Mathieu Perreault: Off-season expectations, a counterpoint

I had a chance to read two thoughtful and well-researched articles this week on Mathieu Perreault from Russian Machine Never Breaks and On Frozen Blog.  I agree with OFB that Perreault is a no-brainer to start the year at #2 center.  I have to disagree with RMNB’s ultimate assessment: I think they underestimated him.  I think Mathieu Perreault is the answer to the Washington Capitals’ #2 center vacancy, and I think he will perform at least as well as any #2 center the Caps have had since Michael Nylander in 2002-03.

#85 Mathieu Perreault

Perreault, who won’t turn 23 until January, is an exceptionally quick and intelligent playmaker.  He is generously listed at 5’10 and 174 pounds which, in his own words, contributed to him being drafted in the 6th round in 2006.  He has a strong junior hockey pedigree, posting huge numbers in the both the QMJHL regular season and playoffs and was 2007 league MVP.

His rookie pro season came in 2008-09 in the AHL and was better than solid: 11 goals and 50 points in 77 games for the Calder Cup winning Hershey Bears, plus another 8 points in the playoffs.  Last season, he ratcheted up his production to the same 50 points (16 goals) in only 56 games plus another 7 goals and 19 points in 21 playoff games as he won another Cup.  His biggest moment of the postseason was scoring the game-tying goal with 1:13 left and then scoring the overtime series-winning goal to send the Bears to the Conference Final.  As OFB put it, he has a top-six skill set.

Perreault also earned his first NHL action, displaying the excellent playmaking ability that got him drafted and posted the best numbers among the ten Bears call-ups with 4 goals, 5 assists, and 9 points.  Only John Carlson played more than Perreault’s 21 games or had better than his +4 plus/minus rating.  He appeared to wear down during an extended 18-game recall in the autumn.  This is typical of young players (see:  Tavares, John), and the physical ability to keep up with older and better conditioned players takes time to develop (see:  Fleischmann, Tomas).

What will keep Perreault in the NHL is something unexpected:  he has shown he has no qualms about going to the net.  Three of his four goals were scored within 3 feet of the cage (Goal 1, Goal 3, Goal 4) and his other came from between the circles against Martin Brodeur (Goal 2).  He also scores when it matters:  his first career goal tied the game in the third period, his second gave the Caps an early 2-0 lead, his third pulled the Caps to within a goal (4-3) in the third on the powerplay, and his fourth was a third period go-ahead goal.

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RMNB’s basis for the expectations for Perreault next season stem from his drop in points per game from the AHL to the NHL as compared to a few other players.  I don’t think this is a fair assessment.  I will look at it this way:  Mathieu Perreault’s 9 points in 21 games pro-rates to 35 points over the course of an 82 game NHL season, which I will use as a baseline.  If we use his first two AHL seasons for comparison, I would think Perreault’s points-per-game (PPG) would increase in the NHL as much as it did in the AHL.  Perreault went from 50 points in 77 games (.649 PPG) to 50 points in 56 games (.893 PPG), a 37.6% increase in points-per-game.  If Perreault experienced a 37.6% increase in his NHL points per game of .429, that would be .590, which would mean 48 points over 82 games.
RMNB also stated that his production would not befit a team of the Capitals’ stature.  I disagree.  Taking a look back at the Capitals’ #2 centers over the past decade, 48 points would be a better point total than any #2 center since Michael Nylander posted 57 points in 2002-03:
2009-10:  Brendan Morrison, 12-30-42
2008-09:  Sergei Fedorov, 11-22-33
2007-08:  Michael Nylander, 11-26-37, and Brooks Laich, 21-16-37
2006-07:  Boyd Gordon, 7-22-29, and Kris Beech, 8-18-26
2005-06:  Jeff Halpern, 11-33-44
2003-04:  Jeff Halpern, 19-27-46
I also have to dispute RMNB comparing the AHL numbers of smallish Francophones Daniel Briere and Martin St. Louis to Mathieu Perreault’s.  Briere and St. Louis were older than Perreault is now when they had most of that AHL production.  I would also submit that Martin St. Louis, coming out of college at the same age Perreault was last season, posted 16 goals, 34 assists, and 50 points in 56 games in the IHL, a competitor of the AHL at the time, the exact same numbers Mathieu Perreault had in the AHL last season. Not that I necessarily think Perreault will match their production, that is a lofty expectation for a player so young, but I think Perreault will be a serviceable NHLer and could play #2 center on the Caps next year.
I agree with OFB here, Perreault has done everything asked of him by the organization to prepare for a regular NHL role.  Even though only 30% of NHL 2nd rounders make the NHL, that number has more to do with the drafting ability of GMs, the will of the players to commit to preparing like a professional, and the continuing skill development of the player.  Perreault was drafted in the 6th round, long odds to be sure, but they didn’t stop 1990 8th round pick Peter Bondra, and it won’t stop Perreault either.