TORONTO — Elias Pettersson has a fan in Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock.
And while it doesn’t appear Vancouver’s phenom will play when the Canucks visit Toronto on Saturday night, like much of the hockey world, Babcock has been taken aback by Pettersson’s rookie season.
“He’s smarter than everybody else, so he can stand still and create space,” Babcock said after the Leafs practised on Friday. “You can say lots of things about him — he doesn’t look like he’s that strong. He just has the puck the whole time.
“Everybody keeps backing off, so he has space and he can shoot it and he can pass it and he sees it. He looks like a real player to me.”
Pettersson was set to undergo an MRI on Friday after suffering an injury to his right knee a night earlier in Montreal’s 2-0 victory over Vancouver when he got tied up with Canadiens rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
The Canucks tweeted there is no timetable for their top scorer’s return.
Pettersson easily leads all NHL rookies with 42 points (22 goals, 20 assists), 17 ahead of Ottawa Senators centre Colin White.
Pettersson — the NHL’s rookie of the month in both October and December — was also named as Vancouver’s all-star representative earlier this week.
Babcock said he was especially impressed by Pettersson’s performance in Ottawa against the Senators on Wednesday when the Swede scored a hat trick in the Canucks’ 4-3 overtime win.
“Dominant, dominant, dominant player,” said the coach. “Had the puck all the time. I don’t know why. But some of those guys … you ask Mitch (Marner) why he has the puck all the time.
“I don’t know, they’re just smarter than everybody.”
Vancouver (20-20-4) is 3-2-0 on a six-game road trip that wraps up Saturday. Toronto (26-12-2), meanwhile, will be looking to snap a two-game slide.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press