Max Pacioretty has been a mainstay on the Montreal Canadiens since he was called up midway through the 2010-2011 season. Since that time, Pacioretty has established himself as one of the premier even-strength goal scorers in the NHL. Over the past couple of seasons, Pacioretty has also developed into a solid penalty killer who uses his speed and shot to create scoring chances while short-handed.
There's no doubt about it, Pacioretty is by far the most dangerous forward on the Canadiens' roster. He has speed, size, vision, and an absolutely ridiculous shot. All of these traits make him a near perfect top-line winger, and his performance in that role over the last few years has been admirable to say the least.
His offensive prowess and overall leadership, combined with the fact that he seems to regenerate from injuries at a super-human rate, led to his teammates electing him captain during the offseason. As such, there will be a lot of pressure for him to step up, and lead the team this year more than ever.
The addition of players like Alexander Semin is supposed to remove some of the pressure to score goals from Pacioretty, but part of being captain in Montreal is facing a ton of pressure regardless who else is on the team. He'll be expected to come up big this year, and all signs point to him being fully capable of delivering.
We all know he can score goals, but what of his ability to drive possession?
2014-15 10-game average Corsi-for percentage with Kassian on the ice (blue line) compared to when he was not (orange line). Score-adjusted five-on-five data from WAR On Ice. Charts created by Spencer Mann.
As you can see in the chart above, the Habs control possession a good deal more when Pacioretty is on the ice than they do when he is not. He is somewhat zonally sheltered in his deployment, but that is to be expected for a team's best offensive player. Simply put; when Max Pacioretty is on the ice, the Montreal Canadiens control the puck more, and this helps him achieve those lofty scoring totals.
Until a concussion ended his season a little early, Pacioretty was in a familiar place at the top of the Canadiens scoring charts, and he would finish there despite the injury. He achieved this playing with a myriad of centres, contrary to the belief that the only centre he ever plays alongside is David Desharnais.
Pacioretty was also able to score while on a line with Dale Weise, who is certainly closer to being bottom-six player than he is a top-six winger.
He's been flirting with the 40-goal mark for a while now; could this finally be the year that he breaks through that ceiling?
His scoring is projected to start to decline this season, even if it is at an incremental rate. That said, his relative Corsi For is expected to hold steady, which is massive for the Canadiens. He is their best possession winger, and having him maintain his possession driving ways is key to any success the Canadiens will find this year.
Though the dip in shot production is not an unreasonable prediction, an increase would be about equally reasonable to expect. On the Canadiens roster, only Brendan Gallagher comes close to generating shots at the same rate as Pacioretty, and it's hard to believe that either would slow down on that front.
He is currently recovering from a fractured tibia suffered in the offseason. This injury should not have any lingering effects on Pacioretty once he is cleared to play, which is great news for the Canadiens. If he remains on schedule, he should be ready for the start of the regular season. Seeing as he is now skating with his teammates, that seems quite likely.
It appears that Pacioretty will start the season as the team's first-line left wing on Tomas Plekanec's wing. This is exactly where Pacioretty should be playing if Lars Eller is playing left wing alongisde Alex Galchenyuk on the second line.
It is most likely that Plekanec's line will end up taking the hard match-ups to help ease Galchenyuk's transition to centre. This should also help challenge Pacioretty as a player because he will be expected to be able to handle a tougher defensive assignment while still producing offensively.