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About Last Season: Brett Pesce Performance Review and Grade

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Brett Pesce bounced back from a rough 2019-20 season with an outstanding 2021 campaign that saw him put up elite 5-on-5 offensive numbers while maintaining strong defensive metrics.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Five Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

Brett Pesce: 2020-21 By The Numbers

  • Age: 26
  • NHL Seasons: 6
  • Scoring: 4 goals, 21 assists, 25 points in 55 games
  • Advanced Statistics: 54.31 CF%, 53.86 SCF%, 56.46 xGF%, 58.57 GF%
  • Average TOI: 18:48 ES, 0:51 PP, 3:08 SH
  • Contract Status: Signed through 2023-24, $4.025 million AAV

After his lackluster 2019-20 season came to an early end due to another serious shoulder injury, there were plenty of questions surrounding Brett Pesce entering the 2021 season.

Those questions disappeared in about two weeks.

From the outset of the season, he was Carolina’s best all-around defenseman, and he didn’t really relinquish that status at any point in the year.

Brett Pesce 2021 percentiles.
JFreshHockey

Where Pesce stood out the most was in his offense, an area in his game that has improved year-over-year over the last four seasons.

He was a dangerous offensive player in 2019-20, but he sacrificed a lot of defense to make that happen. In 2021, he maintained strong defensive rates while also putting up career-best numbers and impacts in the offensive zone.

Brett Pesce isolated impacts over the lats four seasons.
HockeyViz

He set career-highs in assists, primary assists and points per 60 in 2021. In an 82-game season, his numbers projected out to six goals, 31 assists and 37 total points.

Pesce got an extended run of powerplay time for the first time in years. But, unfortunately, that experiment rendered negative results. The second unit was very inconsistent in 2021, and Pesce’s presence in that unit didn’t help matters.

There was little penetration of opposing penalty-killing units when he was on the ice, just lots of low-danger shots from the perimeter.

Brett Pesce’s power play impact in 2021.
HockeyViz

While his power-play work was weak, it doesn’t take away from how great he was at generating offense at 5-on-5. Not every great 5-on-5 offensive defender can operate well on the power play, just like how some of the best power-play quarterbacks in the NHL are bad 5-on-5 players.

Pesce’s big offensive moments came at 5-on-5, including some game-defining goals in the playoffs against the Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning.

He was an elite 5-on-5 player in 2021. Relative to when Pesce wasn’t on the ice, the Hurricanes generated an additional .28 expected goals per 60 with him on the ice while giving up .09 fewer expected goals against per 60.

Hurricanes xGF, xGA, unblocked shot rates with and without Pesce on the ice in 2021.
HockeyViz

The heat maps back up the raw numbers. When Pesce was on the ice, the Hurricanes generated more high-danger shot attempts and gave up far fewer grade-A chances in front of their own net.

Pesce’s stout and reliable defensive play led to him getting high-pressure matchups late in games, situations he has performed very well in for years. He continued that trend in 2021.

His impact on the penalty kill was overwhelmingly positive, playing a crucial role in Carolina’s elite penalty kill. He led all Canes skaters in PK ice time and was dominant.

Brett Pesce’s penalty kill impact in 2021.
HockeyViz

Pesce also deserves a lot of credit for aiding in Brady Skjei’s improved play as the season went on. Skjei’s early returns were pretty consistently bad, but as the season went on, the strengths in his game started to stand out, especially on the penalty kill.

I am very skeptical about the idea of using an elite defender to elevate a shaky defender, but the Hurricanes are seemingly married to the idea of making Skjei work on this blue line. Pesce has absolutely elevated him to this point, and the hope is that Skjei will pan out and be the player the team envisioned him to be when they traded a first-round pick to get him.

The growth that Pesce has experienced over the last few seasons has been somewhat surprising. He broke into the league as a great defensive defender who showed signs of offensive upside, but I’m not sure if anyone thought he’d reach the level of an elite offensive generator. Nevertheless, he has grown by leaps and bounds, and 2021 was his best season to date.

The Hurricanes have Pesce under contract for three more seasons at a $4.025 million cap hit, and if you look around at the deals that other defensemen have been getting this offseason, there’s a real case to be made that he is getting roughly half of what his actual value is.


Exit Interview


Poll

How would you grade Brett Pesce’s 2020-21 season?

This poll is closed

  • 83%
    A - Outstanding Performance
    (210 votes)
  • 14%
    B - Above Average Performance
    (37 votes)
  • 1%
    C - Average Performance
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    D - Below Average Performance
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    F - Significantly Below Average Performance
    (0 votes)
251 votes total Vote Now