Pretty much every advanced metric says that the Carolina Hurricanes should be one of the top teams in the league. Corsica.hockey has them at 3rd in corsi for percentage, 7th in fenwick for percentage, 7th in expected goals for percentage, and 8th in scoring chances for percentage.
But for the Hurricanes, observed goals and wins have not lined up the way we would expect them to. For whatever reasons, the losses just keep piling up.
We know that success in these metrics and those like them are usually highly correlated with future success. The obvious exception to this rule is that that does not apply to teams who wear red and white uniforms with a sightless eye on them, so here we are.
So, all that being said, I’m going to try to find some reason for optimism in all of this. For my money, the player having the best season who is also flying the most under the radar is Brett Pesce.
In Elite Company
So far this year, there are 80 defensemen who have skated for at least 210 minutes of 5-on-5 action. I don’t want to spoil anything quite yet, but boy oh boy does he rank pretty well among those players in just about everything. Let’s take a look.
So first let’s just look at the basics in shot quantity. Of those 80 defensemen, Pesce ranks 3rd in CF% (57.45%), trailing only Los Angeles’s pairing of Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez. In fourth place on that list is another King in Drew Doughty, a guy who just took home the Norris last season. So Pesce’s driving play at a rate that would fit in on the league’s premier possession team. Since Daryl Sutter took over at the helm of the Kings, these spots have typically been reserved for his guys.
But what about shot quality? Based on what I said in the intro, we know that the Hurricanes do a slightly better job of controlling shot quantity than shot quality, even if they’re very good in both regards.
Well in Pesce’s case, he actually gets even better. His xGF% (expected goals share) of 59.96% is an improvement on his CF%. It’s also good enough to place him third in the league. This time, however, he’s edged out by Anaheim’s Josh Manson and New York’s Ryan McDonagh.
Further, Pesce is first (1st) among all of these defenders in expected goals against with just 6.23. Based on this, we can probably infer that Pesce is in the process of establishing himself as one of the elites among the NHL’s new breed of shutdown defenders.
This new style of shutdown defenders that will come to be difference makers in the NHL are players who can suppress shots and quality chances, skate the puck through the neutral zone, and help their teams generate offense on the other end.
Pesce’s underlying numbers are suggestive of his ability to contribute offensively as well. His expected goals FOR per 60 minutes ranks 25th out of those same 80 defensemen. So while’s not elite offensively by that metric, he is clearly above average.
We’ll see if Pesce’s blend of elite defense and solid offense can continue to propel him up the ranks of the league’s defensemen. We knew Pesce was good after last season, but the early returns from this season indicate that the ‘Canes have yet another absolute gem to join Jaccob Slavin and Justin Faulk on the young blue line that this team has managed to build.