How can an NHL player who won the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie have a breakout season? The answer is that Elias Pettersson looks to be that much better this season than last. Furthermore, the team around him is sufficiently improved. Those two things add up to possibility.
Pettersson was the leading NHL rookie scorer with 66 points (28 goals, 38 assists) in 71 games last season. That was 21 points more than the next highest rookie Ottawa Senators forward Brady Tkachuk (Keith Tkachuk’s son). Pettersson was rewarded, when he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie.
As far as the Canucks were concerned, he scored the most points by a rookie since Pavel Bure scored 60 (34 goals, 26 assists) in 1991-92. In short, last season was a good one for the super rookie. This season, I believe he will become a point-a-game player, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he bumped up against 100 points for the season.
Pettersson’s Preseason Play
The way Pettersson has played during the preseason, it doesn’t look as if his rookie season was a fluke. Not at all. Pettersson looks stronger, faster, and even taller. Even better, he feels more at home in North America. That’s a good sign for the Canucks.
His preseason has been notable. Everyone knew Pettersson led the team in scoring last season, but who knew really how he would come into camp this season. The answer is that, obviously, he’s been working on both his game and his body. During training camp, he skated his teammates into the ice during the first day’s timed intervals – to the point where I was told that his teammates stopped to watch and appreciate.
Pettersson had three goals and three assists in four pre-season games, and there’s no reason to believe he cannot keep up that pace through the regular season – especially if he can stay from injuries. From the naked eye, it looks as if he’s bulked up a bit and is, indeed, a stronger version of himself. He’s listed at 176 pounds, but his 6-foot-2 frame looks bulkier than that. And, as noted earlier, if he’s gained muscle it sure hasn’t slowed down his game. He seems speedier than ever.
What Does Pettersson Think?
Pettersson doesn’t disagree that he feels his game has improved since his stellar rookie season. He says he feels quicker and “more balanced” than he did last season. He also seems more comfortable spending time engaging reporters and fans. From what I’ve seen, he seems like an emerging leader. My own feeling is that, although I really like Bo Horvat, I believe Pettersson should be the next Canucks captain. He simply acts like the leader of the team. I believe he’s well-respected and will be listened to.
Pettersson told Sportsnet, “I know the expectations are higher for me, but I’m the one who puts the highest expectations for myself.” He added, “I don’t think (about) what other people want to see from me. I try to play my best hockey every day.”
Living His Dream Life
In an interview last month at the NHL European Player Media Tour and reported by NHL.com, Pettersson noted that he’s just trying to have fun, adding: “I’m living my dream life. I’m just trying to make the most of it.” And that includes off the ice, as well, which might have been the young star’s greatest learning curve.
The 20-year-old had to transition to a new country and a new language. Furthermore, he wasn’t used to the increased expectations of being a successful young star in a Canadian city starved for hockey success. From a young man from a small town of only 3,000 people in central Sweden (Ange), he struggled at first in North America.
Although he was always comfortable on the ice, Pettersson was up-front about his struggles to embrace all that went with playing hockey in Canada. He was afraid to say things that might become misinterpreted when translated into English.
That language barrier was Pettersson’s biggest growing pain, saying he was afraid to look, or sound, stupid. As Pettersson admitted, “I remember my first interview in English, I could barely get the language, get a word out.
“It was definitely new, especially playing in Canada. The media attention was a lot more than I was used to. Getting used to that was definitely a little hard for me, talking my second language.”
What’s the Prognosis for This Season?
Not everyone was pleased when the Vancouver Canucks picked a skinny Swedish young man – Elias Pettersson – with its fifth pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Now, the only unhappy group with the Canucks’ surprise selection is the rest of the NHL. What a team-changing selection Petterson was.
By himself, Pettersson’s changed his team’s future and has offered Canucks’ fans a reason to once again place hope in their team. He scores; he eludes defenders; he finds open teammates; and, he simply dazzles with his abilities.
Elias Pettersson is worth the price of admission. And, as difficult as it will be, I think we should look for a breakout season for this young star. Canucks’ fans just hope he carries the rest of the team with him.
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