At times, fans and media alike are guilty of undervaluing NHL-readiness when it comes to prospects. When a player has spent a number of years on the cusp of making the jump to the NHL, it’s easy to forget how difficult it is just to get that far. Regardless of how much offensive upside some of the other prospects in the Canucks’ system may have, the 13 games Andrey Pedan played at the NHL level last season are quite likely 13 more than some of the players we’ve already listed will ever play.
Pedan’s status as a hard-nosed defensive defenceman isn’t likely to endear him to the spreadsheet and pocket-protector crowd, but the fact remains that these types of players are still useful, and remain highly sought after in the modern NHL. More importantly, the emphasis on numbers-based evaluation has on occasion led many of us in the blogosphere to underestimate young players that have made their name playing an old-school brand of hockey. When we have only 13 games of action to go on, many of which were played out of position, it’s prudent to remember that Pedan’s reputation as a rough-and-tumble stay-at-home defenceman does not preclude him from being a good NHL player in the near future.
Well-run teams do not go out and spend money on depth. They draft well enough to be able to promote from within. That’s why having a player like Andrey Pedan in the system is a good thing. Pedan will likely be a cost-controlled option on the third pairing next season, where he’ll get a chance to prove he belongs at this level. Some players on this list will likely give the club more value than Pedan can in the long run, but few will have the opportunity to make such an immediate impact, and that’s a large part of why he’s jumped up a full 9 spots from last year’s preseason consensus ranking.
A former third-round pick of the New York Islanders, Pedan played three seasons with the Guelph Storm before making the jump to professional hockey. After an underwhelming 12-point draft-eligible season offensively, Pedan’s production exploded to a .68 PPG game over his next two seasons. Pedan also amassed a whopping 297 penalty minutes over that time, many of which were earned on fighting majors, and he was the OHL’s most penalized player of 2013.
Despite a relatively successful OHL career, Pedan struggled to adapt to hockey at the pro level. He was frequently a healthy scratch for the Brigeport Sound Tigers, and he event spent time with the Islanders’ ECHL affiliate, the Stockton Thunder. Upon second glance, however, it’s clear he was a victim of circumstance. The Sound Tigers were loaded on defence during Pedan’s tenure. Ty Wishart, Aaron Ness, Matt Donovan, and Griffin Reinhart may not be the marquee prospects they once were, but during Pedan’s time with the Islanders’ organization they were all highly touted AHL players. Pedan also had bona-fide future NHLers to compete with as well, with both Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan spending time in Bridgeport alongside him.
Clearly, something about Andrey Pedan caught Jim Benning’s eye. When Benning sent a third-round pick and infamous draft bust Alex Mallet to the Islanders in exchange for Pedan’s services, there wasn’t much cause for celebration. In retrospect, the move appears to have been a shrewd one, however, as Pedan was able to firmly establish himself as an AHL regular upon arriving in Utica, where he was able to drastically improve upon his offensive production. Impressively, in the span of just one season, Pedan was able to go from ECHL fodder to NHL call-up.
Pedan’s abillity to refine his game at both ends of the ice speaks volumes about his chances of making an impact at the NHL level. He possesses a number of assets NHL GMs covet: size, physicality, and speed. But what separates a promising prospect from an NHL player is the ability to turn those assets into a net gain for their NHL club. Thus far, there’s a number of reasons to believe Pedan is capable of doing so. All the talk of Pedan’s appeal to old-school hockey fans has served to significantly undersell his physical toolkit. Not only is Pedan an absolute behemoth, standing at 6’5″, but he also took home the title of fastest skater and hardest shot at the most recent Canucks Superskills competition. Finding a defenceman that can skate as fast as Jannik Hansen at Pedan’s size is almost unheard of, so Pedan’s physical advantages cannot be understated.
pGPS also shines a very positive light on Andrey Pedan. Out of 38 statistical matches, 10 had some level of NHL success. Not all of the matches were household names, but surprisingly, it did feature some fancystats darlings in Patrick Wiercioch and Mattias Ekholm. The truth is, there is a precedent for players in Pedan’s cohort becoming successful NHLers, and the fact that Pedan has already seen time in the NHL bodes very well for his development.
It’s regrettable that Pedan’s 13-game stint with the big club tells us virtually nothing about what he can do as an NHLer. Not only was Pedan playing on garbage time, largely as an experiment, but he was also perplexingly deployed as a forward for much of his time in Vancouver. Using Pedan as a “swing player” was questionable at best, something Canucks Army’s Ryan Biech discussed in early April of this year:
Good teams don’t generally have these swing players, they have enough depth in their forward ranks that moving a defenceman up to play 5-7 minutes is not needed. The only team that does this with some regularity is the Tampa Bay Lightning, but they will usually double shift a forward in the 12th forward spot and it’s usually Nikita Nesterov as the 7th dressed defenceman.
Nesterov is then used a power-play quarterback and then rotated in for some regular shifts as a defenceman. So using the Lightning as a comparable, Nesterov has a specific role that they are trying to maximize, where Pedan is just likely meant to play big and tough. Roles that could easily be filled by incumbent NHL forwards Derek Dorsett and Jake Virtanen. Brent Burns has done this role in the past, but Burns is an elite player who played his entire junior career as a forward, thus the transition is easier.
We also profiled where the Canucks sit in regards to the forward group last week, and to summarize, it’s a crowded group for next year. So adding Pedan to that group just adds another body fighting for ice time. It also means that a roster spot is being taken away from Brendan Gaunce or Alexandre Grenier. Although both have had some struggles adjusting to the NHL, they are best served playing and having Pedan up front just puts another roadblock in their way. This is even before the Canucks go shopping the UFA market.”
In other words, Pedan appears to be a good bet to be an NHL contributor in the near future, but with a significant caveat: the Canucks are very crowded this year, both at Pedan’s natural left D and at forward. This could throw a wrench in his development.
On the verge of making the NHL, Pedan finds himself at a crossroads. He should make the big club next year as a 7th defenceman, but should he falter at camp, he could find himself on waivers. After last year’s Frank Corrado debacle, the Canucks’ brain trust will likely be looking to avoid such a situation at all cost. That being said, Pedan will have to do everything in his power to make the opening night roster and prove he belongs in the NHL. In today’s league, injuries are a virtual inevitability, so once Pedan finds himself in the lineup, he’ll need to make the most of the opportunity. If he can do so, he may become a mainstay on the Canucks’ blueline sooner rather than later.