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LAXMetrics Week 14 | Petterson’s Breakout Season

Halifax forward Clarke Petterson is this year’s Wesley Berg.

After half a decade of solid performances, Petterson has taken a massive step forward into the echelon of the game’s elite. In the same way that Berg enjoyed a breakout season in 2022-23 for the San Diego Seals, Petterson is this season’s breakout star.

Naturally, when labeling a player as a “breakout performer,” the natural inclination is to assume that his previous performance was unspectacular or generally unremarkable. The reason Petterson’s case parallels Berg’s so closely is because each player enjoyed multiple years of strong production before breaking into the league’s elite class of performers.

Two years ago, Berg posted a quality season for the Seals, notching 30 goals, 54 assists, and a LaxMetrics.com Production Rating of 1.91. All three of those numbers are very good. By all accounts, Berg’s numbers in 2021-22 were excellent. But last year, he took things to a new level by piling up career-high totals in goals (38), assists (68) and points (106). Berg’s Production Rating jumped to 2.11, placing him in the 97th percentile league wide.

Petterson’s story this year is similar to Berg’s tale from a year ago. Consider Petterson’s stats for Halifax last season. Petterson turned in 28 goals, 51 assists, and 79 points. His production rating of 1.09 ranked in the 86th percentile. This season, Petterson has already matched his goal total with 28, while managing 41 assists and 69 total points in just 12 games. Halifax’s star forward is on pace to shatter his career highs in every major offensive category. But like Berg, Petterson’s progress leaks into the advanced metrics as well – his Production Rating has jumped from 1.09 last season to 1.69 this year, placing him in the 92nd percentile. By all accounts, Clarke Petterson is performing like one of the league’s most dynamic forwards.

To what can we attribute Petterson’s progress?

Looking to Berg’s case for guidance doesn’t tell us much. While Berg enjoyed a higher usage rate last season than any other in his career, San Diego’s right-handed dynamo was also joined on the Seals’ offense by another lethal righty, Curtis Dickson. The addition of Dickson to San Diego’s offense shifted the attention of opposing defenses and forced them to extend beyond Berg in a way they hadn’t needed to previously. As one of the league’s all-time leading scorers, Dickson is one of the best partners that a right-handed forward could dream of. Petterson hasn’t enjoyed the same kind of personnel change.

The right side in Halifax hasn’t been bolstered by any major off-season additions, but like Berg, Petterson has enjoyed a higher usage rate than past seasons. We can trace some of the Thunderbirds’ added reliance on Petterson to Randy Staats missing some time due to injury. But even that doesn’t explain the full extent of Petterson’s progress. Rather, Petterson has been the beneficiary of addition by subtraction — the opposite phenomenon to that in San Diego last season.

Whereas the Seals added Curtis Dickson to the mix, taking attention away from Berg, the Thunderbirds moved on from Chris Boushy, opening up more opportunity for Petterson. With an elite right-handed partner already in tow in the form of Randy Staats, Petterson was simply lacking the requisite opportunity to produce the elite numbers that he has. This truth is most evident in Petterson’s passing stats.

Yes, Petterson is scoring at a much more impressive clip this season, but his passing has produced a massive jump in production. After posting 16.27 Weighted Assists and finishing in the 85th percentile last year, Petterson has already accumulated 17.09 Weighted Assists, ranking him in the 88th percentile. The same forces are at play with Petterson’s Facilitator Score, climbing from 4.20 last year to 7.07 this year. Simply put, the larger role in Halifax’s offense has afforded Petterson the opportunity to flex his passing talents and set his teammates up at a rate that dwarfs his previous numbers.

Scoring is a different story with a similar result. Petterson’s goal production is up significantly this season, already matching his scoring total from last year and currently pacing for a career-high 42 goals over a full 18-game season.

Petterson’s role as a scorer has grown, but not as sharply as his impact as a passer. Petterson’s shots on goal average has climbed from 6.65 shots per game last year to 7.58 per game this year, an increase of roughly 13%. Petterson’s goals per game production, however, has skyrocketed from 1.65 goals per game last year to 2.33 goals per game this year — an increase of 41%. Yes, Petterson is shooting more, but he’s converting those attempts into goals at a wildly more efficient clip.

This phenomenon is further supported by Petterson’s Goals Over Expectations numbers. Last season, Petterson finished with a very solid 2.74 Goals Over Expectations, ranking in the 83rd percentile of all forwards. This year, he has scored 7.58 Goals Over Expectations, ranking him in the 98th percentile league-wide. His efficiency as a scorer has improved drastically.

Overall, Clarke Petterson has capitalized on his larger role as a facilitator, while also refining his scoring touch into one of the most precise in the league this year. Collectively, those points of progress have elevated Petterson from a very good player to one of the league’s elite producers. Like Wesley Berg last year, Petterson has illustrated that a change in supporting personnel has the possibility of unlocking an entirely new level of performance in an existing star.

All this said, none of it is intended to declare Petterson a serious MVP candidate or anything of that nature. In the same way that Berg was a peripheral MVP candidate without a serious chance of winning the award, Petterson is deserving of mention among the pool of possible contenders. The interesting difference between last year and this year, however, is that there is not a clear top tier in the MVP race like there was a season ago. New York’s Jeff Teat, Buffalo’s Dhane Smith and Calgary’s Christian Del Bianco separated themselves as the principal candidates last season.

This year’s race is much more open. Petterson’s candidacy may be a little bit of a long shot, but perhaps a strong finish to the season could push him more firmly into the conversation. But regardless of how the rest of the season plays out, Petterson deserves mention as one of the league’s most improved players year-over-year.