Player: Marcus Pettersson
Born: May 8, 1996 (25 years old)
Height: 6’ 3”
Weight: 177 pounds
Hometown: Skelleftea, Sweden
Draft: 2014, Anaheim Ducks, 2nd round, 38th overall
2020-21 Statistics: 47 games played — 2 goals, 7 assists, 9 points
Contract Status: Pettersson signed a five year extension in January 2020 and will be working on year two of that contract in 2021-22. The deal runs through the 2024-25 season and carried a $4,025,175 million cap hit. It’s believed Pettersson got this deal in part to “make him whole” after he accepted a contract carrying a $874,125 cap hit for 2019-20 to help solve the Pens’ salary cap squeeze of that season.
Add the two contracts up and it comes to an even $21,000,000 over six years ($3.5m per from 2019-25). In other words, Pittsburgh is in essence incurring a $525k cap “penalty” (since he counts $4.025m against the cap instead of $3.5m) from 2020-25 in exchange for saving ~$2.25ish million back in 2019-20.
The contract and the Pens’ overall salary situation isn’t Pettersson’s fault or responsibility. It’s more of a commentary and will be a lasting effect from how previous management would “kick the can down the road” in this and several other situations in order to attain short-term salary cap compliance.
Like the rest of his team, there wasn’t much to write home about for Marcus Pettersson in the first round of the 2020-21 playoffs. Surprisingly, he played by far the lowest amount on 5v5 TOI of his peers and only just north of 13 minutes per game overall.
Regular Season Monthly Splits
Story of the Season
Pettersson’s season may have gotten derailed from the beginning, he got injured in just the fourth game of the season with a big collision with T.J. Oshie and missed almost a month until returning on Feb. 16th. The second half of February saw him play his most TOI of any month of the season, but gradually over March and April he surprisingly saw his ice time steadily cut as the team instead chose to go with Mike Matheson and Cody Ceci as their second pair. It looked like the team was starting to ramp him up a bit in May and he rewarded that with some production, before the playoffs hit and he found himself shuffled back to playing a clear role of the sixth defenseman.
At the end of the year, Pettersson is left with the lasting wish to improve and do more.
“I didn’t really take that step that I wanted to this year from last year to this year. So I think that’s something for sure that I have to do a better job of.”
Regular season 5v5 advanced stats
Data via Natural Stat Trick. Ranking is out of 8 defensemen on the team who qualified by playing a minimum of 150 minutes.
Corsi For%: 51.4% (2nd)
Goals For%: 58.0% (3rd)
xGF%: 51.5% (2nd)
Scoring Chance %: 53.4% (2nd)
High Danger Scoring Chance%: 47.9% (5th)
5v5 on-ice shooting%: 8.5% (5th)
On-ice save%: .935% (2nd)
Goals/60: .17 (6th)
Assist/60: .59 (5th)
Points/60: .76 (6th)
—From the quote above, it sounds like Pettersson may be overly harsh on himself or down in confidence where the data is showing a stronger season. Style-wise he is often a player who looks better in metrics and on spreadsheets than what the memory says about him. That is because he is a defensive defenseman who offers very little offensive ability, and also is not an overly physical player. As such, there are barely any “stick out in your mind” type plays that he is involved in. However, that does not mean he lacks effectiveness.
Pettersson was at just 1.77 Goals Against/60 at 5v5, the best among the top 6 Penguin defensemen in 2020-21. The rates of shots against and scoring chances allowed by the team were also the lowest while Pettersson was on the ice, and he had the best expected goal splits of the regular Pens’ defenders.
That said, Pettersson did benefit from a high on-ice save%. Some of that can probably be controlled (goalies usually save non-scoring chance shots, and Pettersson suppresses that more than most) but some of that could also involve some good fortune to happen to get saves from goalies that others weren’t getting. (Perhaps not surprising, Brian Dumoulin had the highest on-ice save% of Pens’ regular defensemen, which makes sense that his defensive play would help the goalies make easier saves).
Looking at just the season, Pettersson was a fairly positive player against WAR metrics and held up fairly well in just about all areas besides penalties (his 11 minors taken ranked 5th highest on the team) and quality of competition and teammates, pointing to his lessening role. Interestingly, over a three season span, Pettersson has been extremely consistent in driving good results via WAR with almost no deviation.
