Much like the team of two seasons ago, the Colorado Avalanche have an abundance of centers on their roster. As a result, they have found versatility with their line combinations as well as face-off scenarios. The depth at the center position is giving the Avalanche a strategic advantage in several areas on the ice. As long as the goals and wins continue to come, the current line combinations and roster are ideal, at least in terms of the forwards.

The role of a center is much more than simply taking the face-offs and maintaining position in the middle third of the ice. There is a defensive responsibility and awareness that comes with the position. For that reason, it is often that you see a player who plays center able to play the wing as well, but not necessarily the other way around. Of the 13 forwards currently on the Avalanche roster (including Andreas Martinsen), seven of them are capable of playing center. For the Avalanche, the defensive abilities and awareness the centers possess are making an impact, especially on the wings, where some of the centers are currently playing. The Blake ComeauCarl SoderbergJohn Mitchell combination is the prime example of a line where all three members could potentially play center. Their defensive presence has been crucial, particularly against opposing first lines.

The number of centers on the Avalanche depth chart is allowing head coach Patrick Roy more flexibility in making his line combinations. When things are going well for a particular line, obviously, that line should remain intact, as is the case for the Avs’ top line. Going into the season, the plan was for both Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon to center different lines. A combination of injuries and a lack of scoring success, forced Patrick Roy to stack his talent on the first line. In order to do so, one of the two natural centers was going to have to play wing; in this case it was Matt Duchene. Now on a line with more skill and less defensive responsibility, Duchene’s game has found a spark that has caught the eye of the entire league.

Coach Roy was able to keep the first line together because of the ability of the other centers to step up in to bigger roles. The injury that kept John Mitchell out for 11 of 13 games for the Avalanche required Mikail Grigorenko to answer the call of third line center. Alongside Jarome Iginla and several different other wingers on the other side, Grigorenko has flourished in the new role. The Avalanche then went out and found a new center for the fourth line in Chris Wagner, who has played exceptionally well since joining the team, scoring three goals in his nine games for Colorado.

The advantages of having multiple centers on the top two lines are more important than meets the eye. Analytics have disproved any significant importance of face-offs, but this is a situation where the sheer numbers can be deceiving. Face-offs are important, despite what the number geeks try to say. Neutral zone face-offs are, perhaps, less impactful in acquiring possession, but in the offensive and defensive zones they are big.

The Avalanche can pick and choose who takes the draws in certain scenarios based on each one of the centers’ strengths as well as which hand they use. For instance, when the faceoff is in the offensive zone often times coach Roy will send out the Duchene-MacKinnon-Landeskog line. If the faceoff is in the near circle, MacKinnon will take the draw because of his right-handed curve and hope to win the puck on his backhand to the defenseman on the point. Similarly, in the defensive zone, where coach Roy likes to use the second line, you may see any one of Comeau, Mitchell or Soderberg taking the face-off. Each one represents a different strategy to win the draw and start the breakout. It must be pointed out, however, that as many options that the Avalanche have on face-offs, they still are not winning as many as necessary. Colorado is currently 26th in the NHL in face-off win percentage at 48.5 percent; the league leaders are the Carolina Hurricanes at 54.7 percent.

The Colorado Avalanche have taken full advantage of their surplus at center and it is certainly one of the strengths of the team at present. The current line combinations are helping them play a strategic game and provide extra support for the defense, which can be inadequate at times. We are seeing the hockey mind of head coach Patrick Roy at work, and it has provided positive results for the Avalanche recently.