SUNRISE, Fla. –
Although he’s become known more for his physical, stay-at-home style of play on the blue line, defenseman Alex Petrovic showed that he could also be a contributor on offense during his first full season with the Florida Panthers.
A second-round pick, 36th overall, of the Panthers in the 2010 NHL Draft, Petrovic recorded a career-high 17 points (2-15—17) to go along with a plus-17 rating in 66 games this past season. After registering just six points throughout the first four months, the 24-year-old tallied 10 points between Feb. 1 and April 1, trailing only Brian Campbell in scoring among Panthers defenseman during that span.
“We took massive strides this season,” Petrovic said after cleaning out his locker at the BB&T Center in April. “One of the goals was to make it to the playoffs, which we did. It was a little disappointing to end it off a little earlier than we expected, but it was huge experience for a lot of guys in here. We got a lot of playoff experience, a lot of overtime games, a lot of close games. Going into the offseason, we’ve got that fire in our belly.”
As it was for budding superstar Aaron Ekblad during his first full year with the Panthers in 2014-15, Petrovic admits that his transformation into an everyday NHL player was undoubtedly aided by the presence of team captain Willie Mitchell. While sharing the blue line for several weeks during the regular season, Petrovic says that he made sure to soak up as much information as he could from the 39-year-old veteran.
“Mitchey is just so structured,” Petrovic said in a Q&A with FloridaPanthers.com
earlier this season. “After almost every shift we’ll get off the ice and start going over what we did well to what we did bad positionally. In the offensive zone you can get away with cheating or being a little more creative, but in the defensive zone you have to have a lot of structure, and Mitchey really harps on that stuff.
“He teaches you a lot of little things like where you want to be on the ice and how to position your stick. It’s a lot stuff of that maybe fans don’t always see. It can sometimes look like you’re not doing much out there, but if you’re in the right spot the puck will eventually come to you.
After graduating from Mitchell’s unofficial school of defense, Petrovic’s game really began to take off, culminating in an exceptional display of two-way play and a surprising offensive outburst in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In his first taste of the postseason, Petrovic led all Panthers defenseman in plus/minus (plus-5) and was tied with Dmitry Kulikov for the most points (4) in six games played.
With that sort of playoff performance still fresh in his mind, Petrovic is admittedly champing at the bit to get back on the ice and continue building upon the strong foundation he laid out for himself in 2015-16.
“Even right now, I can’t wait for next season,” he said. “You want to get right back at it and get right back in the gym. I’m really excited for next year.”
Although he averaged only 16:57 of ice time per game, Petrovic made sure that every second he played was spent making life difficult for his opponents, throwing his 6-foot-4, 206-pound frame around the ice with extreme ferocity and racking up a career-high 157 hits – the most by any Panthers skater in 2015-16.
Here’s one of my favorites:
Petrovic recorded the first two-point game of his career against the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 9, but it was his unselfish play and willingness to put his body on the line for the good of the team that ended up becoming the biggest story of the evening.
In the midst of what would finish as a 7-4 victory in favor of the Panthers, Petrovic and Sabres forward Evander Kane dropped the gloves on three separate occasions, squaring off twice in the second period and once again in the third.
Although he left the ice with a few bumps and bruises, Petrovic became the first player to record a goal, an assist and three fights in a single contest since Chicago's Al Secord in 1984.
GOAL OF THE YEAR
In desperate need of a win in order to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New York Islanders, Petrovic managed to get forward Alan Quine to bite on subtle fake, then fired a wrist shot past goaltender Thomas Greiss for what would eventually prove to be the game-winning goal in a 2-1 victory in Game 4.