Below is a very revealing 5v5 chart. On the left is when Pettersson was on the ice (2.07 xGA/60). On the right there’s a lot more red and a 2.36 xGA/60. This can partially be explained by the better opponents making up the right, but it’s still an impressive showing for the Penguins’ defensive abilities when Pettersson was on the ice.
Below is a breakdown of Pettersson’s season. His most common partner was John Marino, but he also played with Cody Ceci, Chad Ruhwedel and for a while with Kris Letang (something I’ve been wanting to see for a while).
Below is an overview of Pettersson’s career. Through his age 22 and 23 seasons is looked like all systems go as he continued to ramp up in ice team and put up a decent amount of primary points/60. However, the ice time starts taking a plunge (black line in the middle) in the 2019-20 season and his points in 2020-21 also dried up heavily.
Below is a chart that might explain why Pettersson got low ice time. The Pens didn’t score or create a lot of offense with him on the ice. The explanation might be as simple as the coaches didn’t believe that Pettersson could support the scoring line forwards well enough with his outlet passes and decision making with the puck.
Pettersson only scored two goals this season but, go figure, both were very pretty. Here’s one against the Flyers in May:
McCann's shot and skating get a lot of attention but his playmaking and passing have been on full display this year. What a handsy goal from Pettersson too pic.twitter.com/wCT79XGtC8— geoff, not thinking anymore (@geoffwithano) May 4, 2021
That goal dovetails nicely with his first at the beginning of the season against the Capitals where he sniped the top corner of the net.
Pettersson is among the most interesting players on the team to analyze. He plays a defensive defenseman role that is difficult to quantify contributions. In terms of suppressing chances and goals against he has done very well over the course of his still fairly young career. Based on the numbers alone, they indicate this is a player who presumably could/should have been given more of an opportunity to play more minutes.
However, that is not how his season went, with him actually going the other way and playing less as the year went on. Is it a styles clash where he isn’t offensively proficient enough to work more minutes in a higher profile with the skill players? That would make sense as to why Mike Matheson (a player with such skills) leaped past him as 2020-21 went on.
Question to ponder
The question for Pettersson is what comes next? Does the team expose him to Seattle? Do they look to try and trade him for much needed cap relief? He only turned 25 and already has 240 career NHL games (regular season + playoffs) under his belt. By comparison, and to put into context how young Pettersson is into his career, Dumoulin only had 111 NHL games by his 25th birthday.
If the team and coaches see Pettersson as a 14-15 minute a night player, it becomes tough to justify his salary cap hit — especially with Pierre-Olivier Joseph knocking on the door for NHL playing time.
But if Pettersson (and his partner Marino) can both grow and play higher up the lineup, their value and contributions increase. From analyzing the numbers, the team and player himself should be a lot more confident and using the player more. However, hockey is a sport managed and player by people and people have emotions. Pettersson got passed in usage this season by a player in Matheson who skates and can handle the puck better and more authoritatively.
This one is pretty easy, Pettersson gets a chance for a bigger role so sees his ice time go up. Maybe he chips in a little more consistent offense and sees even more ice time, perhaps up to 2019-20 levels of 19-20 minutes per game. He’ll need to prove that his impressive defensive results can translate up the lineup against tougher opponents and with more minutes to do this.
Given his track record, it looks completely plausible that if Pettersson is brought back he could bring his steady brand of hockey as almost a Dumoulin-lite type defender to the club.
A less ideal season would be if there is an injury, and/or Matheson and Joseph become more trusted, pushing Pettersson’s status even more in flux with a still-lengthy contract ahead. Around the league we have seen similar situations where mid-level defensemen with salaries (Carolina’s Jake Gardiner and Philly’s Shayne Gotisbehere) get waived and healthy scratched when they fell way out of favor. In this climate, both went unclaimed — no team is looking to add a lot of term. Pettersson still has a lot of term. Can he and the Pens figure out how to turn himself into more of an on-ice asset? It’s a fascinating small storyline to watch unfold.
How would you grade Marcus Pettersson’s 2020-21 season?
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