When Jeff Petry came to Montreal in a trade from the Edmonton Oilers, he was expected to be a steadying presence on the second pair; defensively sound with some occasional offence added in.
After re-signing in 2015, he suffered an injury-riddled 51-game season where he had a respectable 16 points. Following that, things really started to take off.
For Petry, the initial boost in his offence came from playing alongside Andrei Markov on the Canadiens’ second pairing, while Shea Weber carried around Alexei Emelin for the opening part of the season. Markov’s playmaking is his bread and butter, which is well represented by his 30 assists that year. Teamed up with Petry, they formed a second pairing capable of moving the puck out of their own zone and generating offence at the other end.
Even when Markov was moved up a pairing, Petry was able to continue his steady play and set a new career high in goals (eight) and total points (28), both of which are fantastic production from a secondary defender in the lineup.
Even more impressive is that he managed his increased production with a heavier dose of defensive zone starts (third most on the team) and he was second in Corsi-for percentage (54.4%) among defenders with at least 200 minutes of five-on-five ice time. Not only were Petry’s offensive numbers on the climb once he was healthy, he was doing an outstanding job at keeping pucks off of Carey Price as well.
This past season was a bit more complicated than the previous one since Petry wasn’t gifted a talented offensive partner like Markov. In fact, he was attached to Karl Alzner, who is the very definition of a defensive defenceman. It wouldn’t be until Mike Reilly joined the club that Petry was able to have another puck-mover added to his pairing. The above chart shows that most of his possession metrics took a bit of a hit, and a lot of that is due to the lack of quality teammates.
His offensive output at full strength dipped a bit, yet his overall numbers exploded, which is primarily due to Weber’s injury. With Weber out of the lineup, Petry not only took over his minutes as the Canadiens’ top defender, he also became the go-to option on the power play.
Over the course of his career, the most points Petry ever had on the man advantage was seven, which isn’t bad for someone who mostly played second-wave minutes. This past season, that number skyrocketed to 23 points on the power play (six goals, 17 assists), and it’s the primary reason for his points shooting up this year. To put that in perspective, out of all NHL defencemen, Petry finished with the 10th-highest power-play-points total this past season, trailing names like Brent Burns, Victor Hedman, and P.K. Subban. It’s also impressive that he outproduced players like Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson, further cementing himself as a very good NHL defender.
Normally, this power-play infused stat boost would give many people pause, as it’s unlikely that Petry will light up the scoresheet like this again next year. But with Weber out until at least December, there’s a very good chance that Petry could pile up the points in the early weeks.
What should set people’s minds at ease about this uptick in production is that Petry is generating primary points during all of this. Out of his 42 points on the year, 33 of them were primary points: either a first assist or a goal. As it stands, no one on the Canadiens had more primary assists last year than Petry, who had 21 of them.
In terms of total assists, Petry was third with 30, trailing the talented duo of Johnathan Drouin and Alex Galchenyuk. To have a defender producing at that clip, comparable to the top forwards on the team, is a good thing. Especially when considering he did it while playing with a mediocre defensive group and a cobbled-together forward corps.
While Weber is still out, we should continue to see Petry post points on the power play similar to that of last season. Weber’s return will make things a little bit complicated, and a large part of what happens next will depend on what shape the team is in. Last year, the group was dreadfully snake-bitten and unable to produce any sort of offence. If last year was just an outlier and players like Drouin and Max Pacioretty rebound, then Petry may see his numbers stay consistent, even at five-on-five.
While it might be a bit of a red flag to see Petry’s offence driven heavily by the power play, a team resurgence at even strength this year will likely have a similar effect on the scoresheet. It shouldn’t be a concern, especially when you consider that Weber will eventually return, and a player capable of being among the NHL’s top offensive defencemen will be playing against easier competition as a result.
While he may not hit the same lofty numbers, the Canadiens can definitely count on Petry to be a valuable contributor on the blue line again this year.