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NHL Free Agency 2018: Greg Pateryn fits mold of modern-day defensive defenseman

The 28-year-old has been quietly one of the league’s best defensive players of late.

NHL: Dallas Stars at Anaheim Ducks Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

After a slew of marquee names bandied about in the context of free agency, perhaps it is time to come back to earth a bit. While the stars rightfully deserve publicity and higher contracts, it is rare that a team can go far without solid depth. If the stars could carry the load themselves, the Pittsburgh Penguins would have won another couple titles in the early 2010s.

Sometimes it is on the fringes that champions are made. Today, we will make a case for a bottom-pairing defenseman with just three career goals.

Still reading? Great. Let’s talk about Greg Pateryn.

Season in review

  • 13 points (one goal, 12 assists) in 73 games with the Dallas Stars.
  • Along with Golden Knights blue liner Brayden McNabb, was one of just nine defensemen with at least 150 hits and 140 blocked shots last season.
  • Among the 80 defensemen with at least 150 minutes on the penalty kill last season, Pateryn was 13th in High Danger Corsi For Percentage (15.4%).
  • Averaged 19:37 in icetime per game, which ranked fourth on the Stars among defensemen.

Free agency status

Pateryn may be rather green, given his low career NHL game total (167), but since he is at least 27 years old, he is eligible to be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his short career. The d-man is coming off a two-year, $800,000 AAV deal originally signed with the Montreal Canadiens prior to his trade to the Stars with a fourth-round pick for Jordie Benn.

Given his UFA status, Pateryn is eligible to field offers from all teams on July 1.

Strengths

Despite so-so name recognition, even from diehard fans of the sports, Pateryn was one of the most elite defensive players last season. There are players who can block shots because it’s their only strength (Kris Russell, etc.) and then there are ones who block shots as part of a well-rounded game in their own zone. That’s Pateryn. I like charts, so here’s one for you:

Data from Natural Stat Trick, Table by Dalton Mack

Among the 133 defensemen to play at least 1000 minutes at 5-on-5 last year, only Charlie McAvoy prevented unblocked shots at a greater rate than Pateryn, and he needed way more starts in the offensive zone to do it. Consider current Golden Knight Colin Miller—he suppressed shots better than almost anyone, but Pateryn beat him at it despite completely opposite deployments (61 oZS% for Miller, 39 for Pateryn).

Emmanuel Perry’s Corsica site had Pateryn leading the NHL in Defensive WAR (Wins above Replacement) last year. Yowza!

Weaknesses

Pateryn does not score much. As mentioned prior, the right-shot blue liner has scored just three goals in 167 NHL games, and has 26 assists in that span, the majority of which were secondary. The 28-year-old did take a fair amount of shot attempts this year — 216 in total, 100 on net — but shot all of just one percent.

Remember how his Defensive WAR was the best in the league? His Offensive WAR ranked 150th of 160. Granted, the strength of his defense made him finish 24th overall, or No. 1 D quality.

Physicality is something from which the NHL is moving away, and that is one of Pateryn’s strong suits. He is not an overly strong passer and he rarely draws penalties. To his credit, he also does not take too many.

Fit with the Golden Knights

Given that Vegas is a team that plays with a lot of speed, it may appear that Pateryn’s lack of high-end wheels would hurt, but he is no slower than the likes of Luca Sbisa, Brayden McNabb or Deryk Engelland.

Speaking of Sbisa, the resident salary whisperer, Matt Cane, has projected similar salaries for him and Pateryn entering next year. Both are expected to sign one-year deals, and Sbisa’s is slated for $1.34 million, while Pateryn is likely to earn $1.42MM. Whereas Sbisa was often described by many Vegas news outlets and blogs as a shutdown defender (including here at Knights On Ice a time or two), he had the worst Corsi Against per 60 minutes of any player in the NHL (min. 450 minutes). Just because the coach plays you against top-notch competition does not an elite defender make.

But this is about Pateryn. With this player, the Knights would be getting a lockdown defender and a rare right-shot defenseman. Currently the Knights have two, and behind Engelland and Miller in the system are just Zach Whitecloud and Dylan Coghlan. Yikes. We have research which shows that playing defensemen on their off-side has negative outcomes, so minimizing that would be another nice side effect of a Pateryn signing. While Marc-Andre Fleury proved he can still be elite into his mid-30s, he will probably need a bit more defensive help as he enters the twilight of his career.

Pateryn’s defensive prowess and lack of a high salary demand make his signing a smart move for any team, and the Golden Knights are no exception.

Unfortunately, the only team to which Pateryn has been linked (for about $2MM a year) has been the Minnesota Wild, as per a report from Elliotte Friedman. Even that would be a fine value for a blue liner of Pateryn’s caliber.

Statistics courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, Corsica.Hockey and Hockey-Reference.com