There is life for the Vancouver Canucks all of a sudden. Since the recent coaching change of bringing on Bruce Boudreau, they have a record of 10-3-2 and have made some significant movement in the Pacific Division standings while giving themselves an opportunity to compete for a playoff position. The goaltending has improved, defensively, they’ve tightened up, and while a few star players have stepped up under Boudreau, the Canucks’ playoff hopes rely on an Elias Pettersson turnaround.
It’s not that Pettersson has been awful in the 2021-22 season, but when the Canucks extended him to a three-year contract worth an average annual value (AAV) of $7.35 million, many were expecting him to continue on his trajectory to being one of the best young centres in the game. From the success he had early on in his career, to this year’s struggles and how he can turn it around, if the Canucks want any chance to play playoff hockey come April and beyond, Pettersson will need to be an integral piece to help get them there.
Pettersson’s Success Earlier in His Career
There is no doubt the talent of Pettersson. After all, he was the fifth overall selection in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, and the immediate impact and success that followed early in his career speaks volumes about the player the Canucks knew and hoped they were getting after that day.
Pettersson exploded onto the scene during the 2018-19 season. He racked up 28 goals and 38 assists for 66 points, while taking home the Calder Memorial Trophy, given to the top rookie of that year. He also finished top-24 in voting for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, which goes to the player who, “exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability”.
He followed up that rookie season by putting up 66 points across 68 games, and while last year was cut short due to a wrist injury that sidelined him for the remained 30 games of the regular season, he still put up an impressive 21 points through 26 games. What stands out, even more, is his Corsi For Percentage (CF%) numbers, where he averaged a 52.4 CF% at even strength between 2018-2021, which is pretty impressive for a player playing in his early-20’s at the NHL level. Even this season, his CF% numbers have been solid, where he has a 53.1 CF%, which would be the second-highest grade of his career so far.
So, through his first three seasons in Vancouver, Pettersson racked up 152 points through 165 games, which is an average of .92 points per game (PPG), and had a 52.4 CF%. But through the first 40 games this year, it’s been a very different story.
Pettersson’s Struggles So Far This Season
There hasn’t been a whole lot of change to the core of this Canucks roster. Players like Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes, J.T. Miller, and Thatcher Demko are still the building blocks over the last few seasons. If anything, this team added more talent around them, with the acquisitions of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland, coming over in the offseason from the Arizona Coyotes, as well as rookie winger Vasily Podkolzin. But so far this season, it has been a different tale for Pettersson.
While his CF% has been steady, his offensive totals have dipped to a point he has not been at before in his early career. Through 40 games, Pettersson has just nine goals and 20 points, which over an 82-game season, projects to just 41 points, the lowest total he would put up over a full campaign. The biggest factor could be his shooting percentage (S%). Through his first three seasons, Pettersson was shooting at 17.3%, whereas this season, he’s shooting at just 10.6%.
Despite the first-half struggles, there is still time for him to turn it around in the second half of the season.
Pettersson’s Keys To turning It Around
Even with the offensive totals dipping and sitting seventh in the Pacific Division, the bright side for Pettersson is that there is still plenty of time for him to turn it around, and there are a few key factors as to how that can happen in Vancouver.
Re-Unite the Miller-Pettersson-Boeser Line
This line had tremendous success over the last couple of seasons, which not only produced incredible numbers for Pettersson, but his linemates as well. Miller has been near the top of the Canucks scoring since arriving through a trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning, and while he continues to do so this season, having him back on a line with Pettersson could ignite a spark over the final 40 games. It could also help Boeser, who has also seen his totals dip this season as well, producing just 19 points through 34 games. The three-time 20-goal scorer could also be re-invigorated to form a top unit to try and propel the Canucks back into postseason contention.
Try Pettersson With First Year Canuck Garland
One of the new acquisitions that has been a bright stop of this team has been Garland. After coming over from the Coyotes and signing a five-year extension at $4.95 million AAV, Garland sits third in team scoring with 24 points through 37 games. His hard-working playing style might blend well with the high skill possessed by Pettersson, and could form a formidable duo if played together consistently.
Throw Pettersson With A Bevy of Youth
Pettersson has played anywhere from first to third-line centre, and has seen a multitude of wingers on his line throughout the season. While they’ve tried it a few times so far, why not give rookie Podkolzin an extended look on his wing? The 10th overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft has had his moments but sits at just 10 points through 38 games. Maybe putting him with one of your top producing centres gives both players a boost, and allows balance throughout the lineup, with Miller, Horvat, Boeser, and Garland sprinkled in there as well.
Boudreau and the rest of the coaching staff have obviously tried a few things to put Pettersson in a position to succeed, but nothing has really worked so far. If they do however find the right formula over the back half of the year, it would be a massive boost for a Canucks team looking to get back the playoffs since the bubble in 2020.
I’m a London, Ontario based broadcaster and sports writer for the Vancouver Canucks. I’ve done work in the past reporting on the NHL, NBA and MLB. I’ve also covered the OHL including the Owen Sound Attack and am currently involved with the London Knights.