Photo Credit: (NHL Public Relations/@PR_NHL)
After the St. Louis Blues traded center Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets for a pick and a prospect, it seemed that Blues management was content to settle for whatever results their current group was going to give them. Those results looked to be missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011 until the veteran core of the team forcefully took over the team and now has the Blues primed for a playoff push down the stretch. One of those veteran core players is captain Alex Pietrangelo who looks to be the most serious about contending for a Norris Trophy, the NHL’s award for best defenseman, than at any other point in his career. Blues fans have known that Pietrangelo has always been the constant on the blue line that the team needs to succeed, but this year he is putting the team on his back as the playoffs draw near. So, let’s make the Norris Trophy argument for the St. Louis Blues captain and veteran defenseman now.
Alex Pietrangelo has always been the lock down defensive defenseman that every team needs to play tough minutes against the opponent’s top forwards, but it is clear that he has stepped his offensive game up as his career has gone on. Coming into this season, Blues coach Mike Yeo wanted the defensemen of the team to be a little bit more active in jumping into the rush and creating offense. Pietrangelo has done that and then some this year as he is on pace to easily put up his best offensive season yet. In 70 games played in 2017-2018, Alex has 51 points (15 goals, 36 assists) which ties a career high for points in a season and his 15 goals is already a career high for goals in a season. With 8 games to go, it is all but a wrap that Pietrangelo sets a new career high for points in a season. Among all NHL defensemen, he ranks 11th in points with his 51 points which puts him into the likes of elite offensive defenseman like P.K. Subban and Shayne Gostisbehere. In addition, Pietrangelo has put 197 shots on goal this year which also places him 11th among all NHL defensemen and when you only take the top 20 NHL defensemen in shots on goal he ranks 2nd behind only P.K. Subban in shooting percentage at 7.6% (goals scored/shots on goal). Plus, when you need a big goal to win a hockey game you can count on the captain as he is tied for 1st among all NHL defenseman in game-winning goals this year (5). Clutch, productive, and reliable are all words that describe Petro’s offensive game this year. It truly has been a breakout season for Alex Pietrangelo on the offensive side of things which is the main reason why he has forced his name into this year’s Norris Trophy race.
Since Alex Pietrangelo broke into the NHL in 2008, lock down defense has been his strongest asset as a blueliner. For most of his career, Petro has been defending against and shutting down the other team’s top forwards. To almost all Blues fans this side of his game, this is no surprise. But, it is only necessary to bring up both sides of the game when discussing the Norris trophy. For starters, among all NHL defensemen in the 2017-2018 season, Alex Pietrangelo ranks 6th in average time on ice per game (25:38). The only other Norris contenders above him are Victor Hedman and Drew Doughty which hold only marginal leads over him. When Petro is on the ice, it is difficult to generate above average scoring chances in part to his elite skating ability, but also due to his elite shot blocking abilities. Among NHL defensemen, he ranks 13th in blocked shots (148), but the important thing to note here is that everyone above him will not be in the Norris Trophy conversation. So, essentially Alex Pietrangelo is the best shot-blocking defensemen among the elite group of defensemen this year. Couple his volume of blocked shots with his ability to eat ice time every night and it is obvious how impressive his consistent play is in his own zone every night. A lot of hockey fans like to latch onto the +/- defensive rating statistic which has its flaws for obvious reasons such as a lack of puck luck or someone else blowing an assignment and all other four players getting a minus for it. On the other hand, a player could step onto the ice and a goal be scored immediately and they will receive a plus even though they did not contribute at all to the goal. With that being said, it is only fair to bring up Pietrangelo’s +/- rating in 2017-2018. He currently sits at +12 which is a very respectable number for a guy who eats so many tough minutes on a team that has had its fair share of scoring droughts. He ranks 34th among NHL defensemen in this metric, but it should be noted that only a handful of guys ahead of him will be contending for the Norris (Hedman, Doughty, Josi, Subban). Something of deserving of recognition here too is that all four of those players have significantly better-supporting casts around them so what Petro has been able to muster in this metric is quite impressive given the Blues inconsistencies this season. Defense has always been a staple of Alex Pietrangelo’s game and hockey fans nationwide shouldn’t expect that to change for a long time.
Despite the inconsistencies of the team around him, Alex Pietrangelo has been the constant rock on the blue line. Who knows where this team would be without number 27? With that being said, there has never been a year that Petro has deserved to get serious consideration like this year and it is not even close. After breaking down his career year on the offense end and elite defensive numbers, his season should not be overlooked by the voters. The captain is playing the best hockey of his career at the most optimal time of the season: during the playoff push. If Pietrangelo is able to push his team into the playoffs, there is no reason he should not be a serious contender to win the Norris trophy in this wide open race. The last thing to be said to the voters and hockey fans nationwide is just this: sit down and watch a Blues game at this point in the season. Alex Pietrangelo looks like he is a man playing amongst boys and has been the best player on the ice now for almost a month regardless of who the Blues have been playing. Vote for the captain; he deserves the honor.
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