With the draft finishing up, and free agency on Friday, Alex Pietrangelo remains without a contract and is likely going to free agency. While the rumours are that Vegas is the frontrunner, the Leafs are one of the top names in that discussion as well.
Leading up to free agency, it seems like the talk is about how Pietrangelo fits into the Leafs cap situation. While that’s certainly a huge part of the equation, we don’t see a whole lot out there on Pietrangelo fits in with the Leafs as far as his actual play goes.
So, let’s dive into what exactly Alex Pietrangelo brings to the table on the ice, and then using that information, where he would be best utilized on the Leafs.
Since his first full season, Pietrangelo has been a consistent 40-50 point player throughout his career, although as he’s gotten older, he seems to rely more on his goal scoring than his playmaking. He puts up points on the power play when given the opportunity as well so he could help the second power play, or even man the first unit and bring a shot that Morgan Rielly doesn’t.
Soooooo, that’s pretty good, wouldn’t you say?
As far as his underlying numbers go, he’s elite in just about every category. His only weakness is that he’s mediocre at preventing quality shots on the penalty kill, and he’s good, but not elite, at driving shot attempts, creating quality shots on the powerplay, and getting primary assists, which isn’t too concerning since defensemen don’t create primary assists as much as forward. His ability to drive offense is his “weakest” part of his game, but he’s still really, really good at that.
When you look at Evolving Hockey’s RAPM stats, which isolate a players numbers from factors like teammates, competition, and rink bias, Pietrangelo also stacks up really well except for his expected goals against rates. The problem is that that’s the one thing the Leafs need some improvement in. However, don’t sweat too much over it, as that’s mostly weighed down by a poor 2018-19 season in that category. He’s otherwise been pretty good at limiting scoring chances against.
As for his Goals Above Replacement stats, Pietrangelo also favours quite well there. Over the last three seasons, his 37.8 GAR is tied for fifth in the league among defensemen with Jared Spurgeon, behind only Ryan Ellis, Victor Hedman, Ryan Pulock, and Charlie MacAvoy. That said, it is mostly driven by his 27.4 offensive GAR (which also ranks 5th), and his 9 penalty GAR (which is tied for 2nd with teammate Colton Parayko). His defensive GAR is only 1.4, but that’s also because of his 2018-19 season. His defensive WAR this season was 2.2, which still isn’t elite, but it’s still pretty good.
This is going to surprise you as we go into the transition data for Pietrangelo, but he’s also really good in this regard. His shot contributions are his weakest strength in this group, but that probably isn’t as important to the Leafs as his impressive carry-in and exit rates, which is something they need on this blueline. Having more defensemen who can limit zone entries while also being able to move the puck is essential to this team’s strategy.
So it’s very clear that Pietrangelo would not only be the best right shot defenseman on the team if the Leafs signed him, but he would also be the best defenseman on the team in general. At even strength, you wouldn’t really have any difficulty finding a slot for him. You could either play him with Rielly to balance the pairs and give Rielly the best defense partner he’s ever played with, or you could play him with Muzzin and have a god tier shutdown pair. The options are certainly there.
On the special teams, it’s also pretty easy. You probably give him the second power play unit with the option of throwing him on the first unit if it goes cold and needs a better shot from the point. You might not even have to play him there if you’d rather give Sandin or Dermott an opportunity to play there. On the penalty kill, while his QpSa60 was the worst stat on his profile, he actually has one of the better ones on the team, as only Rielly and Dermott fair better at limiting quality chances on the penalty kill, and even then, he has other skills that also make him a must use on the penalty kill.
Chemistry wise, he’d probably fit well with the team. While their fast paced system is a bit different than St. Louis’, he has the tools and skillset to adapt to a system based on offensive based possession, while likely improving their defense anyways. The Leafs showed they could adapt and play well defensively in their series against Columbus, so an addition of Pietrangelo would help put them over top in that department.