Eriksson Can’t Be a Passenger for Canucks

While many might have expected Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser to lead the Vancouver Canucks offensively, that hasn’t been the case early in the season.

Instead, 19-year-old wunderkind Elias Pettersson has taken the offensive reins for the Canucks. Before he was diagnosed with a concussion, Pettersson ripped off five goals and eight points in his first five games. His three even-strength goals currently lead the Canucks. At the moment, no one else on the team has more than one even-strength marker.

Elias Pettersson
Elias Pettersson No. 40 of the Vancouver Canucks holds up a puck from his first NHL goal after their NHL game against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena Oct. 3, 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver won 5-2. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

One of those players is Nikolay Goldobin, who earned his Golden Ticket to play alongside Pettersson during the preseason. The two showed some chemistry early in training camp, and that’s shown through the Canucks’ first five games. Goldobin’s effectiveness there was one of the reasons why Sam Gagner was waived prior to the season.

The other winner of the Golden Ticket was Loui Eriksson. While Goldobin earned his spot there, the same can’t be said about Eriksson.

Eriksson’s Early Points Are Deceiving

If you glanced at Eriksson’s 2018-19 stats, you might think that he’s gotten off to a decent start. He registered three assists in his first two games playing alongside Pettersson, including the primary one on his first career NHL goal.

Those three points certainly don’t tell the whole story. The truth is that Eriksson has been mediocre, even downright disappointing, during his opportunity with Pettersson and Goldobin.

Eriksson’s main problem is that he hasn’t been creating chances, getting open, or capitalizing on his chance while playing with Vancouver’s most talented player. During those five games he spent with Pettersson prior to the concussion, Eriksson had but three shots on net.

Three shots. In five games.

Ladies and gentleman, you can call that squandering an opportunity. It’s a small sample size, but it’s troubling that Eriksson hasn’t threatened with Pettersson at all.

Loui Eriksson
Loui Eriksson was gifted an opportunity to rejuvenate his career, but he hasn’t looked good early this season. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Pettersson and Goldobin, in comparison, have 13 and 11 shots on net respectively during that time frame. They at least looked threatening, whereas you can’t pinpoint much that Eriksson has contributed. He wasn’t heavily involved in the play with his two secondary assists. Eriksson did make a good play to get the puck to Pettersson on his lone primary assist when he fed a backhand pass that sprang the rookie on a 2-on-1. Still, Eriksson needs to find a way to threaten in the offensive zone if he wants to keep his Golden Ticket.

My THW colleague Matt Lawson predicted 20 to 25 goals for Eriksson, and it’s easy to see why. The opportunity was there for Eriksson to grasp, and many envisioned the “King of Garbage Goals” cleaning up Pettersson’s rebounds. It hasn’t materialized so far, and it’s fair to wonder if Eriksson will get another shot there once Pettersson returns from injury.

When Will Green’s Patience Run Out?

Head coach Travis Green has shown a tendency to be trigger-happy with his line combinations, and that doesn’t bode well for Eriksson moving forward.

Even early on this season, Green hasn’t utilized Eriksson in a role that he’s used to. This is a player who’s averaged more than 18 minutes per game throughout his career. Early on in this season, he’s averaging just a shade over 11 minutes per game.

Head coach Travis Green
Travis Green has already shown a propensity to bench veterans, and you have to wonder if Loui Eriksson is next. (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

Green did use Eriksson less than his predecessor, Willie Desjardins. Under the former Canucks coach, Eriksson averaged 18:41 in ice time per game, which was third-highest among Canucks forwards.

Last year under Green, Eriksson’s average ice time dropped to 16:16 per game. His 1:26 in average ice time with the man-advantage in 2017-18 was also Eriksson’s lowest total throughout his career.

Green has already shown a history of limiting Eriksson’s ice time in different aspects of the game, and there could be a further drop coming. When Pettersson comes back, there will be a short leash on Eriksson, and chances are the leash will tighten before then if Eriksson continues to be a passenger.