Through the Vancouver Canucks first 26 games of the season, it is easy to say Elias Pettersson has been their M.V.P. The 24-year-old center not only leads the team in points but has become one of the elite two-way players in the NHL. If he continues this pace, he will not only become the sixth Canuck to hit 100 points in a season; he could be up for some year-end awards, including the Selke Trophy.
Pettersson Makes Linemates Better
Throughout the early part of the season, one thing has become clear, Pettersson makes his linemates better. Whether it is Ilya Mikheyev, Andrei Kuzmenko or Brock Boeser, all these players have seen a drastic increase in expected goals for percentage (xGF%) when playing alongside him at even strength. Here is a look at the numbers for the five wingers he has played the most with at even strength:
|Player||xGF% with Pettersson||xGF% without Pettersson|
Whether it is shots on goal, Corsi, high-danger chances for percentage (HDCF%), goals for percentage (GF%) or xGF%, Pettersson has shown on a consistent basis he makes his teammates better. What might be the most impressive part, however, is that he has shown an ability to improve the play of multiple linemates. It doesn’t seem to matter who coach Bruce Boudreau puts beside him; he has shown an ability to generate offence regardless of who is on his wing, for the most part, this season.
Pettersson Even Strength Play
Since his arrival to Vancouver, everyone has known how dangerous Pettersson is on the power play, but it’s his even-strength play this season that is grabbing headlines. Through the first 26 games of the 2022-23 campaign, he has 12 goals and 22 points at even strength. His 12 goals have him tied for second in the NHL behind Jason Robertson, and his 22 points have him tied for sixth, which is only six points behind Sidney Crosby for the league lead. He also has an Individual Point Percentage (IPP) of 81.48%, which is better than players like Leon Draisaitl, Matthew Tkachuk, Jack Hughes and Jack Eichel. In short, when he is on the ice, not only does the offence run through him, he is one of the most dangerous players with the puck on his stick in the entire league.
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As for his defensive play, Pettersson leads all forwards with 25 blocked shots and has more than both Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Quinn Hughes. He also leads the team in takeaways with 21, with the next highest Canucks being Bo Horvat with 13. Lastly, he is one of just two Vancouver players, Kuzmenko being the other, whose analytics are all above 50% (Corsi, Fenwick, SF%, GF%, xGF%, Scoring Chances for % (SCF%), HDCF%). His even-strength play has improved leaps and bounds compared to his previous four seasons and is one of the reasons Vancouver has stayed in the playoff chase despite their multitudes of problems to start the campaign.
Room for Improvement
Pettersson is not a perfect player, and there are two areas he needs to improve on this season. The first is on the power play. While his nine points are decent, all have been assists, with six of them being secondary assists. He is also passing up too many one-timers from his spot in the right faceoff circle. While he isn’t getting much puck luck, having not scored on any of his 18 shots on goal, he needs to be less hesitant as he has one of the most dangerous one-timers in the league.
The other area that needs improvement is in the faceoff dot. He has taken 298 faceoffs this season and has only won 129 or 43.3% of them. He has particularly struggled in neutral zone faceoffs, winning just 37% of his 108 draws. There have already been examples of Pettersson’s struggles in the faceoff dot hurting the Canucks as a lost faceoff led to the 5-5 goal versus the Montreal Canadiens on Dec. 6, 2022. If he can become more consistent in the faceoff dot, it will go a long way in not only helping Vancouver, but establishing himself as one of the best all-around players in the NHL.
Pettersson With Superstar Start to Season
Based on the early returns this season, it is safe to say that Pettersson is playing like a superstar. While there are areas that need improvement, he is showing that not only can he be a number one center in the league, but a player worthy of award consideration. He is already in the top 30 for scoring in Canucks history, and based on his performance so far should find himself in the top 25 by the end of the season.
All statistics provided by Natural Stat Trick
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Adam is excited to be joining The Hockey Writers as part of the Seattle Kraken and Vancouver Canucks team. His work can also be found at area51sportsnet.com where he covers the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.