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2020-21 Season in Review: Mike Matheson

Today’s season in review looks at a 2020-21 addition to the Penguins defense corps who now holds one of the team’s longest-term contracts.

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Islanders - Game Six
Mike Matheson blocks the net in the closing minutes of the Pens loss to the New York Islanders in Game Six of the first round on May 26.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images


Player: Mike Matheson

Born: Feb. 27, 1994 (27 years old)

Height: 6’ 2”

Weight: 188 pounds

Birthplace: Pointe-Claire, Quebec

Shoots: Left

Draft: 2012, Florida Panthers, 1st round, 23rd overall

2020-21 Statistics: 44 games played — 5 goals, 11 assists, 16 points

Contract Status: The Penguins acquired Matheson’s contract in the trade that brought him and Colton Sceviour to Pittsburgh in exchange for Patric Hornqvist on Sept. 24, 2020. Matheson is signed at $4.875mil/year through the 2025-26 season.


Matheson was held off the scoreboard entirely through six playoff games. He skated for an average of 21:39 a night and was on the ice for five goals for and seven goals against, although he limited Islanders scoring chances overall at even strength and finished with a positive 57.44 Corsi For%.

Monthly splits

via Yahoo!

Story of the Season

On Oct. 9, 2017, Matheson signed on to eight years with the Panthers after a 2016-17 season in which he’d recorded 17 points (7-10—17) in 81 games.

Three years later, it would be the Penguins taking on that long-term commitment. They traded Patric Hornqvist (2019-20: 17-15—32, three years left at $5.3mil/year) in exchange for Matheson (2019-20: 8-12—20, six years left at $4.875mil/year) and Colton Sceviour (2019-20: 6-10—16, one year left at $1.2mil/year).

After he put up just four points (2-2—4) in his first 24 games in Pittsburgh, Matheson hit his stride in late March. In the 16 games that spanned from March 24 to April 24, Matheson racked up 12 points (3-9—12), including the game-winning tally of a 4-1 victory in Boston on April 1.

Matheson did not play on the Penguins’ power play or penalty kill in 2020-21. As reflected below in the numbers from Natural Stat Trick, he controlled just under half of the scoring chances while on the ice, although he was able to limit high danger chances (125 for, 119 against).

Compared to his last few seasons with the Panthers, Matheson struggled to limit scoring chances in the high slot, giving up a higher-than-average amount of unblocked shots just in front of the net.

Regular season 5v5 advanced stats

Data via Natural Stat Trick. Ranking is out of eight defensemen on the team who qualified by playing a minimum of 150 minutes.

Corsi For%: 49.96 (6th)
Goals For%: 54.17 (6th)
xGF%: 26.29 (5th)
Scoring Chance %: 50.47 (4th)
High Danger Scoring Chance%: 51.23 (2nd)
5v5 on-ice shooting%: 10.29 (2nd)
On-ice save%: 91.13 (8th)

Charts, graphs and takeaways

  • On the second pairing, Matheson was mostly sheltered from the toughest opponents the Penguins faced.
  • When Matheson gets a scoring chance, he's likely to make it count.
  • Matheson’s defensive impact has improved steadily over the past three seasons.
  • Matheson struggled to limit shots against in the danger zone right in front of the net.
  • Most of Matheson’s unblocked shots came from the left side of the point.
  • This season saw Matheson transition from the third pairing in Florida to the second pairing in Pittsburgh.
  • The Penguins both scored more goals for and allowed more goals against when Matheson was on the ice.
  • Matheson’s points mostly came clustered within a month-long span between late March and late April.
  • Matheson controlled play more in the latter half of the season, when he started to see more shots for than shots against while on the ice.

Offensive highlights

Matheson’s tying goal against the visiting Islanders on Feb. 20, 2021, showed off his quick and confident wrist shot.

In his most memorable highlight of the 2020-21 season, Matheson brought the puck from the defensive-zone blue line all the way to the host Bruins’ blue paint, where he made a quick move to the backhand to finish off an eye-popping individual effort.

The Penguins were down 5-1 to the host Rangers when Matheson came down the left side on a rush and sniped a shot far-side to tally his fourth goal of the season.

Bottom line

Matheson’s offensive output once he hit his stride in late March was a boon to the Penguins’ defense. Still, the size of his contract— he is the team’s second-most expensive defenseman to Kris Letang, and is signed on for five more seasons— will be a problem for the Penguins as they attempt to make moves this offseason while staying under the cap.

The big question

Matheson and his defensive partner Cody Ceci operated at a CF% of just under 50% as the Penguins’ second pairing in 2020-21. Shot rates rose for both teams while they were on the ice. With Ceci coming off a difficult year in Toronto, the pair’s performance was in many ways above average.

But Ceci is an unrestricted free agent after the 2020-21 season. Who will Matheson be skating alongside next year?

The ideal might be be a reliable defenseman to hold strong at the point while Matheson uses his skating skills on the rush. But who in the somewhat limited free-agent market this summer could fill that role? Is it a possibility that we could see Ceci return to Matheson’s side in 2021-22?

You’ve seen the data— now it’s time for your input!


How would you grade Mike Matheson’s 2020-21 season?

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  • 1%
    (12 votes)
  • 52%
    (389 votes)
  • 43%
    (321 votes)
  • 2%
    (22 votes)
  • 0%
    (1 vote)
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