Marcus Pettersson probably lowered the boom on himself more than fans. Pettersson was blunt after the Pittsburgh Penguins season wrapped when he blasted his performance and admitted he felt like he failed to take a step forward. On the other end of the spectrum, Zach Aston-Reese got a raise this offseason after scoring a career-high nine goals, though his weekend cheat meals cost about eight bucks.
Pettersson was effacing then, and he seemed like a man with a plan on Sunday. His new five-year contract with a $4.025 million AAV kicked in last season, and he wanted to live up to the deal.
“I think he self-assessed is extremely well. He might be harder on himself than any of the rest of us. And that’s just an indication of, you know, of the type of person that he is,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “But our expectation and our hope is that we can help him get to another level as well.”
The new cliche about offseason work is getting stronger and faster. It is the new “in the best shape of his life.”
To his credit, Pettersson didn’t bust out those tropes.
“I think I wanted to take that next step–I signed a new deal and everything. I wanted to really elevate my game in all forms, offensively and defensively. So this summer was a lot about just resetting a little bit and work hard,” Pettersson said. “You’ve got to have pride in your work, the work you do in the offseason, and kind of feel like you’re really prepared and have that kind of cushion that you did everything you could to get better and get into the season here and hopefully have a little better one.”
The lanky Swede now has direct competition for his spot in the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup. Young defenseman P.O. Joseph is banging on the Penguins’ door. Both Pettersson and Joseph are lefty shots, and neither are great candidates to move to the right side, where the Penguins have a need.
Pettersson had trouble last season avoiding the forecheck. It got on him and created issues deep in the Penguins zone. As a whole, the Penguins defense was one of the highest-scoring units in the league, but Pettersson didn’t feel like he participated in that enough, either.
Peterson scored nine points (2-7-9) in 47 games but he was not a presence in the Penguins offensive zone game.
Both Sullivan and Petterson cited more offensive contributions for 2021-22, but the underlying process to get those points are what both are after. For more points, Pettersson will have to simplify parts of his game. That means be quicker with the puck and be more assertive.
“…kind of be more aggressive with my mindset. I worked a lot on finding lanes. Everybody is so good at blocking shots nowadays. Everybody wants to get in the lane,” said Pettersson. “…I felt like last year I kind of wasn’t that aggressive. I was looking for an extra play, or whatever. Same in the D-zone–trying to be more aggressive, trying to stop plays early so we can get on the offense just as a team. We want to play in the offensive zone–just an aggressive mindset.”
As we detailed on Saturday, perhaps there is a way the Penguins can get both Joseph and Pettersson in the same lineup. Pettersson was a revelation after the Penguins acquired him for Daniel Sprong in the first half of 2018-19.
His soft breakout passes and calm demeanor fit well with the Penguins’ needly blue line. He balanced former Penguins defenseman Jack Johnson well enough to stabilize the third pairing.
But that was a couple of seasons ago and before his big contract. Expectations come with a big cap hit.
“When he first came to us, we were very impressed with his ability to defend, with the use of one hand and getting his stick extended. His length is an advantage for him. And when he utilizes his assets, he’s hard to play against,” Sullivan concluded. “He’s also a guy that we think has offensive instincts. We think he can make all the passes. We think he has more ability to join the rush. We think he can help us along the offensive blue line. And so I think there’s room for growth.”
Pittsburgh Penguins Zach Aston-Reese
Even in a small scrum setting, I’ll confess that Zach Aston-Reese is still a favorite interview. He rarely gives canned answers, and he means what he says.
Aston-Reese praised Brock McGinn and cautioned us not to expect a Brandon Tanev replacement but a Brock McGinn original. They’re grit
“I know there’s that thing he’s Brandon Tanev’s replacement. At the end of the day, he brings a different style,” said Aston-Reese. “I know you could use a vague grinder definition to define him, but he’s going to be a different player than Tanev, and that’s not a bad thing at all. He’s done a really good job, and it’s been a lot of fun playing with him the last four days.”
Aston-Reese was visibly quicker last season. It helped him to a career-high nine goals.
“I think just kind of progressively (that) production has gone up a little bit. I’d like to see it go up a lot more, and I did put a lot of work in this summer to hopefully execute that,” the Penguins winger said. “I think just the five years I’ve been in (the NHL), I know there’s been some injuries, but I think I’ve kind of turned a new chapter and last season was kind of a stepping stone for that.”
To get quicker last season, he cut out carbs and changed his diet. He did the same this summer, too, but did allow himself to break the diet on weekends, “so I didn’t drive myself insane.”
So what is his go-to cheat food?
Sushi and…Jersey Mikes club sub.
You heard it here first.
Maybe someday we’ll introduce the kid to Peppi’s–if he needs to bulk up.
Pittsburgh Penguins, Zach Aston-Reese: