2017-18 Player Review: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was the fourth-line center Vegas needed

Bellemare was an important presence in the locker room, played a critical defensive role and reached a new career high in points in his first season in Vegas.

In the 2017-18 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2017-18 performances of each member of the Golden Knights. We have assigned each player a grade, which is a Knights On Ice composite grade made up of our individual ratings. Players were evaluated based on overall performance in both the regular season and playoffs, especially with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in his particular role. NOTE: Only skaters who played in at least 20 games and goalies who played in at least 10 games were included.

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, now 33, did not play in the NHL until he was 29 years old. The Philadelphia Flyers took notice of his excellent 35-point season in the SHL in 2013-14 and offered him a contract. Despite signing him to an extension and naming him an alternate captain in 2017, the Flyers did not protect Bellemare in the expansion draft, leaving the door wide open for Vegas to grab the “veteran” forward. That decision has certainly paid off for Vegas thus far.

Season in review

Bellemare scored six goals and a career-high 16 points in 72 games in Vegas’ inaugural campaign. He had the fifth-lowest zone start rate on the Knights (second among players who played in at least 55 games), and he was very effective in that defensive role.

To that end, Bellemare had an excellent season. He won 355 out of 694 faceoffs for a career-high 51.2 percent success rate. Notwithstanding his heavy workload in the defensive end, Bellemare still managed a Corsi For percentage of 52.5, good for sixth overall on the team among players who appeared in at least 10 games.

Plus, he made his teammates better when he was on the ice, all while demonstrating great puck possession skills, as evidenced in the table below.

Linemate performance with and without Bellemare

LineTime on IceCorsiShot ShareGoal ShareScoring ChanceHigh-Danger ChanceHD Goal ShareOn-Ice Save %Off. Faceoff %
Bellemare, Nosek, Carrier151:07:005046.0554.5551.4151.72750.93950.98
Nosek, Carrier23:34:0042.4245.45041.0336.3600.87575
Bellemare, Nosek96:48:0053.7159.34061.1163.1600.91452.38
Nosek, Lindberg37:24:0038.3638.7833.3342.1136.84500.86743.75
Bellemare, Nosek453:16:0051.5851.064853.2652.3845.450.93851.22
Nosek w/o Bellemare174:42:0047.1547.0652.9449.7341.0333.330.93248.05
Bellemare w/o Nosek254:16:0054.1357.1457.8955.4159.7654.550.92841.18

Bellemare also played the most minutes on the penalty kill of any forward on the roster, ranking 37th overall among all NHL forwards despite missing 10 games.

In all that shorthanded time, though, Bellemare allowed just 15 power-play goals, finishing seventh in fewest power-play goals allowed among players with more than 150 shorthanded minutes.

Clearly, the most important aspect of Bellemare’s game is his defense. While he scored a career-high 16 points and had solid possession stats, his defensive play and his ability to keep the puck out of the net is what the Golden Knights treasure about his game. Here’s a little taste of why:

The dearth of shots allowed, especially from important areas like directly front of the net, up the middle, the left faceoff circle and near the blue line, shows what Bellemare and his linemates were able to do on a consistent basis in order to keep the puck out of the net. Bellemare and Tomas Nosek together allowed just 13 goals at 5-on-5, and Bellemare alone allowed just eight.

Even more impressively, Bellemare’s play reached a new level in the postseason. He may have only scored three points, but he became one of the best and most important forwards the Knights had. Here’s a full look at the change:

Bellemare by the numbers: regular season vs. playoffs

BellemareTOICorsiShot ShareGoal ShareScoring ChanceHigh-Danger ChanceHD Goal ShareOn-Ice Save %Off. Faceoff %
Regular season707:3452.553.3652.2754.0755.02500.93447.73

Most notably, his goal share (52.27 percent) and high-danger goal share (50 percent) skyrocketed to 70 and 71.43 percent, respectively. Both his scoring chance and high-danger scoring chance shares rose as well (54.07 to 55.35 and 55.02 to 56.52, respectively). Bellemare accomplished this while competing against better competition and playing more minutes. He also continued to play an important role on the penalty kill, playing 49:25 of shorthanded time, good for third on the Knights and first among forwards.

In Vegas’ Stanley Cup Final matchup against the Washington Capitals, Bellemare allowed just three goals total, only one of which came at even strength.

He excelled in his role all year and deep into the playoffs, and that’s what set him aside and made him arguably one of the most effective fourth-line centers in the league.

Standout moment

Bellemare is probably the only player on the Golden Knights who can say that his most important moment of the season may not have even been his. But since every replay makes it seem like it was, let’s go ahead and credit him anyway.

Let’s go back to Game 1 of the first-round series against Los Angeles, a.k.a. Vegas’ first-ever playoff game.

Roughly three minutes into the contest, Shea Theodore winds up and takes a shot as the fourth line has already cycled in to the play. Bellemare is on the door step of Jonathan Quick’s net and (seemingly) does this:

Naturally, the goal turned out to be the first game-winning playoff goal in Vegas franchise history. It appears to belong to Bellemare, but given the uncertainty surrounding the play, Bellemare’s moment will forever belong to Theodore, at least officially. Unofficially, however, kudos to Bellemare for getting things started.

But there was also a moment that was and always will be officially credited to Bellemare, and it came much later in the postseason. It may not have been a game-winning play, but it was a significant turn of events in a critical tilt in the Final, and Bellemare’s persistence got Vegas back into the game.

At the end of the day, guys like Bellemare do so many things over the course of a shift, period, game and season that go unnoticed, but his presence, work ethic and leadership in Vegas’ inaugural campaign will not be forgotten.

KOI composite grade: B+

Although I personally gave Bellemare an A+, it’s understandable to see the collective average come out to a B+, especially considering his production. But he did not receive anything lower than a B, which also indicates the overall appreciation for what Bellemare brought to the Knights in Year 1. Taking into account the expectations on him — essentially, there were none — and how he exceeded them and performed in the playoffs, no one can deny that Bellemare was a very important member of the Golden Knights.

He was one of the best penalty killers the team had, did great things in terms of maintaining puck control and halting the other team’s offensive progress and formed a successful shutdown line with Nosek and whichever “partner of the month” played with them at the time. Again, for a fourth-line center, Bellemare excelled, though that qualifier does place a limitation on his game.

Looking ahead to 2018-19

Bellemare, who has one year remaining on his contract at a $1.45 million cap hit, is not losing his spot in the lineup. No matter what happens with the middle-six center situation (whether Erik Haula becomes a wing or replaces Cody Eakin as the third-line center), Bellemare will retain his role as the anchor of the fourth line. A healthier Bellemare-Nosek pairing will be an important part of Vegas’ penalty kill and should be even more effective at even strength this season. Though Bellemare is 33, his relative lack of wear and tear and limited seasons in the NHL should allow him to have another strong season. He might even be more successful offensively given the growing chemistry with Nosek, but getting stuck with Ryan Reaves could make that easier said than done.

How would you grade Bellemare’s 2017-18 performance?

C- or below1

Statistics courtesy of corsicahockey.com and naturalstattrick.com.