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Most Intriguing Canucks, #1: Elias Pettersson

He hasn’t played an NHL regular season game yet and the hype train is already out of control. What can we expect from the man they call “the alien?”

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NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Vancouver Canucks
Is there anybody else worth paying attention to other than Elias Pettersson?
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Is there any other Canuck you’d rather pay attention to?

Last year, the only reason to watch the Canucks (at least during their putrid stretch in December and January) was to see Brock Boeser score. This season is shaping up to be about a singular player as well, and his name is Elias Pettersson.

The 19-year-old hasn’t even played a regular season NHL game, and the hype train is already out of control. Pettersson has shown flashes of his brilliance during the preseason with passes through his legs, no look passes, and passes to himself. It looks like the gaping hole that the Sedins and their wizardry left behind will be swiftly be replaced by the man they call “the alien.”

“I’d be lying if I told you I hadn’t heard that one,” Pettersson told Jason Botchford of The Athletic. “It puts some pressure on me. But I’m used to pressure. I like challenges.

“I think I’m a guy there should be a lot of pressure on. I think I’m the guy who can do it, who can produce many points.”

Seriously, how do we know this guy isn’t an alien?

Where he left off

After Pettersson arrived to earth from planet hockey, he went on to obliterate every rookie record imaginable in the SHL. It’s not clear at which point the hype train derailed, but a good guess would have been around March.

That’s when Pettersson broke Kent Nilsson’s 40+ year old record for scoring from a rookie. It’s a story that’s all too familiar to Canucks fans by now. He followed up his regular season brilliance by also breaking the rookie record for playoff scoring, and he ended his spectacular SHL season covered in gold.

I compiled a list of comparables to Pettersson at the SHL level. Only Nilsson had a better points per game rate among rookies in the SHL. Pettersson ranked ahead of guys such as Peter Forsberg, Nicklas Backstrom, the Sedins, and Markus Naslund among others.

While neither the Sedins or Naslund lit the world on fire in their rookie years, both Forsberg’s and Backstrom’s production paints a promising picture.

Here’s what those two managed during their rookie NHL seasons.

  • Forsberg: 47 GP, 15-35-50 (1.11 points-per-game), 21 years old
  • Backstrom: 82 GP, 14-55-69 (0.84 points-per-game), 20 years old

We’re all curious to see how Pettersson compares to those two, and the preseason has done nothing to slow down the hype.

Where he is now?

A picture says 1,000 words, but can you even quantify the magnitude of these images?

That’s just the preseason folks. Pettersson will be worth the price of admission to the Rog, and he’s worth every minute of your viewing time too.

Just to put things into perspective:

Season outlook

Travis Green deserves some credit for having some serious gonads during training camp. Brandon Sutter would be proud.

The easy thing to do would have been to stick Pettersson on the wing, but Green has played the young Swede primarily at centre so far. That’s where the Canucks want him to play, and it’s promising to see the organization recognize his talent and give him that opportunity right off the bat.

Throughout the season, it’s also promising to see Pettersson being paired with talented players. For now, the fear of seeing Sutter and Pettersson saddled together is nothing but hearsay. Instead, he’s playing with other talented wingers such as Sven Baertschi and Nikolay Goldobin.

NHL: Preseason-Los Angeles Kings at Vancouver Canucks
As long as Pettersson stays healthy, he has a chance to produce one of the best rookie seasons in Canucks history.
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

It might take Pettersson some more time to figure things out at even-strength. On the power play however, it looks like “the alien” is ready to make an impact right away. He’s looked more dangerous than any Canuck with five power play points in three games, and his sublime playmaking ability should allow him to produce there right away.

Pettersson undoubtedly has high hopes for himself, but the pressure is on league-wide. He’s already the odds-on favourite to win the Calder Trophy, and it seems like 50 points is just the benchmark for a successful season.

Cam Robinson of DobberHockey had an interesting piece on what a good and bad season would look like for some of the NHL rookies this season. Here’s what his projections looked like for Pettersson.

  • The Good: 30-44-74
  • The Bad: 17-27-44
  • The Likely: 27-34-61

As long as Pettersson stays healthy, I’d go as far to say that he’s a favourite to lead the Canucks in points this season. His ability to create offence is even more superior than Boeser’s shooting ability.

The best part? This is only his rookie season. While Pettersson is the main attraction for watching Canucks hockey this season, it’s only a precursor for what kind of player he will be in three years time. The Canucks might stink, but 2018-19 is shaping up to be all about the Pettersson show.