PHILADELPHIA, PA. — When Marc Bergevin acquired Jeff Petry from the Edmonton Oilers in the early hours of the NHL trade deadline on March 2, 2015, there were some questions as to whether this move actually filled the Canadiens’ defensive void on the back end. As Petry has settled into his new role with the Montreal Canadiens, however, it’s becoming increasingly clear Bergevin knew exactly what he was doing.
Petry doesn’t bring P.K. Subban‘s flashiness, Andrei Markov‘s intelligence or Alexei Emelin‘s physicality. In fact, he really isn’t anything more than a top-four defenseman on the Habs, but Petry’s quickness and puck-moving ability is what makes him so effective in today’s NHL, and why he has proven to be an invaluable asset for the Canadiens.
With the Oilers, Petry’s statistics were abysmal, accumulating just four goals, 11 assists and a minus-25 rating in 59 games. Much of that was a product of the team itself — Edmonton is not exactly known for their defensive prowess and goaltending — and unfortunately for Petry, his reputation took a hit for it.
Since joining the Canadiens, Petry has proven he can be a key piece to a team’s Stanley Cup puzzle — whether that’s with Montreal remains to be seen. Petry’s Habs debut against the San Jose Sharks in early March showed he was more than capable of adapting to a new system with ease. Not only was he one of the lone bright spots in what was an embarrassing 4-0 loss, but he drove possession better than any Montreal Canadiens defenseman that night.
That trend has continued thanks to his positionally sound game. It’s rare to find Petry out of position in the defensive zone. He truly is a scoring forward’s worst nightmare because he gives up so little and keeps shots on the perimeter. His solid defensive game is not the only thing Petry brings to the table on a nightly basis.
Petry jumps up on the rush better than most NHL defensemen, and this is because of his incredible foot speed. As seen on this goal, Petry reads the play perfectly, catching Detroit flat-footed and leading to an odd-man rush. Torrey Mitchell feeds the puck perfectly to Petry’s stick and the rest is history.
Petry’s ability to transition from defense to offense and back to defense makes him incredibly dangerous at both ends of the ice. His two-way game is one of the main reasons why he was one of the most sought after commodities at the trade deadline. The 28-year-old defenseman is very good at recognizing situations where he can and can’t cheat on offense. Even when jumping up on the rush, Petry rarely gives up an odd-man rush because he’s able to get back within the seconds.
What’s more, Petry has had the misfortune of playing with Emelin, who isn’t particularly fast and isn’t the type of player who thrives in today’s NHL. Barring hits, Emelin doesn’t really help defensively and gives up a lot of scoring chances. Despite having No. 74 as a playing partner, Petry has remarkably maintained positive possession stats (at even strength), and this has carried over into the playoffs.
Against the Ottawa Senators in the first round, Petry played a quiet, yet effective role in shutting down some of the Sens’ top lines. In six games, Petry was on the ice for just one even-strength goal. Having been given a defensive role throughout the first round, Petry played a crucial part in ensuring the Senators did not control the middle of the ice and, for the most part, kept shots to the outside, making Carey Price‘s job a lot easier.
As seen in the chart above, Petry was played in the defensive zone more than any other Canadiens defenseman, yet controlled possession better than most of his teammates. Aside from Greg Pateryn — who played a very sheltered role in his short three-game stint — Petry allowed the least shot attempts among Habs defensemen and, according to WAR On Ice, limited the opposition to just 23.30 scoring chances (per 60 minutes at even strength).
Jeff Petry doesn’t always stand out, he’s not the guy who’s going to be on the scoreboard every night, and he probably won’t be nominated for a Norris Trophy anytime soon, but what Petry brings can’t be understated. His reliability on the back end gives head coach Michel Therrien flexibility to distribute ice time and keep legs fresh. Marc Bergevin knew exactly what he was doing when he acquired Petry, and the Habs are reaping the benefits because of it.