Unless you talk to St. Louis Blues’ goalie Jordan Binnington, Elias Pettersson was a star before the 2019-20 season. This season the Vancouver Canucks second-year player is proving he deserves to be counted among the NHL’s best players. Thanks to Pettersson, the Canucks are in a playoff position currently and have a chance to make a Stanley Cup playoff run this season.
Pettersson’s rookie season was obviously impressive enough that he won the Calder Trophy by picking up 159 of the 171 first-place votes. Pettersson was a huge surprise, and he developed quickly as a major star. However, in my mind, Pettersson has taken a further step forward so far this season.
Elias Pettersson’s Game Is Shaping Up Differently this Season
Elias Pettersson is productive, and is now – even at a young age – the team leader on an up-and-coming team. However, he’s differently productive this season than last. In his 18 games this season, he’s scored almost the same point total (this season he has 21 points in 18 games, last season he had 19 points in his first 18 games.)
The specific difference is that this season he has six goals, 15 assists (for 21 points) in 18 games. In his first 18 games of the 2018-19 season, Pettersson had 12 goals, seven assists (for 19 points). That’s twice as many goals last season and less than half the assists.
Pettersson’s linemate Brock Boeser’s scoring reflects the impact of that difference in the young Swede’s game. Comparing Boeser’s first 18 games for each season, this season he has seven goals, 10 assists (for 17 points); however, he had four goals, eight assists (12 points) last season. That’s a five-point improvement. Projected over the entire season, that would be a 25-point increase.
However, perhaps the biggest change in the top line has been the addition of J.T. Miller, whose eight goals and 10 assists give Pettersson another scoring option. This means that he doesn’t need to do all the scoring himself.
It was interesting that the great Wayne Gretzky said about Pettersson this time last season, “From my point of view, he’s got a lot of my similarities.”
As an Edmonton Oilers fan for so many seasons, while I taught as a professor at the University of Alberta and now have retired to British Columbia, it seems that Pettersson is growing towards becoming the assist machine that Gretzky was at his best. Obviously, Gretzky scored goals – he leads the NHL in career goal with 894 – but he was THE best because he made those around him better.
That’s this season’s Pettersson. It’s a stretch to compare a second-year player – regardless of how good that player is – to Gretzky. However, from someone who’s watched them both – they do, as Gretzky admitted himself, have similarities. They both think the game well. They both can become assist-first players who’ll impact the entire team.
One difference to my eye is that Pettersson plays a more physical game. For as “frail” as he looks, he doesn’t avoid contact.
What’s the Prognosis Going Forward?
There’s no doubt that Pettersson has the skills to prosper in the NHL of today. He’s fast; he’s smart; and, he has the skills to become one of the best Canucks’ players of all time. And, I say this with confidence after only about 80 total career games.
He’s worth the price of admission.