantage of it,” he said.
POSSIBLE FORWARD LINE COMBINATIONS (LW — C — RW):
1: Gabriel Landeskog — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen
2: Artturi Lehkonen — Evan Rodrigues — Valeri Nichushkin
3: J.T. Compher — Alex Newhook — Ben Meyers
4: Andrew Cogliano — Darren Helm — Logan O’Connor