Amidst a very disappointing season for the Montreal Canadiens, injury trouble has opened the door to some new, young faces looking to get noticed. Greg Pateryn is a 25-year-old defenceman from Sterling Heights, Michigan, who was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008. The defenceman isn’t exactly a new face in the organization; he has struggled to find his spot in the Canadiens’ lineup over the last two seasons. Pateryn has been a small bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season for Canadiens’ fans. This article will discuss why the defenceman has taken advantage of his opportunity with the team this season, and why he is deserving of a permanent role within the top-six.
The Canadiens’ defence have experienced lots of injury trouble as of late, as Jeff Petry, Tom Gilbert and Nathan Beaulieu have suffered fairly serious injuries. This has been yet another setback for the Canadiens this season. Though these injuries hurt the team, they’ve opened the door for players looking to make their mark and get themselves noticed. Pateryn, who has always seemed to be the seventh defenceman on the Habs’ depth chart, has taken full advantage of this opportunity.
The Short Leash
Making it as a defenceman in the NHL is tough. The defenceman is the last man back, and if a mistake is made, the usual end result is a goal against. There is a learning curve for all players making the transition to the NHL, and defencemen are known to take longer to adapt. At 25, Pateryn is no longer a rookie; he has had a few years around the NHL to get a feel for the league. That said, the defenceman hasn’t been given enough of a shot to truly flourish in the big leagues.
The most important thing for young players (especially defencemen) looking to become more accustomed to life at the elite level, is that they gain confidence and experience. Mistakes will be made by younger players, but they have to get back on the ice and learn from their mistakes if they are to improve. With Pateryn, this didn’t seem to be the case. Rather than giving him opportunities to rectify his errors, the Canadiens’ coaching staff simply pulled him out of the lineup. This was somewhat understandable with more experienced players available, though it wasn’t the best option for Pateryn’s confidence and development at the NHL level. With the recent wave of injuries hitting the Canadiens’ defencemen, the coaching staff was forced to give Pateryn his long-awaited second chance.
In the absence of the three aforementioned regulars on the team’s blue line, Pateryn has become a mainstay in the Canadiens’ lineup. The defenceman has been playing solid hockey — as he has used his aggressive, hard-hitting style — while showing that he can effectively move the puck. Though Pateryn has been good, he hasn’t been perfect. He has made a few minor mistakes over the last few games. Just a few weeks ago, these mistakes would have earned him a spot in the press box for the following game. Now, however, the Canadiens’ coaching staff is forced to keep him in the lineup due to the lack of depth caused by injuries.
Playing for the Canadiens comes with enough pressure as is. Just imagine the additional pressure that comes with knowing that one mistake will get you scratched for an undetermined amount of time. Performing under pressure is much more challenging than performing knowing you have the coach’s confidence. Taking all of this into account, Pateryn had to be playing scared to make mistakes, as he obviously wanted to stay in the Habs’ lineup. Playing scared makes mistakes much more common, as nervous players tend to overthink what would otherwise be natural. Let’s face it, the Michigan native didn’t have the easiest situation to deal with as he was trying to earn his permanent spot in the team lineup.
Greg Pateryn is Finding His Place
Having finally received the chance that he deserves, Pateryn is continuing to prove that he belongs in the Habs’ lineup. In his last few games, he has seen his ice-time increase. So much so, that in one of the Canadiens’ previous games, the defenceman played almost 22 minutes. In addition, he recorded an assist on Alex Galchenyuk’s second goal of the game. This was his first of back-to-back games with over 20 minutes played.
As the Michigan native gets more reps in the NHL, his play is improving, and his confidence is growing. In fact, it seems that the coaching staff is finally starting to trust the defenceman, as his role is becoming more important on the Habs’ back end. Pateryn now plays on the team’s penalty kill on top of regular five-on-five play. The defenceman is now able to work through his on-ice errors, since he isn’t at risk of being pulled out of the lineup right away. Pateryn stepping up may be a sign of things to come for the Canadiens, as they aren’t expected to re-sign veteran defenceman Tom Gilbert this offseason. Gilbert went down with a season-ending injury a few weeks ago and Pateryn has stepped into his role nicely. If all goes as planned for Pateryn, he’ll be a regular on the Habs’ blue line next season, replacing Gilbert full-time.
Though the defenceman has proven that he can keep up defensively, his offensive skills are surprising fans and coaches alike. Pateryn will never be P.K. Subban, but he is calm with the puck, and he has a powerful shot. As he becomes more used to the speed of the NHL, he continues to unravel what is proving to be a pleasant offensive surprise. The Habs play a quick transition style game; they like using their speed to beat opponents. Having defencemen that move the puck quickly is crucial to this style of play. Pateryn is showing that he makes a good first pass, and he doesn’t shy away from letting the big slap shot go. All of this said, Pateryn isn’t an offensive defenceman; his main goal is protecting his own zone, which he is doing well.
In professional sports, there is always talk about young players paying their dues. Pateryn has surely paid his dues, and all signs indicate that he’s finally ready for a full-time NHL role. Sure, it may have only become apparent with unfortunate team injuries, but it can be looked at as a bright spot in an otherwise very dark season for Montreal. Look for Pateryn to solidify his spot within the Canadiens’ defence core as the 2015-16 season closes out.
I’m a Montreal Canadiens columnist and lifelong Habs fan. Follow me on Twitter (@gregkatz19) for all kinds of hockey talk, and to be up to date on my newest articles. I previously wrote for Too Many Men on the Site, a part of Fansided NHL.