It’s no secret Alex Pietrangelo is an elite defenseman in the NHL. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have been the captain of a Stanley Cup champion, he wouldn’t have received Norris Trophy votes in seven different seasons, and he definitely wouldn’t have signed a $62 million contract with the Vegas Golden Knights.
But what is it that makes him special and worthy of garnering the title of highest-paid player in Golden Knights history? Well, I dug into the film to figure it out.
It starts with what he does in the defensive zone. He’s about as sound of a blueliner as you will find in the entire NHL. I’d make a highlight tape, but it would be about as exhilarating as watching paint dry, so I’ll spare you.
But that’s not what really sets him apart. There are plenty of lockdown d-men in the league and none get paid the way Pietrangelo now does.
Where he really separates himself from most is the way he reads the game offensively. He’s absolutely elite at becoming a part of the offense as a defenseman. Whether that means activating off the blue line, replacing the forward on a cycle play, or joining the rush, Pietrangelo does it all at an incredibly high level.
This makes him unbelievably challenging to defend against and should have VGK fans drooling about what they are going to see when the games finally get back underway.
Let me illustrate.
This is likely a set play off the faceoff, but it’s a play that very few players in the NHL can make. Pietrangelo sees the draw is won and the puck heading to the half wall. So, he activates off the blue line towards the goal. Watch the path he takes though. He wants to head directly to the back post and catch the feed across, but there’s a bit of traffic in front, so when he hits the faceoff dot, he alters his route slightly towards the slot, with his stick on the ice the entire time presenting himself for the pass. Then, he gets it, receives it perfectly, and pulls off a dazzling inside-out move that embarrasses both a defenseman and the goalie. Mesmerizing.
Next, here he is replacing a forward who is heading towards the blue line.
The forward is heading out towards the blue line with the puck. That forward cycles the puck and Pietrangelo wastes no time replacing him as a forward. Pietrangelo heads directly towards the goal, presenting himself as an option for the pass from along the wall. Again, watch the route he takes and how he does it, it’s hockey IQ at its finest. He takes a hard step to gain speed and establish position on the winger guarding him (Patrik Laine). Then, he slows up using his body to shield Laine off. He slightly alters his path to the right in order to stay in the play and keep an angle to shoot. Receives the puck and from a wide-angle buries it. If a forward did this, it would be impressive, for a d-man to do it stepping in for a forward, incredible.
Next, my favorite one, which just so happens to be Pietrangelo’s 100th career goal.
The Blues win the puck behind the goal line with a forward helping it along the wall. That means Pietrangelo is now playing the role of the winger. He sees that Ryan O’Reilly is making a net drive and realizes he has to slow up and present himself as a trail. David Perron cuts it inside and watch Pietrangelo’s feet. Look at him flip his skates to open up for the one-timer. Now, think of that with Mark Stone with the puck and Max Pacioretty driving the net.
Ok ok, relax. I’ve got more. Here’s one where he would have gotten the secondary assist on his own goal.
First off, let’s point out that the Blackhawks look like a bad ECHL team in this highlight, but what Pietrangelo does to them is spectacular nonetheless.
Pietrangelo picks up a failed pass in the high slot. He opens up a passing lane on his backhand and feeds it perfectly through the slot to a teammate. Then, watch where Pietrangelo goes after he releases the pass. He continues heading towards the goal, circling his route off to stay in a shooting area, and then buries it.
This is the kind of stuff he does every single night. He has a tremendous ability to read and recognize when he’s safe to join the play as either a fourth attacker or as a replacement third. It’s a thing of beauty and unlike a certain former Pete DeBoer defensemen, he is rarely caught on the wrong side of the puck when it’s turned over.
And if that wasn’t enough, none of this even highlights his best skill on the ice. Pietrangelo has an absolute cannon of a shot that comes with deadly accuracy. He’s especially keen to unleash it from the high slot on the power play (something VGK loved to do with Colin Miller), but he breaks it out in many other situations as well. Here’s a little compilation of them.
He also has the “clutch” thing the Golden Knights were missing last year. This is from Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
This dude is special. There’s really no other way to put it.
He’s elite everywhere on the ice and he is unlike any defensemen the Golden Knights have ever had. Hopefully, we get to watch him in person sometime before that 7-year contract ends because as VGK fans, we’re in for a treat.
Ok, I couldn’t help myself. One more. Watch him activate off the blue line and leave the defenseman in the dust.
Let’s play some hockey, I can’t wait to see him doing this wearing a shiny gold jersey.