Max Pacioretty: American Sniper Edition

With the image of Max Pacioretty lying motionless on the ice on that fateful night back in March 2011, more than a few fans were probably thinking his career was over. After hearing the later diagnosis that it was a cracked vertebrae along with a severe concussion, the thought process became if he comes back from this, will he be the same player? The answer is no. Pacioretty has evolved greatly from the kid who can snipe to the player who can do it all.

Bolts & Habs battle (Jeff Griffith-USA TODAY Sports)
Bolts & Habs battle (Jeff Griffith-USA TODAY Sports)

His career to date

Drafted 22nd overall by the Montreal Canadiens back in 2007, Pacioretty wasn’t the most hyped prospect from Montreal’s draft class. He was overshadowed by two defencemen, Ryan McDonagh who went 12th overall and Montreal’s second round pick, PK Subban. Pacioretty played his post draft year at the University of Michigan where he racked up an impressive 39 points in 37 games.

He would spend the 2008-09 season between Montreal and AHL Hamilton. He would struggle in the NHL where he managed just 11 points in 34 games but did better with the farm team where it was a more positive 29 points in 37 games. Pacioretty struggled in his second professional season and in hockey mad Montreal, he had his doubters. He would find his stride in his third year with 24 points in 37 games in the NHL (which included a stint in the minors at the beginning of the season) but the injury derailed what was a promising season.

The 2011-12 season was a bad year for the Habs but a resounding success for Pacioretty. He put up 65 points in 79 games including 33 goals and was awarded the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for his efforts. It proved to be a turning point in Pacioretty’s career as it was first full season at the NHL level and he displayed the confidence needed to succeed at the highest level.

Beginning of the evolution

Under coach Michel Therrien, Pacioretty has thrived. In 162 games under Therrien, he has 137 points. He has morphed from a pure sniper to an all round player. He has embraced penalty killing, forming a dangerous shorthanded duo with Tomas Plekanec. He is a staggering +22 which speaks to his growing defensive game. In his early years, if Pacioretty wasn’t scoring, he was pretty ineffective. But these days, he is usually playing a sound defensive game, even if the points aren’t there. After having long time centre David Desharnais moved off his line in favour of Alex Galchenyuk, Pacioretty showed off his passing skills as Galchenyuk had a goal outburst playing alongside him.

It is not unusual for offensively minded players, especially goal scoring snipers, to have trouble embracing playing a two-way game. Guys like Alexander Ovechkin and Phil Kessel are great goal scorers but have had struggles on the defensive side of the puck. But Pacioretty is a different breed. He can score with the best of them as he has quietly been one of the goal scorers in the league the past few seasons. But the fact he is more than willing to kill penalties and play defensive hockey speaks volumes. His contract is one of the NHL’s best bargains at $4.5 million per year.

From boy to man

The maturity Pacioretty has shown the past two years has been incredible. He is more willing to speak with the media and takes more responsibility. He has become a leader on the ice for the Habs as he leads the way offensively and has become more vocal. Off the ice, he has the Max Pacioretty Foundation to help support the traumatic brain injury project at the Montreal General Hospital which includes raising money to try and purchase a state of the art High Performance MRI machine. It certainly invokes memories of former captain Saku Koivu raising money for PET/CT scanner many years ago after his recovery from cancer.

Pacioretty has credited becoming a father as a turning point for himself in maturing. Whether it’s that or other factors, Pacioretty has become quite the player since being drafted. Recovering from his injury was huge but his evolution as a player has been more exciting. At the beginning of the year, it was Subban who looked like the early favourite to be the next captain but Pacioretty is making sure he wants to be in the discussion. Gone is the boy who would get too down on himself when he couldn’t score a goal. In his place is a man who will do everything it takes to win.