Gus Katsaros

Hockey Analytics

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Powering Up Pietrangelo

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


With the St. Louis Blues down a goal late in the third period on the road against the Toronto Maple Leafs, with the announcer informing the crowd heartily anticipating a 1-0 victory, that it’s the last minute to play in the game, Alex Pietrangelo received a pass in the high slot that he sent to the net from a short wind up just off center at the top of the faceoff circle. He didn’t score but the puck was on net and bounced back in front where Alex Steen was standing. The ensuing rebound produced the Blues first goal of the game, the tying marker to send the game into overtime where they would win the game outright, stealing a point from the Leafs.

 

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Pietrangelo was also involved in the shorthanded goal scored by Connor Brown, when he tried to hold the line on a less than ideal pass from the corner in the offensive zone. The bobbling at the blue line afforded Brown a break he capitalized on swiftly. The former Barrie Colt rearguard is a stalwart in the space at the top of the offensive zone, only this occasion it produced a blunder. His assist and overall game play was simply fantastic otherwise.

 

The highlight from that game was the fact that he was doing it  while playing the most minutes against the Leafs star, Auston Matthews.

 

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This isn’t something new, as a member on the top pairing, he’s lining up against the best opposition on a nightly basis. The defensive requirement is an extra burden on the Blues most offensive blueliner (in conjunction with Colton Parayko).

 

The defenseman had been playing in the shadows of Kevin Shattenkirk, however has come into his own this season and the results show. He’s ranked seventh in points among defensemen, passing Morgan Rielly with the lone assist last night.

 

It's not difficult to understand how Pietrangelo became they all Star representative for the St Louis Blues. He leads his team in 5v5 points – with a close second by Joel Edmundson, his regular partner at even strength, with Colton Parayko bringing up third, but leads the Blues in 5v4 points.

 

Modern defenseman are adopting more of a rover style, jumping into the play to support the rush and often acting like the layer between the forwards and the location of the defensive line. I’ve often attributed that evolution initially to Dustin Byfuglien, and brought to new heights by Brent Burns in 2016-17, but many defensemen are adopting the skating game and offering a layer of creativity utilizing skills over and above outlet passing and shots from the point.

 

Pietrangelo adopted a roving style coming out of junior, seemingly on the cusp of the new method of playing the defense position and integrating seamlessly into the NHL. He’s played one regular season game in the AHL for the Peoria Rivermen– and put up three assists in seven playoff games.

 

On pace for career highs across the board this season, he will have to start generating more at 5v4, for a team with the 29th overall power play percentage. Six out of seven points at 5v4, came in the first 20 games, with one secondary assist over the last 22.

 

There’s a growth opportunity here, especially with relatively good showing at 5v4 last season – which is also commentary on the randomness of power play success season over season.

 

Sitting 10 points out of an NHL scoring crown among defensemen, an improved Blues power play could be a huge bonus for those with him tucked away on a roster. Even with Parayko

 

In addition to the roving capacity, he’s also one of the NHL’s best blueliners controlling the puck within the first two or three feet inside the blue line (except for the bobbled play last night), exploiting a tall body and long reach. This trait is highly relevant for current rearguards as well. Keeping pucks in at the blueline creates distinct advantages, while quickly turning those plays into scoring chances, getting pucks to the net from under pressure from defensive wingers is valued dynamic to shot generation – he was 10th overall in shots on goal at 5v4, heading into the game against the Leafs.

 

At 5v5 he’s on pace to record career bests in points, shots and unblocked shot attempts, yet is still shooting close to his career average with 4.35% shooting percentage. The pace of individual shot generation has however slowed over the second quarter of the NHL season leading to the mid-way point. Over the first quarter (Q1), he posted an average of 2.0 shots per game, dropping to 1.3 over the second quarter – with a similar drop in individual shot attempts per game (2.7/game Q2 versus 3.85 in Q1). He’s played with exceptional linemates up front as well, helping the on-ice results. Rejuvenated Brayden Schenn and star Vladimir Tarasenko have played 260 minutes each, and could have had more minutes with sparkplug Jayden Schwartz – who toiled among league leaders in points before getting injured. There’s an uptick there when he returns as well.

 

I’ve considered Pietrangelo as one of the best – and most underrated – first pairing defenders in the NHL, and with his exceptional season could be included in the Norris conversation. With the field so widely diverse this season instead of the Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns dominating headlines, and Victor Hedman (my first choice heading into the season) injured enough to limit his season, if there’s a faltering element in John Klingberg, Pietrangelo could become my de facto favorite to bring home some individual hardware at season’s end.

 

If the Blue figure out their power play and get Schwarz back healthy, Pietrangelo may have the most direct benefit over the second half of the season. In the meantime, to verify some of the skills characteristics mentioned in this piece, just watch his perf



Gus Katsaros is the Pro Scouting Coordinator with McKeen’s Hockey, publishers of industry leading scouting and fantasy guide, the McKeen’s Annual Hockey Pool Yearbook. He also contributes to popular blog MapleLeafsHotStove.com ... he can be followed on Twitter @KatsHockey
Email :Gus Katsaros



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