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Who wins this matchup of second-tier right wingers?


You do not win your league in the first rounds of your draft. It is the choices in the later rounds when decisions get tighter that you make your money. That is what Cage Match is all about and it is why this week will feature two similar right wingers in PA Parenteau and Jason Pominville. There may come a point in your draft this Fall where these are the best two players available. Who will you choose?


Pominville has seemingly been around forever – though he turns just 31 years old this season – and that works both for and against him. There’s an argument to be made that we know exactly who Pominville is because he’s been playing for so long. We know that he is capable of both exceeding and failing our expectations but on the whole he’s right about a 65-point player which is exactly what his career 0.791 points-per-game average suggests. At 31, there is certainly no changing that for the better – at least not barring some freak, late career surge, a la Pascal Dupuis – so the implication is that things can only get worse.


There also comes a certain degree of fatigue when a player is so moderately productive for so long. There is little that’s sexy about taking Pominville in your draft. Average can be just fine in for your team though, just so long as you are taking the best player available. So what if there’s little upside in a known quantity. Known quantities are reliable and that has tremendous value in being able to counteract risk.


But Pominville does come with some risk. He was dealt to Minnesota at the 2013 Trade Deadline, which meant brand new beginnings. Things had already started to change for Pominville in Buffalo when Lindy Ruff, the only NHL head coach he had ever known, was fired mid-season but the Minnesota deal ensured that things would change.


Following a blazing start to the 2013 season where he scored 14 points through his first 10 games Pominville fell into a slump scoring just 25 points in 37 games for the Sabres before being dealt. In Minnesota he closed out the season very well scoring nine points in 10 games.


Importantly, three of Pominville’s nine points with Minnesota came on the power play. Throughout Pominville’s career he has always derived a great deal of points from the power play (nearly a third) but with Buffalo in 2013 he had managed just six power play points as the Sabres struggled to the league’s second worst power play (14.1%).  Moving over to a middle of the pack power play in Minnesota (17.9%) seemed to reinvigorate his skills, which is a promising sign going forward.


And Pominville was not ridden around like a child with his brand new toy. The Wild actually gave Pominville substantially fewer minutes in his time in Minnesota than he received when he was with the Sabres.


While in Buffalo, Pominville led all Sabres forwards in time on ice skating over 20 minutes per game of which 3:53 came on the power play. In Minnesota those minutes were down to just 17:31 per game with 2:05 on the power play.


Pominville also saw a downgrade in line mate quality in Minnesota. As FrozenPool will show us Pominville went from skating predominantly with Thomas Vanek and Cody Hodgson in Buffalo to Kyle Brodziak and Pierre-Marc Bouchard in Minnesota.


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Of course, it wasn’t all bad for Pominville. He did receive a fair amount of time skating with Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise both at even strength but particularly on the power play. Both stand as considerable improvements over Vanek and Hodgson should that line stick in the future. And again, Pominville was successful scoring nine points in 10 games in spite of the drop in minutes and mediocre linemates.


But you don’t want to make too much of a sample size as small as 10 games. So Minnesota’s lineup plans and Pominville’s production within that structure will remain cloudy. You also cannot do much to expand the sample size by looking at Minnesota’s playoff run. It was short enough as is having been beaten handily in five games of their opening round series against the Blackhawks but Pominville was concussed in a late-season game and would ultimately only play two playoff games.


Concussions always warrant concern. We’ve seen how concussion symptoms can linger from one season to the next. Pominville does not have much documented history of concussion woes and that he returned for the playoffs with the NHL’s new-found rigorous concussion policy in place you might assume that as far as concussions go this was a minor one and that with a full off-season to recover Pominville should be considered ready to go. I am not overly concerned that this concussion will be a lingering problem but you can certainly count it against Pominville if you so desire.


Parenteau is seemingly a riskier pick, which can also make him out to be a sexier pick. With a much shorter track record having only broken into the league three years ago, Parenteau has something of a mysterious allure about him that can make you think he has more upside than he does. Do not kid yourself, Parenteau is very much a veteran who really does not have much more to offer beyond what he has already shown.


You may be shocked to learn that Parenteau, like Pominville, turns 31 this season. He did surprise us with a great performance last season scoring 43 points in 48 games while joining a new team in Colorado so there definitely is some mystery about him but it does seem difficult to project Parenteau for more than what he accomplished last season (73 points when pro-rated for an 82-game season) as that hits pretty well the cusp of his upside.


