The Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Pettersson is, simply stated, a star. Two seasons ago, he won the Calder Trophy as the best rookie in the NHL. This season, he was better than ever. During a regular-season shortened by COVID-19, he scored just as many points for the season – but in three fewer games. I’m not sure when the 2020-21 season will start, but I am certain of one thing – Pettersson is going to have a breakout season.
It’s tough to have a breakout season when you’re already scoring at almost a point-a-game clip, but Pettersson is getting better; he’s getting stronger; and, he’s even becoming more willful on the ice. As in the old Timex watch commercial, he “takes a lickin, but he keeps on tickin.”
In fact, one of the most heartening things about the 2019-20 playoffs for the Canucks was that their two young stars – Pettersson and Quinn Hughes were physical-ized play after play, but they just kept getting up and fighting back on the score sheet. Both showed exceeding will and skill.
It’s Not Like Pettersson Is Alone on This Canucks Team
During most of the 2019-20 season, Pettersson played on one of the NHL’s top lines. In April 2020, Fantasy Hockey listed Pettersson as part of the seventh-best line in the NHL. At that time, his linemates were newcomer to the team Tyler Toffoli (who since signed with the Montreal Canadiens) and J.T. Miller (who was better than a point-a-game scorer with 72 points in 69 games in what was his best career season ever). This season, with Toffoli gone, Pettersson will likely be reunited with the prodigious Brock Boeser (who’s beginning to round out his game rather than simply being a goalscorer).
As well, last season’s first-year captain Bo Horvat proved himself to be a great leader, scorer, demon in the faceoff circle, and really shone during the playoffs. Rookie defenseman Quinn Hughes was voted yesterday in the Last Man Vote to his first NHL All-Star Game and should have received more votes for the Calder as the NHL’s best rookie.
Even with the loss of goalie Jacob Markstrom and stalwart defenseman Chris Tanev – both to the Calgary Flames – the Canucks have a solid team. They both made the playoffs and then took an extended run toward the Stanley Cup.
Pettersson’s Rookie Season Was Great, But He’s Better
Pettersson exploded like a nova during the 2019-20 season. However, this coming season the Canucks’ second-year player will even be better and will prove he should be counted among the NHL’s best. The skinny kid from Sweden, who looks more like an accountant than an NHL player, will further develop into a major star and will take another step forward. I am betting on it!
Even early on, that talent was detected by none other than Wayne Gretzky himself. Reflecting on young Pettersson’s talent, Gretzky said he was reminded 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.”
During the 2019-20 season, Pettersson seemed to grow 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. He can help make those around him better players.
It’s a stretch to compare any young player, regardless of how good he is, to Gretzky. However, clearly Gretzky and Pettersson share similarities. They both have high hockey IQ. They both are assist-first players who can also score. And, they both make their teammates better.
One main difference I saw this past season is that Pettersson is playing more physically. He might look “frail” but he isn’t afraid of contact.
What’s Pettersson’s Potential?
For me, Pettersson is worth the price of admission. He has the skill and will to prosper in today’s NHL. That’s because he’s smart, fast, and has decided when he’s knocked down to simply get back up. He frustrates opponents and draws tons of penalties, which combined with the Canucks good special teams play ranks them high in power play success.
His skills are undeniable. Unless he’s injured, he’ll one day become known as one of the best Canucks’ players of all time. He’s that good.
My prediction for Pettersson – should the NHL and the Canucks play a full 82-game regular season – is that he’ll score 90 points in 2020-21. Take it to the bank.
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