Sometimes, real life hockey mirrors fantasy hockey. Often, in fantasy hockey, the best time to draft a player is the season after a down year. In real life, the same can be said, although rather than drafting or trading, free agency can be the method of acquisition.
This is what happened with Joonas Donskoi and as such, the Colorado Avalanche were able to sign him for four years with an average annual value of $3.9M.
What Colorado gets
Donskoi’s 2018-19 season saw the lowest ice time per game of his career, and it declined as the season wore on, quarter by quarter. With the bevy of offensive talent on the San Jose roster, he was largely pushed off the power play as well, playing just 47 minutes with the man advantage. That was a cut of over half his PP minutes in more games played compared to 2017-18.
Despite the cut in ice time, and despite the loss of PP time, Donskoi still managed a career-high with 37 points. Yes, scoring was up in the league and the Sharks were a good team, but it’s still notable that in a season where things seemingly didn’t go right for him, he was still productive.
He’s not just empty production, either. He does everything well. Donskoi is very good in transition with high rates of zone exits/entries, he’s good at finding his teammates as his passing stats and primary assist rates are both in the top-third of the league over the last three years, and he’s better defensively than he gets credit for. He’s a bona fide, two-way middle-six winger who can play up and down the lineup. That phrase gets thrown around (incorrectly) a lot but he’s legitimately good enough to play with a top line, or help carry and stabilize a third line.
This also helps fill in a need for the Avalanche. The team already got Andre Burakovsky this off season which helped with the wing depth on the left side while Donskoi will help with the depth beyond Mikko Rantanen on the right. Consider this: last year, the Avs had two right-shot forwards and they were both centres (MacKinnon and Compher).
Donskoi won’t play on the top line and the top PP unit is a bit more uncertain. They need someone to play the trigger man in the slot and he would fit their setup well, being a right shot that can take one-timers from Rantanen. He should get some run with the big guns but unless he blows the doors off, the expectation should be that he’ll be just one of the names in the mix all season long.
There isn’t a lot of wing depth in the Colorado organization so this signing shouldn’t really block anyone. There are guys like Logan O’Connor (profile here) and Nick Henry (profile here) but there’s no one breaking down the door, forcing the team’s hand. It does limit them to the third line if they do break through, however.
It’s also a loss of wing depth for the Sharks. What was once a strength for them is starting to get thin with the losses of Nyquist, Pavelski, and now Donskoi. It does clear room for Kevin Labanc to move up to play with Tomas Hertl, though, leaving Joe Thornton with (if he re-signs) one less talented winger.
Who this helps
Who this hurts
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