When the Hurricanes selected Brett Pesce in the 3rd round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, they obviously had some idea of the player they were getting. When he was drafted, Pesce had just completed his freshman year at the University of New Hampshire, compiling six points in 38 games. During the year prior, he also skated in six games with the U.S. National U18 team.
After being drafted to Carolina, Pesce opted to continue his development in college. He spent the next two years at UNH, putting up a combined 37 points in 72 games to go with an overall +6 rating. Following last season, Pesce signed his entry-level contract with Carolina and joined the Checkers in Charlotte for the final four games of their regular season.
Pesce then showed up at this season's training camp as a dark horse to lay claim to a roster spot with Justin Faulk, James Wisniewski, and Ryan Murphy ahead of him on the right-handed side of Carolina's defensive depth chart. However, Wisniewski's ACL injury has opened up an opportunity that the Tarrytown, New York native has taken and run with.
Pesce By The Numbers
Throughout Pesce's first stint as an NHL defenseman, he has quickly earned the trust of his head coach Bill Peters. This was most evident when in his 3rd NHL game, Pesce was trusted to take a shift in overtime against the Islanders in Carolina's eventual 3-2 overtime victory in Brooklyn.
Peters' trust in the recently-turned 21-year-old defender has proven to be well deserved. Pesce has been nothing but solid, reliable, and poised both in his own zone and with the puck since his debut. This is reflected well in his underlying numbers as well. According to war-on-ice.com, When Pesce is on the ice, the Hurricanes surrender just 7.36 high-danger scoring chances at 5-on-5 per 60 minutes. That mark is the lowest among all Hurricanes' blue-liners with at least 12 games played.
The ability to suppress the opposition's looks from the most dangerous scoring areas is one of the most vital skills a defenseman can possess, especially at such a young age. While we're still dealing with a small sample size and there are some obvious abnormalities among league leaders, it's certainly worth noting that only seven defensemen in the entire NHL (min. 200:00 TOI) have lower high-danger scoring chance against marks than Pesce does. Among those seven are Shea Weber, Seth Jones, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
It's not as if Peters has been sheltering Pesce, either. According to stats.hockeyanalysis.com, when the 'Canes took on Colorado at home, Pesce's pairing was hard-matched against the line of Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, and Jack Skille. A similar trend held true against Minnesota, as Pesce saw a lot of time against Minnesota's top line (in Zach Parise's absence) of Thomas Vanek, Mikael Granlund, and Jason Pominville.
While Pesce's defensive acumen is certainly an encouraging sign to this point, it isn't the only thing to like about his game. On the offensive side of the puck, positive signs are present as well. To this point, Pesce has three points, a goal and two assists, following a strong effort yesterday.. However, there's reason to believe that he could eventually grow into a goal-producing threat from the back end. Entering last night Pesce had taken 17 shots on goal at 5-on-5 play in his 12 games, and his mark of 4.95 shots per 60 minutes ranks 42nd among the 164 NHL defenders to hit the 200-minute threshold.
Shot volume is typically a reasonably strong indicator of a defenseman's offensive talent. Last season the top six in shots per 60 minutes were Dustin Byfuglien, Johnny Boychuk, Erik Karlsson, Kris Letang, Brent Burns, and some guy by the name of Justin Faulk. Some of the players who found themselves in the statistical neighborhood of Pesce's early-season number of 4.95 last year included Drew Doughty, Brent Seabrook, Mark Giordano, Aaron Ekblad, and James Wisniewski. In no way is this a comparison of player quality or playing style between Pesce and any of those guys, but again, it's certainly notable from an offensive perspective that his shot output is in line with that type of player.
It can't be stressed enough that Pesce is just 12 games into his NHL career, but everything we have seen from him to this point has been outstanding. He passes the eye test with flying colors, and as you can see, a deeper look into his statistical profile reveals a player who is doing the right things on both ends of the rink. Pesce's continued development throughout the season is sure to be one of the most interesting storylines to keep an eye on as the Hurricanes' season marches on.