Two of the Vancouver Canucks’ biggest stars, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes still remain unsigned. With both in line for massive long-term contracts either this offseason or next, they are without a doubt two of the most important pieces on the team right now. Which begs the question, who is more valuable in the long run? A superstar forward or a superstar defenceman?
In this article, I will attempt to do the impossible and choose between the two. Hopefully the Canucks never have to come to this crossroad, because I’m not sure what they would do.
The Case for Elias Pettersson
Since coming into the NHL at the beginning of the 2018-19 season, Pettersson has dazzled the league with his creativity, hockey IQ, and immense toolbox of skill. He won the Calder Trophy in 2019 as rookie of the year finishing with 28 goals and 66 points in 71 games and has never looked back since. He already has two 20-goal seasons under his belt and has arguably become the face of the Canucks at only 22 years old.
Selected fifth overall during the 2017 Draft, Pettersson is now the Canucks’ de facto number one center and the cornerstone of their offensive attack. Where he goes, the Canucks go. His personality has also captivated the league as he’s shown off his swagger and confidence on multiple occasions. From his facial expression after his first NHL goal to the “Pettersson death stare” he displayed after a reporter asked him if he wanted to return to Sweden, he has become the source of GIFs across social media as well.
Pettersson is pretty close to the complete package. He is not only lethal offensively with his wrist shot, one-timer, and soft hands, but he is also just as dangerous without the puck on his stick. Boasting a hockey IQ and competitive spirit of greats like Pavel Datsyuk, he can turn defence into offence in a heartbeat. Not to mention he seems to have the anticipation and mind of Wayne Gretzky at times. It’s no wonder he was called the “Swedish Gretzky” back home in his native Sweden. All in all, he is a one-of-a-kind talent that doesn’t come around every day.
The Case for Quinn Hughes
Only a year later, the Canucks got lucky again and drafted another superstar in the form of Orlando native Quinn Hughes. Falling to seventh overall after the Arizona Coyotes, Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings turned the top-ten on its head with their picks of Barrett Hayton, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Filip Zadina respectively, general manager Jim Benning was ecstatic when he got the chance to select him.
Boasting a rare combination of mobility, smarts, and poise beyond his years, Hughes was another prospect that hit the ground running the minute he entered the NHL. Debuting at the end of the 2018-19 season, his first five games were marked with exciting highlight-reel plays and insane chemistry with fellow young stars Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser. Prompting the now-iconic call by Canucks play-by-play announcer John Shorthouse, “enjoy the future folks, here it is right now, Pettersson, Boeser, and Hughes,” his transition to the NHL was almost seamless.
Hughes’ rookie season was more of the same as he broke franchise records and finished as a runner-up to Colorado Avalanche star Cale Makar for the Calder Trophy. Finishing with an eye-popping 53 points in 68 games, he became the first Canucks’ defenceman to record 50 points or more since Christian Ehrhoff did it during the 2010-11 season.
Now entering his third full season in the NHL after a productive sophomore campaign where he recorded three goals and 41 points in 56 games, Hughes has become the Canucks’ number one defenceman. His defensive game is still a work in progress after a combined minus-34 in the plus/minus column but that can be fixed with some coaching, which he will get with Brad Shaw. Despite that blemish, he has still been head coach Travis Green’s primary option on the blue line. Logging an average of 22:48 in ice time, the defence has gone where he has led them.
The Verdict: Elias Pettersson
It was a difficult choice, but Pettersson is the guy I would select if faced with the “Sophie’s Choice” of deciding who to keep on the roster. Aligning with the Twitter poll I ran on the weekend, he is the most valuable piece to the Canucks long-term success. As I mentioned earlier, the Canucks offence goes where Pettersson aka EP40 goes. Without him, they are not the same team, evidenced by their struggles at the end of the 2020-21 season when he was nursing an injured wrist.
That’s not to say that Hughes is any less important to the team. He is a star on the blue line and one of the best offensive defencemen in the NHL. However, he is not in the same league as Norris Trophy caliber blueliners like Makar, Victor Hedman, or Drew Doughty. Until he develops his defensive game to their level, he will never be talked about alongside those names. That fact alone keeps him from beating Pettersson in a photo finish.
Who would you choose if faced with the difficult decision of keeping just one of these young stars on the Canucks roster? Let us know in the comments below!
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Matthew Zator is the assistant managing editor at THW and a writer who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.