No one saw their stock rise as fast or as high among Montreal Canadiens fans and management last year as Michael Pezzetta. Originally drafted in 2016, he never really came close to cracking the Top 25, and in his final year of eligibility he clocks in at number 22. His rise is a huge step for Pezzetta who never really made much noise at the AHL level in previous years.
His original arrival in the NHL coincided with Cole Caufield’s infamous demotion to the AHL as Dominique Ducharme’s Canadiens spiraled out into oblivion. Despite the reasons behind his recall, Pezzetta quickly endeared himself to the coaching staff and fans with a relentless style of play and taking on any and all challenges.
He’s never been known as any kind of offensive dynamo at any level, but in 51 NHL games last year, Pezzetta collected 11 points in a primarily fourth-line role. Not an impressive figure on its own, but when factoring in all of the issues plaguing the Canadiens last year, it’s a pretty great debut for the truculent forward.
While Pezzetta has never been a tremendous offensive producer at the CHL or AHL level, things had begun to click for him a bit at the time of his recall. Pezzetta had taken his sending to the Laval Rocket to heart and became the best version of his professional self under J-F Houle and his staff. His effort was intense and he was doing all the right things to help his team while also driving opponents bonkers.
At the NHL level, no one really knew what to expect from the hard-hitting fourth-liner, but his effort and intensity quickly made him a fan favourite. Inside his first two weeks with the team he had his first point, his first goal, and his first NHL fight all within a stretch of three games in November. His willingness to go right after undisputed heavyweight champ Ryan Reaves endeared him to his teammates and cemented him as a true “heart and soul” piece of the Habs.
He wasn’t ever the flashiest of players, even when attempting between-the-legs shots on Sergei Bobrovsky, or scoring a goal directly off his face, but that wasn’t his role. Pezzetta was there to — for a lack of a better term — be a shit disturber and a nuisance for opposing teams. With 81 penalty minutes and more wild-eye stares than we can count, he played that role to perfection.
The voting had an interesting range for Pezzetta this year, with a range from 39 to 15. After years of being outside the top 25, Pezzetta settled in comfortably at number 22. Becoming an NHL regular was enough to sway many of the voters, myself included, to place him inside the Top 25 in his final year of eligibility.
His electric style of play in terms of physicality means he’s always noticeable, but his limited offensive upside put a hard ceiling on how far he could reasonably rise.
Top 25 Under 25 History
|2021: #36||2020: #40||2019: #41||2018: #41||2017: #37||2016: #36|
It’s not often a player languishes near the bottom of the rankings for so long and then makes such a leap, but it’s a credit to Pezzetta that he was able to break the pattern, looking like a completely different player when he arrived at training camp last fall.
History of #22
Above anything else, Pezzetta is the most menacing version of the Energizer Bunny on the ice. His motor is always firing on all cylinders, and there is nothing he loves more than imposing his presence on his opponents. That hustle and energy brought some much-needed life into the Canadiens lineup, and even when he was in the AHL, not a single game passed where his physical play didn’t draw aggro from his opponents.
His aggression feeds into his fearless style of play. Never turning down a challenge from anyone, even if he was giving up size and weight to his opponents. That fearlessness also carried over into his style of play in the offensive zone, as Pezzetta had no qualms about driving to the net to make things happen. Sometimes he was able to use his stick to redirect shots in traffic, showing off solid hand-eye coordination, or sometimes he just took a puck off the face and directed it into the net.
It isn’t always elegant, but Pezzetta embodies everything that coaches and teammates love in the form of energy and effort every shift.
That fearless style of play also has its drawbacks, namely in the form of discipline. Early in his NHL call-up, Brendan Lemieux was able to quickly get under the skin of the rookie forward and forced him to take multiple penalties that allowed the Los Angeles Kings to take advantage of a struggling Montreal penalty kill. Pezzetta also has the issue of stepping over the line he plays along, creating situations where he has found himself kicked out of games, or suspended afterward.
There is also the major point that for all he does well in the physical aspects of the game, he isn’t going to produce a ton of offence in his role. That isn’t likely to change in the near future so for him to hold an NHL spot down like he did last year, he will need to up his defensive contributions, or somehow discover a better scoring touch.
This is where things get tough because I, like many other fans, became enamored with the story of Michael Pezzetta last season. He proved a lot of doubters wrong by jumping from the Rocket’s fourth line to an NHL-regular inside of a month. However, is he good enough to keep that spot this year with new faces in the mix, or was last year an aberration due to the shambolic nature of the Canadiens?
Modern fourth lines in the NHL that are effective tend to have stronger defensive metrics or some scoring depth and right now Pezzetta doesn’t really fit into either of those categories. While he’s likely to develop a touch more, at 24 years old he is who he likely is as a player. He’ll probably have the inside track as a returning player to make the Canadiens, but if he doesn’t, and he clears waivers, he’ll be counted on as a leader for the Rocket as well.
Pezzetta has been a fun story to follow over the last year but now the question becomes if he can continue to evolve and reach higher levels going forward.