Player: Marcus Pettersson
Born: May 8, 1996 (age-26 season)
Weight: 177 pounds
Hometown: Skellefteå, Sweden
Draft: 38th overall (Second Round, 2014 by Anaheim Ducks)
2021-22 Statistics: 72 games, two goals, 17 assists, 19 total points, plus-eight, 38 penalty minutes.
Contract Status: Pettersson just completed the second year of a five-year, $20.125 million contract that he signed with the team on January 28, 2020. He still has three more years remaining on that contract with a salary cap hit of $4.025 million per season.
Fun facts: Pettersson has played five seasons in the NHL and scored exactly two goals in four of those seasons. He scored one goal in the fifth season ... Pettersson spent almost all of his time this season playing during even-strength, averaging more than 15 minutes per game of even-strength ice-time, but only 16 seconds per game (each) on the power play and penalty kill. He is almost exclusively a 5-on-5 player for the Penguins.
Pettersson played in all seven playoff games for the Penguins and averaged more than 20 minutes of ice-time per game, scoring zero goals, adding two assists, and finishing as a plus-three, tied for the best mark among the team’s defensemen in the playoffs.
Story of the Season
Pettersson spent the bulk of his season playing on the Penguins’ second defense pair alongside John Marino with mixed results. While neither player is much of a difference-maker on their own, and both have significant contracts that the Penguins need to work out long-term, their numbers always work out well together as a pairing. Even if they do not always look good. If you look at the Penguins’ most common defense pairings, and even the most common defense pairings in the league, the Pettersson-Marino pairing always scores very well and produces strong numbers across the board in terms of controlling puck possession, scoring chances, high-danger scoring chances, expected goals, and actual goals. They were consistently better than 52-53 percent in every single one of those categories during 5-on-5 play despite seeing mostly defensive zone starts. Neither player is perfect, they both have their flaws, and neither one is going to produce offense, but do manage to work together to form a solid defense pairing.
Regular season 5v5 advanced stats
Data via Natural Stat Trick. Ranking is out of seven defenseman on the team who qualified by playing a minimum of 150 minutes.
Corsi For%: 53.5% (2nd)
Goals For%: 52.5% (4th)
xGF%: 54.4% (3rd)
Scoring Chance %: 52.5% (4h)
High Danger Scoring Chance%: 56.2% (3rd)
5v5 on-ice shooting%: 7.41% (5th)
On-ice save%: 91.9% (6th)
Goals/60: 0.11 (6th)
Assist/60: 0.90 (2nd)
Points/60: 1.01 (3rd)
— A truly fascinating season for Pettersson from a numbers perspective. Based on the eye test, it probably did not wow you. His overall offensive numbers are pedestrian. But when you dig down to the underlying numbers and advanced statistics his performance rates very favorably and among the best of any defenseman on the team.
— The assists/60 rate is surprising and makes him one of the most productive playmakers on the team’s blue line during 5-on-5 play, trailing only Kris Letang in assists/60 minutes. His 0.68 primary assists per 60 minutes is also second on the team (behind only Letang again at 0.78 primary assists) and significantly ahead of the third-best defender on the team (Mike Matheson at 0.38 primary assists per 60 minutes).
Most advanced stat models don’t just like Marcus Pettersson — they love him and his defensive game. By virtue of the above (the other team rarely scores or gets chances to score with Pettersson on the ice), the defensive impacts and GSVA scores for Pettersson are more favorable than most coaching opinions on him.
The microstats above capture what is difficult for the “eye test” and memory to always pick up on the nuances of what makes a defensive defenseman effective. Pettersson is excellent at denying opponent zone entry attempts, especially when they try to carry it in against him. He has a great gap control and can use his skating ability plus his 6’4 frame and reach to often deny the opposition on the rush. Pettersson is also above average overall at going back and retrieving pucks dumped into the zone, and really good at keeping possession via passing the puck to exit the zone (and less likely to lug the puck himself up the ice).
WAR% also considers Pettersson an elite defender, albeit one that doesn’t take a heavy load. Will Mike Sullivan ever give this player tougher assignments to see if he can continue to bring strong suppressive play? It doesn’t seem likely, Sullivan doesn’t even regularly use Pettersson on the penalty kill, despite the player helping to drive excellent defensive results at 5v5.
Pettersson joins the rush to score his first goal of the season to extend the Penguins’ lead in an early season blowout win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
That goal stood as his only goal of the season until this in the regular season finale against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Pettersson is not a star or a top-pairing player, but he is very useful and does bring a lot of value. Especially when paired with Marino. Together they tend to bring out the best in each other’s play. They had some rough stretches at times this season, but overall their performance was very good for a second-pairing. Even if a very expensive second pairing that wasn’t always leaned on.
With three years remaining at a salary cap hit of just over $4 million the Penguins are going to need Pettersson to continue being a useful player because that is a significant salary cap number for a cap-ceiling team. I was down on him for much of the 2020-21 season but I thought he bounced back with a better overall performance during the 2021-22 season, and the underlying numbers help back up that assessment.
At this point Pettersson probably is not going to rapidly improve much beyond what he already is as an NHL player. What you see is what you are going to get and should reasonably expect. That is a fair second-pairing defenseman that can defend well and move the puck a bit. He is not going to be a major special teams player, but it would be nice to see a little more offense from him, especially as it relates to putting the puck in the net.
Question to ponder
Will he be a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins when the puck drops on the 2022-23 season? The Penguins might need to still shed some salary cap space to retain players like Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin, while also making the necessary improvements to the roster, and a left defenseman seems like a logical trade candidate. Between Pettersson, Brian Dumoulin, and Mike Matheson, the Penguins have three left defenseman each counting more than $4 million against the salary cap for the 2022-23 season. It seems logical that one of them could go. Dumoulin is probably the player I would aggressively shop given his decline, but his value might be limited given his decline this season. Pettersson could be a candidate to move because he has a modified no-trade clause that kicks in on his contract before the start of the 2023-24 season. If the Penguins were going to eventually shop him, this would be the offseason (and season) to maybe do it before that modified no-trade clause on his contract kicks in.
How Would You Grade Marcus Pettersson’s 2021-22 NHL Season?
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