New Avalanche center Evan Rodrigues waited to find the right person in free agency

Evan Rodrigues feared he was being redundant, but the word “excited” kept coming to mind on Monday. He was thrilled that a deal was done with Colorado. Glad to contribute. Happy to be part of a team that just won the Stanley Cup.

“I got some playoff experience last year and during my time in Pittsburgh, and that was the best part of my career so far,” he said. Athleticism shortly after signing with the Avalanche. “I was lucky to have a good amount of offers this offseason in free agency, but the most important thing for me was to join a good team.”

Colorado on Monday finalized a one-year, $2 million deal with Rodrigues. He’s coming off a season-high 43 points with the Penguins and went from being undrafted to being a legitimate NHL player. Rodrigues, who is from Toronto, signed with the Sabers after four years at Boston University, where he played college hockey with Jack Eichel, Matt Grzelcyk, Charlie Coyle and Matt Nieto. The Penguins acquired him at the 2020 trade deadline, and he had 58 points in 124 games with the club.

A league executive called the deal a good and smart move for the Avalanche, adding that general manager Chris MacFarland got Rodrigues at a favorable price to the team. Rodrigues let more money slip by to come to Colorado, Athleticism reported Monday.

“He’s become a good supporting, secondary attacking player,” the executive said.

Rodrigues was one of the most productive players remaining in the free agent market, and with training camp set to begin next week, the 29-year-old said he plans to travel to Denver no later than late Thursday. He said he had a feeling Colorado might be an option when Nazem Kadri left for Calgary. Contract talks began to resume last week.

“It wasn’t easy to wait that long, but my agent kept reassuring me, telling me to be patient,” he said. “I had complete faith in him. I’m really happy with the way it worked out – the fact that he was a Cup contender, (and) I’ve heard nothing but good things about him. coach, (Jared Bednar) It was one of those things where it felt like a really good fit for me.

Reading between the lines, it looks like the free agent market may not have turned out the way Rodrigues envisioned. A year playing on a star-studded Colorado team could boost his value. This is an example of what happens when a team is successful in the playoffs. Quality players want to join. The Avalanche will likely struggle to keep Rodrigues after this season, given that a potential contract with Nathan MacKinnon would kick in in 2023-24 and the team will need to sign restricted free agents Bowen Byram and Alex Newhook. But if he plays well and the team is successful, the one-year deal could work well for both the team and the player.

The Avalanche enter training camp without a second-line center. Rodrigues, who can play in the center or on the wing, could be suitable. He’ll likely face Alex Newhook and JT Compher for the second-line center spot, but he added that he also likes the wing.

“I like playing center because you get the puck on your stick more, you’re more fluid, get crosses on you and attack the play with more speed,” Rodrigues said. “But being a winger you have a bit more freedom to be creative offensively. They both have their advantages. Even the difference between playing right winger and left winger is different, but I enjoy all three positions.

“Anyway, I’m relishing the opportunity and trying to take advantage of it.”

Rodrigues spent the offseason training with a Boston University group that includes Eichel, Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy. He didn’t know many Avalanche players when he signed with the team, although he did meet Newhook that offseason in Boston. He trained with forward Jayson Megna over the past few summers and, as a teenager, crossed paths with captain Gabriel Landeskog in Ontario.

He doesn’t know much about Denver either, but he’s heard good things about the city.

“My family and extended family are really excited to hang out there,” he said. “They are great skiers. They’re definitely happy with my decision, and I’m sure they’ll be hitting the slopes a lot. And I have two young boys who will take it if I had to guess.

His eldest son, Grayson, 3, is “already obsessed with hockey.” Rodrigues and his wife, Christina, also have a 2-year-old boy, Noah.

By signing in Colorado, Rodrigues is also saying goodbye to Pittsburgh, where he got his first taste of playoff hockey, appearing in nine games over the past two seasons.

“It was really telling coming from Buffalo. When I was there, we weren’t having much success in the win column, not making the playoffs,” he said. “Coming to Pittsburgh and seeing the success you can have when everyone’s pulling the ropes and everyone just wants to win, it was an awesome environment to be a part of. I can’t say enough good things about the guys in that locker room in Pittsburgh. There’s not a bad thing to say about either of them. I certainly learned a lot from the elite guys, great talent but character.

This group of course included Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. Crosby was one of Rodrigues’ most frequent linemates in 2021-22, so he has experience sharing the ice with top players.

“I really try to be as confident as possible in a player. Playing with Sid and playing with Eichel in the past, two very talented players, I think I can help and play with people like them,” he said “Every player has a different style and how they like to play the game, and the more you talk and the faster you build chemistry, the better off you are.”

Rodrigues said he hits the gym four or five times a week, working on getting stronger for the season. Now, after a summer of waiting, he knows which team he will play for.

“I’m just very excited,” he repeated one last time. “I’m really happy it worked out.”

(Photo by Evan Rodrigues: Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)