The secret is out on Adam Pelech.
The New York Islanders defenseman was selected to the 2022 NHL All-Star Game on Thursday evening, a well-deserved designation from the league. This will be Pelech's first trip to the All-Star Weekend, which is set to take place in Las Vegas on Feb. 4-5.
"I was definitely surprised, but it's a huge honor and I'm looking forward to it," Pelech said after Thursday's 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils.
Pelech's steady defensive play has long been appreciated in Islanders circles, but defensive-minded payers like Pelech don't often get invited to showcase events like the All-Star Game.
Those spots are usually reserved for point producers, not the guys with a quick stick who disrupt passing lanes or clear the front of the net. The lowest-scoring defenseman invited to the 2020 All-Star Game was Mark Giordano, who still had 22 points in 50 games. Pelech's career high is 21, though the defenseman has been known to skate end-to-end and score and has a pretty good stretch pass that flies under the radar. It was fitting that Pelech went out and scored his first goal of the season on Thursday.
Video: Adam Pelech Selected to All-Star Game
Even the skills competition focuses on the offensive side of the game rather than the defensive aspect. There is a hardest shot competition, but rarely of the celebration for the players who block them. There's a fastest skater, but nothing about the guys who have to close the gap, or step up on those players when they're bearing down.
"I played against him - and just going against him in practice, he's always dialed in," JG Pageaus said. "He's always on the right side of the puck, faking me one way to bring you where he wants you to be and that's where he takes advantage, so that's why he's so successful."
The all-star designation is an acknowledgement of how good Pelech is at his job. Pelech's 21:39 TOI/GP leads the team. His 14 takeaways are tops among Islanders defensemen, tied with JG Pageau for third, trailing Mat Barzal's 17 for the team lead and Anthony Beauvillier's 15. Pelech also has 45 hits and 46 blocks, a well-rounded defensive stat line.
That doesn't count the plays that don't wind up on the stat sheet, like Pelech dropping to one knee to block a Darnell Nurse pass to Connor McDavid in overtime in the Isles 3-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 1. Pelech was also tasked with shadowing McDavid in the three-on-three session, a quality that could come in handy given the three-on-three nature of the all-star game.
"I don't know if I've seen many players that have the ability to get into the positions that he gets into to break plays up," Cal Clutterbuck said. "His ability to see things the way they're developing and his ability to use his skating, he's a really good skater and obviously his pokecheck has gained some notoriety, but just overall the way he gets himself in position to break plays up, there aren't many people on the planet that can do it."
(A quick refresher: the 2022 All-Star Game, at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Feb. 5 (3 p.m. ET; ABC, SN, TVAS), will consist of a three-game tournament played in a 3-on-3 format, featuring one team from each of the four divisions.)
"He's a guy who, not anymore I guess, sometimes he's under the radar a little bit," Associate Coach Lane Lambert said of Pelech. "Just some of the things he does and what you can really appreciate watching him day in and day out. Really happy for him."
As good as Pelech has been in the Islanders lineup, his presence can be felt when he's not in it.
In 2019-20, the Islanders averaged the fourth-fewest goals-against per game (2.59) before Adam Pelech suffered a torn Achilles Tendon that sidelined him until the bubble playoffs. With Pelech out, the Islanders were 21st in goals-against per game (3.07).
Video: WSH@NYI: Pelech unloads slap shot for unassisted SHG
With Pelech healthy and playing in all 56 games last season, the Islanders finished second in the NHL with a 2.40 goals-against per game, second only to Vegas. Overall, the Islanders have averaged the second-fewest goals against per game (2.49) since the start of the 2018-19 season - a stat that Pelech values more than any individual accolade.
"He's going to have a riot," said Mathew Barzal, a two-time all-star and the Islanders candidate for Last Men In voting. "He's been such a rock for us the last three or four years now. If the Olympics were happening he'd probably have been named to Team Canada. He's so loved in the locker room that everyone was happy to hear today and he got a big ovation after the game."
Nevertheless, Pelech, who is never one to seek attention, will get his day in the sun out on the Las Vegas Strip. He's long been of all-star importance to the Islanders, even if the league is just finding out now.