Where does Alex Newhook fit when Brandon Saad returns?

  

Alex Newhook was given a shot to prove himself in the NHL, perhaps earlier than many expected. Six games later, we are now on the eve of the playoffs for the Colorado Avalanche and looking for ways in which the 20-year-old can be kept in the lineup.

Six games, three assists and a +5 rating have been thoroughly deserved; Newhook has landed on the team, looked comfortable and involved himself in the middle six. He has done enough to earn a spot as we go into the playoffs, but with the return of Brandon Saad looming, where can Newhook fit and remain effective?

Here is a rundown of the four options open to the Avs as they look to bring Saad back in and keep their rookie in the lineup.

Third-line winger — Keep Newhook where he is now

The 2019 first-round pick has been moved around the lineup during his six games, but a good part of that time has been spent as a winger on the third line. Keeping Newhook in that position would bring familiarity for him, and allow him to just keep rolling.

This would likely be alongside Tyson Jost and Valeri Nichushkin, although the Avalanche could play Saad here, and push Nichushkin to the fourth line. The other option would be for Saad to jump back onto the second line, push Donskoi on the third and then Nichushkin onto the fourth.

All three options give Newhook two skilled players to play with, so he should still be in a position to be effective offensively and continue to generate chances. It seems as though a first NHL goal is just around the corner, and of the four options here, this is the one that would give him the best shot of getting one.

At least for the first two games in Colorado, this is where I would play Newhook, giving him the chance to shine and further cement his position while remaining in an attacking role.

Third-line center — His most effective position

Eventually, over the next year or two, the Canadian forward will move to center, and this will likely be the position he plays for his entire NHL career. Further down the line, it is hoped that he will be the natural second-line center replacement for Nazem Kadri. If that is the case, then should the Avalanche look to use him as a permanent center right now?

I like the idea of this, and it is my second choice from these four, but it does have one big downside, which would be a likely demotion to the fourth line for Tyson Jost. Jost does not deserve that, as he has been excellent all season, especially recently, but it is the only way to make this fit.

Adding Jost to the fourth unit would give it some energy, something that has been missing with no Matt Calvert and Logan O’Connor in the lineup. It would also give Newhook a little more responsibility, by centering a unit with no other centerman—we have previously seen him have the luxury of Kadri alongside to help with center duties.

This would likely put Newhook in the middle of two of Nichushkin, Saad and Donskoi, so would again give him two skilled players to play with, and maintain his attacking presence.

I do not like this as much as the option above, mainly because of the impact it has on Jost. He does not deserve to lose ice time, even if he would offer a boost of energy to the fourth line.

Fourth-line role — Can this work?

When the Avalanche called Newhook up to the main roster, I was against him playing in a fourth-line role. If the Avs want the best from him, he needs to play his natural game and play to his strengths. Being put in a fourth-line role would not do that.

However, it would keep him on the ice, which for many people now is far more important than where he plays because of the impact he has made. The downside here is that his linemates would be a combination of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, J.T. Compher and Carl Soderberg. None of these players can really be described as consistently skilled even though they have shown glimpses recently.

Their style of play would be something new, and not something that would be guaranteed to suit. However, just as I mentioned earlier about Jost adding energy to the fourth line, Newhook would do the same.

Of the three scenarios that keep him in the lineup, this is the one with more questions than answers—we simply do not know how Newhook would fit on the fourth unit and if he would be able to maintain his current form.

Take Newhook out of the lineup?

The final option for Colorado Head Coach Jared Bednar would be to take Newhook out of the lineup. I would be surprised to see this happen straight away, and also disappointed. If Newhook is to come out of the lineup, the only way I could see this happening is if he moves down to the fourth line and this does not work, with no place for him in the top nine.

Regardless of how it happens, it would no doubt bring disappointment for many fans. However, it would also highlight the type of player that Newhook is going to be for this club in the future.

He is not a fourth-line player; he needs to be playing alongside other skilled members of this team, and unfortunately for him, the team we currently have is stacked with those.

I am hoping that the 16th overall pick keeps his place in the lineup, preferably somewhere in the middle six. He is edging toward a first NHL goal, and has already shown his worth to the team. If he does not though, try not to worry too much, because this is only the beginning for his NHL career, and we are going to be seeing a lot more of Newhook in the very near future.

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