In the 2021-22 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2021-22 performances of each key member of the Golden Knights. Players were evaluated based on overall performance in the regular season with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in his particular role.
Alex Pietrangelo has had some memorable moments since joining the Vegas Golden Knights ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.
There was the infamous “oh boy” reaction while defending Nathan MacKinnon in the outdoor game.
Another was his controversial victory in the Breakaway Challenge at this year’s All-Star Game thanks to a generous score from actor (and friend) Jon Hamm.
But Vegas signed the King City, Ontario native to a seven-year, $61.6 million contract in late 2020 with the hope that he would inspire a more franchise-defining storyline, much like he did when he captured Lord Stanley’s prize as captain of the Blues in 2019 (against Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins).
Pietrangelo got off to a very slow start and was largely ineffective in his first regular season in Sin City, but he came alive and returned to true “difference-maker” status in the 2021 playoffs, scoring 12 points in 19 games and frequently being Vegas’ best player on the ice. Since then, he has been the rock-solid blueliner the Golden Knights were looking for when they added the coveted free agent to the mix.
Season in review
Pietrangelo’s second year in Vegas wasn’t overly flashy but was much more in line with his previous track record as an elite defenseman. He recorded 13 goals and 44 points in 80 games, topping the 40-point mark for the ninth time in his career. His 13 goals ranked ninth among NHL defensemen, and he set a career high in shots with 227, good for third overall among NHL rearguards.
Pietrangelo finished third on the Golden Knights in power-play points (13), fourth in assists (31), fourth in points (44) and second in takeaways per 60 (2.82). He finished tied for second with 16 rebounds created, which ranked 10th among NHL defensemen, according to MoneyPuck.
With widespread injuries tearing through Vegas’ lineup, Pietrangelo was forced to play the majority of the season with Nicolas Hague (586:19) and Ben Hutton (345:27). Thanks to the veteran’s steady presence, calming influence and excellent two-way play, the Vegas defense was able to withstand the flurry of injuries. Pietrangelo, whose leadership played a key role in stabilizing the back end, was the only Golden Knights player to dress for 80 games this season, missing just two due to COVID-related protocols.
He also played heavy minutes, including a team-high 24:39 per game, which ranked 17th overall in the NHL. He averaged 2:27 on the penalty kill, good for second overall (just 11 seconds behind Brayden McNabb), and his 2:13 of power-play time per game made him the only skater on the Golden Knights who averaged more than two minutes on both special teams units.
Vegas relied heavily on its No. 1 defenseman, and he came through.
Pietrangelo has five years remaining on his contract, which carries an AAV of $8.8 million. The 32-year-old workhorse has become one of the most dependable skaters in the organization, and his consistency and leadership will be key factors in Vegas’ efforts to course-correct and return to contender status.
One major change on the horizon for Pietrangelo will be his role on the power play under the new bench boss. For one thing, Cassidy sticks to one defenseman and four forwards on the man-advantage. But more significantly, Cassidy’s power play runs through the forwards from the lower areas of the ice, which takes the importance of the point shot down several pegs. Defensemen will still be involved, but Cassidy envisions guys like Pietrangelo acting more as “facilitators” than shooters. Even so, having a functioning power play will be a breath of fresh air for the Golden Knights, regardless of whether it’s Pietrangelo or Shea Theodore running point on the top unit.
Pietrangelo remains a top-tier blueliner and one of the best puck-moving defensemen in the game. Despite concerns about his age and the term on his contract, all signs point towards him continuing to be a force for the Golden Knights both on and off the ice.
Knights On Ice Grade: A-
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