Now that Elias Pettersson has played the equivalent of a full National Hockey League season with the Vancouver Canucks, I thought it was a good time to take a look back at the draft that brought us the man they call “The Alien.” There were four players taken ahead of him, two forwards and two defencemen. To refresh everyone’s memory, Nico Hischier was the first overall pick followed by Nolan Patrick at two, Miro Heiskanen at three and finally Cale Makar at four.
All four players have played at least 10 games in the NHL now and are at various stages in their development. Many people think that the Canucks got a massive steal selecting Pettersson where they did. Judging by all his accolades and pure skill, I don’t think many would disagree with that assessment. But words are just words, after all, so to get a clearer picture, let’s take a look at the careers so far of Hischier, Patrick, Heiskanen, and Makar to see if the Canucks did, in fact, get a deal selecting the current face of the franchise fifth overall in the 2017 NHL Draft.
1. Nico Hischier (New Jersey Devils)
Hischier was the defacto first-overall pick for many scouts in 2017. He had size, speed, and exceptional goal-scoring and playmaking abilities. In his draft year, he accumulated 86 points (38 goals, 48 assists) playing in the Quebec Major Junior League (QMJHL) for the Halifax Mooseheads. He also was very solid for Team Switzerland in the World Junior U-20 Tournament where he put up seven points in five games.
Those performances and overall package convinced the New Jersey Devils to select him first when they got up to the podium. Hischier stepped into the NHL in the 2017-18 season and put together a very solid 52 points (20 goals, 32 assists) in 82 games. He followed that up with 47 points (17 goals, 30 assists) in an abbreviated 2018-19 season where he only played 69 games due to an injury.
First 82 Games Comparison
|31 goals, 49 assists (80 points)||20 goals, 32 assists (52 points)|
Pettersson shattered Hischier’s totals in his first 82 games in the NHL. He is also on pace to accumulate 123 points in his sophomore season, which would completely obliterate Hischier’s 47 point effort. I think the Devils missed out on a gem in Pettersson.
2. Nolan Patrick (Philadelphia Flyers)
The next team that missed out on the Swedish Gretzky is the Philadelphia Flyers. They selected Winnipeg native Nolan Patrick instead. Projected to go first or second almost the entire 2016-17 season, the Flyers thought that he would be the perfect compliment to all-star forward Claude Giroux. He boasted an enviable package of size, skill, and two-way acumen which was thought to be easily translated to the NHL. THW even projected him to go first overall in 2017 over Hischier. He was also compared to Jonathan Toews by Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News.
Fast forward two NHL seasons and Patrick has not lived up to his second overall selection and the expectations piled on by various hockey minds. In 145 games he only has 61 points. He also is dealing with a potentially career-threatening migraine disorder that has kept him out of the 2019-20 season so far. He has dealt with concussion issues in the past too, so that could ultimately derail his future in the NHL.
First 82 Games Comparison
|31 goals, 49 assists (80 points)||16 goals, 18 assists (34 points)|
Patrick also cannot touch Pettersson’s production in his first 82 games. In his sophomore season, he replicated his rookie season adding one more point to his totals (31 points in 2018-19 compared to 30 points in 2017-18). He has some work to do to justify the Flyers picking him over Pettersson.
Point production and hockey aside, I wish Patrick the best in his recovery and hope that he can get back to playing the game he loves.
3. Miro Heiskanen (Dallas Stars)
Now we come to the defencemen. The next two picks are difficult to compare to Pettersson because of the difference in position. Heiskanen is probably the first player in the top four selections to live up to the place he was drafted at. His first 82 games in the NHL were sublime. He was second only to John Klingberg in defence scoring for the Dallas Stars with 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) in 2018-19. He has since followed that up with eight points in his first 14 games this season.
Despite the accolades, I still believe Pettersson should have been chosen ahead of him. The way that he thinks the game puts him in a league of his own. The Stars would have benefitted from a superstar centerman to slot in behind Tyler Seguin.
4. Cale Makar (Colorado Avalanche)
If the Colorado Avalanche selected Pettersson, the Canucks definitely would have chosen Makar. Currently, in his rookie season, he is making an early case for the Calder Trophy with 10 points in 11 games so far. He has shown off his dynamic skating and creativity, drawing comparisons to Erik Karlsson of the San Jose Sharks.
Having said that, I am elated that Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic opted to go with a defenceman instead of a forward. Already boasting an embarrassment of riches with Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog, imagine Pettersson joining that triumvirate? I shudder to think how much more damage he would do with those three on the power play against the Canucks. But enough of the Halloween nightmares. They didn’t pick him, and I can probably speak for everyone when I say, thank the hockey gods!
However, I still believe the Avalanche missed out on a generational player. Makar will be an all-star defenceman in the NHL for a long time, but Pettersson will be a perennial 100-point player. I guess it just comes down to what a team needs the most. Sakic knew he had to rebuild his defence in 2017-18 and Makar was too good to pass up. I just think he missed out on another once in a lifetime player to add to his roster.
First Overall Pick: Elias Pettersson
Everyone knows that hindsight is 20/20, but taking everything into account, Pettersson should have been the first-overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. He is the complete package both offensively and defensively. The reason he was not chosen first was because of his size at the time. His edges and hands coupled with his unparalleled hockey sense quickly made that a non-issue when he stepped into the NHL.
Pettersson has a laser beam of a wrist shot as well as a wicked one-timer. His playmaking abilities rival another Swedish legend, Henrik Sedin. All in all, he is a rare talent worthy of a first overall pick. You have to watch just one of his many highlights to see why. Chief amateur scout Ron Delorme knew what he was doing when he passionately recommended him to general manager Jim Benning. I, along with all of Canucks Nation, are sure thankful he did.
Ronnie saw him early and was a loud voice for him right from the start — even before any of us had seen him…He was in my office and said ‘we’ve really got to watch this guy.’ He loved his skill and hockey sense.general manager Jim Benning (from ‘Ben Kuzma: Ron Delorme delivered first hard sell to get Pettersson on Canucks’ draft radar’, The Province – 9/19/18)
In fact, we should all be sending thank you notes to the four general managers who looked past Pettersson. If just one of them saw his immense potential, we would not be eagerly anticipating the next decade of Dekey Pete. In the words of the late Jason Botchford, “bro. do your dekes.” Devils, Flyers, Stars, and Avalanche fans will be watching with regret as they see him execute them in Canucks’ colours instead of their own.
Matthew Zator is the assistant managing editor at THW and a writer who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.