The Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Pettersson picked up an assist during each of his team’s last three games against the Buffalo Sabres, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Florida Panthers. What a disappointment. Or so it seems this season.
The sophomore center now has 12 points in his last 10 games, which includes four multiple-point games. He’s up to 20 goals and 47 points through 45 games this season and he might be having the quietest career season ever. Perhaps that’s why the Canucks are so successful as a team this season. He’s not doing it by himself.
Pettersson Is a Star, But He’s Not Alone
Simply stated, Pettersson is a star. He won the Calder Trophy as the best rookie in the NHL last season. This season, he’s even better. But, as I noted earlier, that greatness comes on a team that ices more skill than it has in several seasons. Now, more often than during Pettersson’s first season, he shares the headlines. That’s good all around.
Pettersson plays on one of the NHL’s top lines. Fantasy hockey’s most recent poll lists them as the ninth-best line in the NHL. His linemates are the prodigious Brock Boeser (who’s rounding out his game rather than simply being a goalscorer) and J.T. Miller (who’s close to a point-a-game pace and will certainly rack up his best career season ever).
As well, newly-named Canucks captain Bo Horvat is leading, scoring, and is a demon in the faceoff circle. And, rookie defenseman Quinn Hughes was voted yesterday in the Last Man Vote to his first NHL All-Star Game. It won’t be his last. And, both Jake Virtanen and Tanner Pearson are having career seasons.
My point is that the Canucks have themselves a solid team. Give or take a couple of horrible games in Florida where the team was completely embarrassed, they are in a position to make a playoff run. And, they might even have the depth of players to make a solid run through the playoffs. If so, it would be a great 50th anniversary season.
Pettersson’s Rookie Season Was Great, But He’s Better
Perhaps the only person on the globe who believes Pettersson isn’t for real is the St. Louis Blues’ young goalie Jordan Binnington, who contends he should have won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie last season instead. For the rest of us, Pettersson exploded as a star during the 2019-20 season. However, this season the Canucks’ second-year player is even better and is proving he should be counted among the NHL’s best.
Pettersson’s rookie season was so impressive that he won the Calder by picking up 159 of the 171 first-place votes. That the skinny kid from Sweden, who has more the look of a librarian than an NHL player, developed quickly as a major star was a huge surprise. However, this season Pettersson’s taken another step forward.
Pettersson’s Game Is Shaping Up Differently this Season
Pettersson is productive and is now – even at a young age – the team leader on this up-and-coming team. However, he’s differently productive this season than last. In his 45 games, he’s scored 47 points. Of those points, he has 20 goals and 27 assists. In fact, that’s similar to his linemates Boeser and Miller, who both have more assists than goals. From my perspective, that makes the line more potent because an opponent cannot focus its defense on one goalscorer.
Specifically, Boeser’s scoring reflects the impact of the young Pettersson’s expanding game. Until last season (when he scored 26 goals and 30 assists), Boeser had never had a season with more assists than goals. In each of his first two seasons, he was primarily a goalscorer. Although in 2016-17, he had four goals and a single assist; however, he only played nine games. In 2017-18, he had 29 goals and 26 assists. This season, Boeser has 11 more assists than goals, suggests that he’s using his linemates more effectively.
Certainly, the biggest addition to the top line has been a highly productive Miller, whose 16 goals and 26 assists give both Pettersson and Boeser another scoring option to pass to. Thus, no player on this top line needs to do the scoring alone.
Wayne Gretzky Applauds Pettersson’s Play
The great Wayne Gretzky weighed in early on the youngster’s talent, noting that Pettersson reminded Gretzky a lot of himself. “From my point of view, he’s got a lot of my similarities. His hockey sense and his playmaking ability are as good as anybody right now, and that’s probably where the comparisons come from – much more the playmaking than anything else.”
This season, Pettersson seems to be growing into the assist machine Gretzky was at his best. Obviously, Gretzky scored goals – he leads the NHL in career goals with 894 – but he was the “Great One” because he made those around him better. That’s Pettersson’s growing skill this season. He’s making those around him better.
It’s a stretch to compare a second-year player, regardless of how good that player is, to Gretzky. However, for someone who lived in Edmonton for years and was teethed on the Oiler’s dynasty led by Gretzky and who’s now retired on Vancouver Island watching a steady diet of Canucks games, Gretzky (as he admitted himself) and Pettersson share similarities. They both think the game well. They both are assist-first players who can score; they make those around them better; and, they can impact their entire team in positive ways.
The one difference I do see is that Pettersson plays more physically. For as “frail” as he looks, he doesn’t avoid contact. That might cause him trouble in the future if he’s injured, but he isn’t Micheal Ferland or Tyler Motte – he’s not a heat-seeking missile that goes looking for a confrontation.
What’s Pettersson’s Potential?
There’s no doubt that Pettersson has the skills to prosper in today’s NHL. He’s fast; he’s smart; and, he sees the game well. Those skills are undeniable. I’m betting that, unless he’s injured, he’ll one day be recognized as one of the best Canucks’ players of all time. And I say that with the confidence of following his progress for a grand total of 116 NHL games.
For me, that’s enough watching to make that call. He’s worth the price of admission.