Two years ago, I spoke with the legendary Red Berenson, head of Michigan’s hockey program and former Montreal Canadien.
While the conversation started with a discussion of former Wolverine Max Pacioretty’s impressive rise to NHL prominence, Berenson quickly changed the subject to Greg Pateryn — whom he had coached for four years and won a CCHA title with at Michigan — and why he hadn’t yet been given an opportunity to prove himself in Montreal.
“I don’t know if [the Canadiens] realize what they have in Pateryn,” said Berenson. “He’s such a smart player, he’s tough, he’s physical and he’s got a heavy, heavy shot.”
Pateryn was considered to be the consolation prize in a 2008 trade that sent Mikhail Grabovski from Montreal to Toronto in exchange for a second-round pick that was later used by the Canadiens to acquire centre Robert Lang from Chicago.
Who could blame the Canadiens for not knowing how good Pateryn could be?
It’s not as if his production at the college level jumped off the page — he scored 43 points in 142 games before moving on to the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs in 2012-13.
The Canadiens first put Pateryn to the NHL test with a three-game audition that year, before sending him back to the AHL to continue honing his craft.
In 2013-14, while the buzz in Montreal was centred on the development of first-rounders Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu, it was Pateryn who had stolen away some of the thunder in Hamilton, scoring an impressive 15 goals and 34 points.
He came to Montreal’s 2014-15 training camp intent on pushing his way on to the roster. He didn’t stick right away, but 53 games into his AHL season, he got the call.
Berenson was right. There may not be one specific aspect of Pateryn’s game that stands out, but he does everything well and he proved it over a 17-game stint to finish the regular season and a seven-game run in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Now in his rookie season, the sense is that Pateryn could end up playing a much bigger role than anyone would’ve envisioned.
Who: Greg Pateryn | No. 6 | seventh defenceman (shoots right) | 6-foot-2 | 222 lbs |
Acquired: Trade (2008) for Mikhail Grabovski
Contract status: 1 year, $562,000 AAV (2-year extension begins 2016, AAV $800,000)
2014-15 Stats: 17 GP | 0 G | 0 A | 0 P | 12:39 TOI | 50.9 CF%
Career stats: 20 GP | 0 G | 0 A | 0 P | 11:27 TOI | 50.4 CF%
The book on 2014-15:
It’s hard to impress without registering a single point in 17 games, but Pateryn did exactly that.
With veteran Sergei Gonchar nursing an upper-body injury, the Canadiens brought Pateryn up in mid-February. He proved reliable spotting in and out of the lineup until the close of the regular season, posting 48 hits and an even plus/minus rating.
When the playoffs rolled around, Pateryn found himself on the outside looking in until Nathan Beaulieu went down with a fractured sternum in Game 3 of Montreal’s first-round series with Ottawa.
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien could have turned to veterans Gonchar or Mike Weaver, but instead he took a chance on Pateryn.
“We liked what we saw from Pateryn,” said Therrien on April 22. “He’s a powerful defenceman. We analyzed all our options. He played well when we called him up and he deserves to get a chance. We have confidence in him. He skates well, makes a good first pass.”
And there was plenty of evidence to back up the coach’s assertion.
Sure, Pateryn was sheltered from the heavy matchups and played alongside Montreal’s best players, but that shouldn’t diminish the fact that he led all Canadiens defencemen with a 55.7 per cent Corsi For at even strength in the postseason.
Pateryn also managed his first three NHL assists over those seven games.
On July 1, Pateryn signed a two-year, $1.6 million extension that will kick in at the beginning of the 2016-17 season.
Pateryn’s emergence on a crowded Montreal blueline could force Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin to trade someone to make room for him in the starting lineup.
As of right now, Pateryn is penciled in as Montreal’s seventh defenceman, but consensus outside — and possibly inside — the Canadiens’ brain trust is that he’s a better option for the team’s bottom pair than Tom Gilbert. And considering he makes $562,000 to Gilbert’s $2.8 million, cap savings are there to be had by trading the latter.
Bergevin covets depth at the position, but Marc Barbiero and Jarred Tinordi are capable of filling in if they have to. Whether or not he makes a trade before the season gets underway, it’s hard to imagine the Canadiens keeping Pateryn on the bubble.
Bergevin always says he wants his young players to make decisions for him, and Pateryn did that last season.
Pre-season play is only likely to confirm what Bergevin already knows: Pateryn’s time to shine has come.