The Caps need for a center resolved itself a little when Tomas Fleischmann signed a one-year, $2.6 million contract a day before his arbitration hearing on July 27th. Couple that with George McPhee stating that he was prepared to go into the season with the team they have, and that makes it clear the Caps will look within the organization to fill their need for a much-needed pivot in the long term.
One of those options, 2009 first rounder Marcus Johansson, appears to need more time to adjust to the North American game, while 2010 first round pick Evgeny Kuznetsov needs another Russian spy swap to play out his 2-year KHL contract. That leaves “undersized, but feisty” Mathieu Perreault – who has had a lot of success at the AHL level with the defending Calder Cup Champions Hershey Bears.
Our question is: Will Matty P’s success in the AHL translate enough to sustain him at the NHL level?
Perreault is a quick and shifty skater who is a slick playmaker with the puck. The Drummondville, Quebec native racked up 4 goals and 9 points in his first 21 NHL games this season.
While his lack of size may always be an issue, there is no questioning Perreault’s talent. He is potential second line centerman, whose quickness and creativity is suited greatly for the new NHL, though increased muscle mass wouldn’t hurt. (Hockey’s Future)
It seems that any review of Perreault’s play is often preceded by a form of “lacks size.” However, as Puck Prospectus correctly points out:
Small players are called “too small for the NHL” en masse, and the ones who do not pan out are held up as proof. This completely ignores the small players that do succeed in the NHL, and it completely ignores the fact that many large players don’t pan out either. Why are the hulking duds not said to be “too big for the NHL”? It’s a post-hoc rationalization; if a small player doesn’t succeed in the NHL, his size is used as a reason. But the professionals are unable to predict it before the fact.
Physical presence will always be an issue for Perreault – fairly or not. If we look at performance as an equation of Ability * Opportunity, this fact alone could reduce Perreault to a part time 3rd line center who eventually becomes a career AHLer. Also, if we observe Perry’s last 13 games in the NHL, an argument could be made that he was physically drained from going against bigger competition.
Looking at his AHL & NHL contributions we can draw some more conclusions.
Season Age Team Lg GP G A PTS 2008-09 21 HBH AHL 77 11 39 50 2009-10 22 HBH AHL 56 16 34 50 2009-10 22 WSH NHL 21 4 5 9
What we see is Perreault’s Points Per Game drop from .75 during his two years in Hershey to .43 at the NHL level (~42% drop) while his even strength goals per game staying relatively constant (15 ES Goals in 133 AHL games vs. 3 in 21 games at NHL level). Based on Behind The Net’s study of league difficulty for the largest NHL feeder leagues, retaining 44% of AHL production to the NHL level is what one should expect. Therefore, Perreault is at the average.
This would land Perry somewhere between 27 – 35 points for an 82 game NHL schedule in his second year, similar to the sophomore seasons of Peter Regin, Antoine Vermette, Alex Steen and David Backes. Third line centers – sure. Second line pivots for a Cup caliber team? Not likely.
Plus, since Perreault would be moving from Hershey’s 2nd line with some PP time to mostly 3rd line play in the NHL, his numbers could take even more of a hit. For instance, it won’t be often he gets to start in the offensive zone more than any other pivot except for Nicklas Backstrom against pretty weak competition.
Mathieu did make the most of his line time last year with Eric Fehr however, causing a 12% jump in Fehr’s CORSI when they were together on the ice. Making a scoring threat like Fehr better in regards to puck possession is certainly a step towards being a legitimate NHL talent. But looking at some comparables to Perreault based on his first season tempers those expectations a bit:
- Jeff Taffe scored .90 Pts per game first two years in AHL which translated to 7 seasons at the NHL level, playing 174 games tallying 44 points – for his career.
- Riku Haul scored .46 Pts per game first two years in AHL only to have that shrink to .14 per game at the NHL level. He played a total of 92 NHL games in three years.
- Players like Benn Ferriero (.86 Pts/Gm in AHL -> .14 in NHL) , Andreas Thuresson (.4o -> .14) and Brad Marchand (.81 -> .05) all saw their production dwindle in their NHL debut seasons.
The fact that Perreault can forecheck and has shown spurts of being able to play “bigger” (6 points in his first 8 NHL games) says he probably has more upside than those with similar stats – even causing some to compare him to “late bloomers” like Marty St. Louis or Danny Briere. It’s worth noting though, that both of those players dominated AHL competition to a much greater degree than Perreault. St. Louis averaged 1.2 points per game in the AHL while Briere averaged 1.28 points per game – showing us a much higher ceiling for production than Perreault.
As you can see, the arguments for and against Matty P’s success in the NHL are both with merit. On one hand, we have an AHL scorer with some upside who makes a legitimate NHL threat like Eric Fehr better when they are paired. On the other we have an undersized 6th round pick (a 2nd rounder has less than a 30% chance to develop into a player who will play at least 150 games) who’s scoring droughts will be blamed for being physically unable to compete at the NHL level.
So that’s where you guys come in. Where do you stand? Are the stats simply against Perreault becoming a long or short term solution at center or will he be the next Marty St. Louis or Danny Briere? Let us know in the comments.