The rapid rise of the Islanders defense has been something almost nobody saw coming. Everyone has stepped up and the defense sits as one of the best in the league. Of all the players who have improved, one who has stepped up to a debatable elite level is none other than Adam Pelech. Pelech did not have a terrible 2017-18 season, and showed some promise on the worst defensive team in the league, but he has kicked it into another gear this season to a point where he has gone from a scapegoat to a fan favorite. Pelech’s rise in such short time brings up the question: Has Pelech been elite?
Like most defense men from last year’s team, Pelech has rapidly improved his play in just about every aspect, but compared to the rest of the squad, he has improved significantly more then anyone saw coming. With a career high in goals at five and twenty one points, he is taking more shots and they are becoming more and more accurate. These improvements are definitely great to see but the real improvement comes defensively.
The entirety of the Islanders defense has been a story of its own this season, but Adam Pelech and his defensive partner Ryan Pulock have arguably been the main attraction. Pelech’s plus/minus went from a decent plus seven to an insane plus twenty two. That is tied for first on the team with Casey Cizikas, not to mention Pulock sits at an honorable plus twenty one. A defensive pairing with a plus/minus like shows signs for a elite line pair of two young, full of potential defenders.
Another improvement worth discussion is Pelech’s aggressiveness on and off the puck. Throughout this season, Pelech has been involved in more and more battles. In his first two seasons, Pelech would often just give up on the puck when beaten and let someone else handle it. He was too scared to hit and he lacked overall confidence thanks to often being benched and criticized by the media or fans. Now, any lack of confidence is gone and his play has totally changed. Pelech had almost 50 more hits than last season, fourth most on the team. He almost never gives up on the puck and fights with everything he has to stop any offensive push by opponents.
While Pelech’s skills are still developing, that does not mean he cant be elite in the future. Pelech has been on an upward trend for the past two seasons, and if his play keeps improving like it is now and him and Pulock continue to be as dominant as they have been, Pelech has a legitimate chance to be a top 20 defender in the league by 2021. No joke. That’s right. You heard it here first. Adam Pelech, a man once hated, has the potential to be a legitimate star.
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