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Max Pacioretty poised for bounce-back season

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After a down season last year, Pacioretty is bound to return to his goal-scoring self.

NHL: Preseason-Arizona Coyotes at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Max Pacioretty’s downfall with the Montreal Canadiens truly happened in the blink of an eye. He was a fan favorite, and surpassed the 30-goal mark in five seasons during his time there. The Canadiens had one of their worst seasons in franchise history last year, and so did Pacioretty as he scored just 17 goals and 37 points. The Canadiens then decided to cut ties with their 29-year-old captain. With just one poor year under his belt, though, there’s zero reason to believe that Pacioretty won’t be able to return to his former self and flourish with the Golden Knights.

Career Lows Not a Cause For Concern

Pacioretty had the worst statistical season of his career last year taking into account games played and goals per game. With just 17 goals in 64 games last season, he averaged just 0.26 goals per game compared to his previous career average of 0.37. It’s only natural for every goal scorer to hit a bit of a slump at some point in their career. For example, Alex Ovechkin “only” scored 33 goals two seasons ago. Plus, from 2013 to 2016 Pacioretty ranked third in the league in goals scored behind only Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin. That’s some pretty good company.

NHL: Preseason-Arizona Coyotes at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

His numbers last year are nothing to worry about, as there were a couple of factors that could’ve contributed to it. For one, Pacioretty said himself that it was difficult to play to the best of his ability with the ongoing distraction of his contract and his status with the Canadiens. Now that he’s locked up to a solid four-year contract, he won’t have to worry about anything other than hockey.

Pacioretty has also played his entire career in Montreal without a true number one center by his side. Montreal’s group of centers last year were potentially some of the worst they’ve had since Pacioretty arrived in Montreal as a rookie. He spent nearly half of his time on the ice at even-strength last year with either Paul Byron or Phillip Danault by his side. In Vegas, he’s expected to slot in next to newcomer Paul Stastny to start the season, which will definitely be a major upgrade.

Promising Preseason

Pacioretty has appeared in just three games for the Golden Knights so far and is naturally averaging a goal per game. Yes, it’s only preseason, but it’s still an encouraging indicator of what’s to come. Pacioretty recently mentioned that he and Stastny are close friends, and that they have some chemistry already because they were on Team USA together. He clearly wasn’t lying because they’ve shown great chemistry so far in the preseason, but it remains unclear who the third forward joining them will be.

NHL: Preseason-Colorado Avalanche at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Tuch had a great rookie year last season and showed that he could fit on a line with the two Americans by setting Pacioretty up for his third goal on Sep. 24 with a beautiful cross-ice pass. Gerard Gallant has openly said that he doesn’t plan on breaking up his top line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith that set the league ablaze last year, so it seems like it’s Tuch’s spot to lose at the moment.

What to Expect

Pacioretty’s next chapter of his career begins on Oct. 4 when the Knights’ season officially opens. Since the 2013-14 season, he’s ranked ninth in the league in goals scored. He’s eclipsed 30 goals five times, and will look to make it six this year. Playing in a potent lineup that saw a majority of its players post career-high numbers last year will work wonders for him. It wouldn’t be surprising if he emerges as a dark horse to make a run at the Rocket Richard trophy this year.