Alec Martinez delivering a surprisingly strong season for Golden Knights

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Vegas Golden Knights and the San Jose Sharks. Golden Knights-Sharks coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

When you think of Vegas Golden Knights defensemen, you probably picture Shea Theodore, or Alex Pietrangelo. Maybe you even ponder defensemen who are no longer with the team, like Nate Schmidt.

But Alec Martinez is enjoying the sort of season that’s making the Golden Knights look smart for nabbing him from the Kings around the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline. Much like with Max Pacioretty, it seems like the trade is paying off more after Alec Martinez is settling in, but either way, he’s playing some of his best hockey since his peak years with LA.

“A Warrior”

Earlier this season, Alec Martinez did receive praise from the Golden Knights and others for at least one thing: shot blocking. Head coach Peter DeBoer described him as a “warrior,” stating that “it’s not an accident” that Martinez won two Stanley Cups.

Shea Theodore, Martinez’s frequent partner, echoed those thoughts about Martinez making those bruise-battered sacrifices.

“He’s got the guts,” Theodore said of Martinez, via The Athletic’s Jesse Granger (sub. required). “I think when Burns, or whoever it is, is winding up, he’s not afraid to step into the lane. Even when there’s no time on the clock and he rips it from the red line, he still eats it.”

(Hey, if you’re going to eat it even without any time on the clock, you better have guts. Right?)

[GOLDEN KNIGHTS-SHARKS COVERAGE BEGINS AT 9:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Indeed, you don’t need to dig deep to see that Martinez will throw his body in front of pucks that should receive traffic tickets.

Heading into Tuesday’s Golden Knights-Sharks game, Alec Martinez doesn’t just lead the Golden Knights with 139 blocked shots. He’s also far-and-away the league leader, as Adam Larsson‘s the only other player in triple digits (115). For every 60 minutes of ice time, Martinez averages a bone-rattling 8.4 blocked shots.

No doubt about it, that’s impressive. That said, Martinez is valuable enough to the Golden Knights that they might want him to let that occasional no-time-left Brent Burns burner hit his goalies’ pads instead. At least every now and then.

Martinez putting together some of his best hockey for Golden Knights

That’s because Martinez is playing at a very impressive level this season.

In many cases, old-school hockey types lavish praise on shot-blockers, but might miss the bigger picture. After all, if you’re sprawling out for that many shots, you might be in poor position.

Well, that’s probably true sometimes, but Martinez shows evidence of being an all-purpose player for the Golden Knights. And while it’s clear Vegas targeted him as an asset, they might even be surprised by his improvement.

After some great years with the Kings, Martinez declined. Those struggles extended into his Vegas season, as you can see in this RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey.

Alec Martinez RAPM chart recent previous seasons, Evolving Hockey
via Evolving Hockey

Sure, Martinez could bring some offensive value, but his defense had been lacking. So far this season, other teams do still create some offense vs. the Golden Knights when Martinez is on the ice, but his strong work outweighs those worries.

Alec Martinez 2020-21 RAPM Chart, Evolving Hockey
via Evolving Hockey

While Shea Theodore leads all Golden Knights defensemen with 36 points, Martinez ranks second with 25 (including seven goals). As an all-around defenseman, Martinez reached greater heights in early days with the Kings, but he’s on pace for 46-47 points, which would eclipse his career-high of 39.

Expect some slow down, but he can still be helpful

Now, sure, there are some reasons why Martinez probably won’t actually maintain that .57 point-per-game pace (career average: .35).

Ever since he joined the Golden Knights, he’s had a Midas-like touch with his shots. (It begs the question: is Martinez possibly to blame for those extremely loud, gold helmets they sometimes where? Someone launch an investigation.)

After being traded to the Golden Knights, Martinez closed the 2019-20 season with two goals on just 16 shots on goal (12.5 shooting percentage). He’s really only cooled off a bit so far this season, reaching seven goals on a mere 70 SOG (10%).

Plenty of scoring NHL forwards would settle for that kind of efficiency, so it’s remarkable that Martinez has been that precise (and, probably, picky with his shots). Interestingly, he’s enjoyed some other high-level stretches before, though. (Martinez scored 11 goals on a 13.9 shooting percentage in 2013-14).

Eventually, that puck luck should slow down. With Alex Pietrangelo settled back into the lineup, it will also take away certain plum scoring opportunities for Martinez. Yet, looking at his ice time splits, it’s clear that Peter DeBoer trusts the “warrior” defenseman.

He’ll probably just lean more toward blocking shots, rather than getting them behind opposing goalies. That said, the Golden Knights might not regret it if Martinez dusts off his shot every now and then, either.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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