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Laval Rocket season review: Michael Pezzetta brings the physicality, even when he shouldn’t

A better-than-expected rookie season for the scrappy forward was a good start, now he has to continue to grow.

Club de hockey Canadien, Inc.

Michael Pezzetta is an interesting prospect in the Montreal Canadiens’ minor-league system; not a big point-producer, and not a defensive ace, either. Yet, out of all the rookies to play in the bottom six in Laval this year, he seemed to be the most trusted by Joël Bouchard.

The sixth-round selection from the 2016 NHL Draft played 55 games in the AHL for the Rocket this year, tallying six goals and four assists in addition to 77 penalty minutes. For a rookie playing mostly fourth-line minutes, on a very thin team, it turns out to be a decent start to his professional career. He isn’t going to be a big goal-scorer, but he makes his hay in the lineup in other ways.

Pezzetta knows what his role is on this Rocket team, too: he is there to bring the physicality and put opposing players off their game as best he can. He brings high energy to his shifts, and throws his body around at any opponent carrying the puck at any given time. He steps in for teammates and himself when it’s called for, but does not go out solely looking to fight people like the pugilists of old. He is young and scrappy, and that is a valuable player to have, especially when we factor in his ability to play a regular shift every night.

The physicality is a big plus, and with that comes the ability for Pezzetta to get under his opponent’s skin. He draws penalties by having players retaliate on his hits or other pesky plays, and if Laval had some form of a functional power play, the impact could have been felt further.

On that power play, Pezzetta found a nice spot later on in the season. His willingness to battle in front of the opposing goaltender led to a handful of goals for the rookie. He has no problem planting himself right in front of the crease and working for scoring chances.

While his physical play is his best asset, it can also lead to some less than ideal situations in-game. He mostly played within the rules in his first professional season (something he struggled with in the OHL), but he did take poorly timed penalties on occasion, handing power plays right back to the opposition. Cutting those down should come with experience; he’ll learn when to hold up on finishing a check, or to avoid making an impact with the opposing goalie around the net.

Also Pezzetta’s willingness to drop the gloves with anyone who asks has its drawbacks, namely when he is challenged by older, larger, and generally better fighters. There are times when he should turn down the invitation and focus on the other aspects of his game, because sometimes he is clearly outmatched in a fight.

Going into next year, the biggest thing for Pezzetta is to find his boundaries for the physical side of his game, and work on committing fewer avoidable infractions. His offensive game still has room to grow, and he can develop himself into a more well-rounded bottom-six forward.

He is a ways away from being a realistic NHL player, but if he can continue to build upon this rookie season there may be more to come for Michael Pezzetta.