After all, Parenteau was expected to disappoint last season in his move to Colorado because it took him off the wing of John Tavares with whom he had paired to score 67 points in 80 games in 2011-12. Parenteau latched onto another star centerman from the 2010 draft riding Matt Duchene’s bounce-back campaign to yet another impressive season. Altogether, Parenteau has now managed to score 172 points in 236 career NHL games, which makes him essentially a 60-point player in an 82-game season. That feels just about right when you consider variance.


So last season was likely a bit of an overachievement on Parenteau’s part and when you consider that it came in a shortened season that isn’t very surprising. It’s also not surprising that Parenteau shot 17.1% last season, which is well above his career average. An interesting counter to that is Parenteau’s PDO last season was actually low largely due to a depressed on-ice shooting percentage. Those figures only count five-on-five figures so there is little doubt that Parenteau shot a ludicrous percentage with the man advantage. I still consider him lucky on the whole and that’s before you consider the serious reinforcements the Avalanche have coming next season.


Parenteau skated 19:08 minutes per game with 2:52 on the power play last season but could be in a bind for minutes considering Gabriel Landeskog will be back healthy and so will Steve Downie. Ryan O’Reilly is no longer holding out, the team just reacquired Alex Tanguay and they are also adding the number one overall selection, Nathan MacKinnon, to boot.


Interestingly enough, only one of those players should impact Parenteau on right wing, which is Downie who isn’t much of a threat to cannibalize Parenteau’s minutes. It is possible that Parenteau’s power play minutes dry up. With all the offensive talent coming to town there may be a priority placed on spreading out the power play minutes as much as possible.


On the other hand, we already saw this strategy last season (no less than 15 different Avalanche players averaged at least a minute per game on the power play) and Parenteau came out ahead leading all Avalanche players in power play ice time. New head coach Patrick Roy may choose a different strategy and that could technically work against Parenteau but odds are that if anything changes it will work in favour of the Avalanche’s leading power play scorer from last season so in an odd turn you may actually choose to look at all the additions in Colorado as a positive.


This is particularly true if you subscribe to the theory that teams will load up defensively against certain lines. With all the firepower the Avalanche now possess they can easily roll three lines without skipping a beat.


The only issue is they also made few strides on the blue line where they return what may just be the worst group of defensemen in the entire league. A full season of Tyson Barrie will help in this regard, as will getting Erik Johnson back at full health but this group is still in serious trouble. Parenteau produced in spite of this dreadful assortment of defensemen last season and could do so again but having to do so over 82 games this time around will make the feat that much more difficult.


Of course, we haven’t yet considered that Duchene is still just scratching the surface. What if he makes the leap to the 80-point plateau? What if he goes for more? These hypotheticals are extremely unlikely considering the internal competition for minutes as well as the Avalanche defensemen seemingly competing against their own forwards at times but Duchene is still just 22 and absolutely still improving. If Parenteau is along for the ride, who knows where that takes him?


All things considered I am leaning towards Parenteau. I know that’s leaning towards the sexier pick but for me this isn’t so much about upside as it is about opportunity. Parenteau is unquestionably the best right wing on an Avalanche team that has nowhere to go but up. He produced in what was seemingly one of the most hostile environments for scorers last season – Colorado finished 26th in scoring and 24th in power play efficiency – all while sharing power play time while skating for a coach who was almost certain to get fired. Patrick Roy could shake things up and go a completely different direction but you have to like guys who continue to defy the odds.


Pominville is also facing what pretty well amounts to a new coaching situation, though what information we do have only amounts to negative. His minutes with Minnesota were way down to close out the season and while he was productive in those reduced minutes that still looks more like small sample size noise than anything else.


There is the possibility that Pominville strikes gold alongside Koivu and Parise on a more permanent basis but the Wild seemed more inclined to give those even strength minutes to Charlie Coyle at the end of last season. That leaves Pominville with Brodziak and whoever steps in to replace Bouchard as his prospective linemates. That’s too steep a drop to suspect he can produce consistently. The Wild are seemingly counting on internal improvement from the likes of Mikael Granlund amongst others to help boost their top six but as it stands that’s the sort of improvement you cannot rely on.


I don’t doubt that this will be a close one. When you simply consider the historical production of Parenteau and Pominville it is very close and the margins are slim but Parenteau has what appears to be a better opportunity even if he is riskier on the whole.

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