In the past 6 years, we’ve seen Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty develop into lock down defensemen and Stanley Cup champions. Could the next elite NHL defender be Alex Pietrangelo?
Teams around the NHL already know about the St. Louis Blues defender, but Pietrangelo has yet to make a major mark on the national stage. Much of that is because the Blues haven’t stuck around in the playoffs long enough. However, his play in recent weeks shows this may be the year Pietrangelo and the Blues finally put it all together.
Elite players raise their game as the season progresses and games gain importance. Alex Pietrangelo is doing just that. #stlblues
— Nicholas Hand (@Nick_Hand) March 21, 2015
The mark of an elite defenseman is how he responds in the toughest games. Much like Keith and Doughty have proven, Pietrangelo is logging critical minutes against the other team’s best players.
Right now Pietrangelo ranks 8th in the NHL in ice time per game (25:23). That average has jumped to nearly 30 minutes per game since the Blues lost Kevin Shattenkirk to injury, partly due to necessity. But just like a leader should do, Pietrangelo has stepped in and covered for the loss of the Blues best offensive defenseman.
On back-to-back days, Alex Pietrangelo played 28:33 and 25:08 with 2 assists tonight (was #stlblues ice time leader both nights, as usual).
— Lou Korac (@lkorac10) March 16, 2015
That ice time also has translated into success on the scoresheet. Pietrangelo has 10 points in his last 11 games (1 goal, 9 assists), four of those points were on the power play. Last weekend he became the eighth player on the Blues with at least 40 points this season.
Perhaps the biggest area where Pietrangelo is leading the way is on the penalty kill. After ranking 17th in the NHL on January 1, the Blues’ penalty kill unit has climbed into the top 10 in the league. Pietrangelo often plays the full two minutes on the kill and also blocks dozens of shots from getting through. He’s a major reason why the Blues have allowed only 3 power play goals in the past 13 games.
Now in his fifth full NHL season, Pietrangelo is playing with as much confidence as he ever has as a pro. He has become one of the leaders on and off the ice and he is becoming more vocal. Those characteristics will help the Blues as they end the season and begin the playoffs.
— St. Louis Blues (@StLouisBlues) March 23, 2015
Pietrangelo has made huge improvements from his struggles earlier in the season. The defensive pairing of Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester were on the ice for dozens of goals against and having a difficult time keeping up with the other team’s best players. But the loss of Shattenkirk along with the Blues adding depth on defense has allowed both defensemen to split up and improve on their own.
Bouwmeester has been playing with new addition Zbynek Michalek, while Pietrangelo has spent time with Carl Gunnarsson. The third pairing featured Barret Jackman and new addition Robert Bortuzzo.
Since the change in lines, Pietrangelo seems to have found his stride on both offense and defense.
Pietrangelo’s skill has also made him a target. Even superstars like Alex Ovechkin are trying to rattle him.
Naturally teams go after the opposing star players, especially when they’re playing strong defense against them. Some of the most successful teams are able to apply pressure on the defense, limiting their time with the puck and forcing quick turnovers. But give credit to Pietrangelo for not falling into those traps, getting right back up after that big hit by Ovechkin.
If you look at the Stanley Cup champions in recent years, all of those teams found success with strong defense.
The Chicago Blackhawks have Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. The LA Kings have Drew Doughty and Alec Martinez. The Boston Bruins have Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug.
The duo on defense for the St. Louis Blues is Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, assuming he returns in time for the playoffs. If the Blues want to go anywhere in the playoffs, they’ll need Alex Pietrangelo to play at an elite level. He has a chance this year to become the next great NHL defenseman.