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What we can expect from Elias Pettersson in his third season

Coming off of a Calder Trophy and helping lead the Canucks in a surprise playoff run, how will Vancouver’s golden boy fare this season? 

Vancouver Canucks v Vegas Golden Knights - Game Two Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

On October 3, 2018, all Canucks fans saw something special unfold in Rogers Arena.

That was the night when a 19-year old from Sundsvall, Sweden was clearly the best player on the ice in his NHL debut. It was the first glimmer of hope in the bleak rebuild to that point — and two years later things have certainly turned around for Vancouver.

Through his first two seasons, Pettersson has played a massive role in making the Canucks a team to watch across the NHL. The numbers don’t lie either.

Through 139 regular season games to this point, the Swedish phenom has registered 55 goals and 77 assists for 132 points. Those are fantastic numbers by anyone’s estimation — but with Petey I’m almost sure there’s another level he has yet to tap into.

We all saw a little bit of that in the bubble playoffs this summer. Pettersson finished the second season with totals of 7 goals and 11 assists in 17 games. While some prognosticators predicted Petey to fold on the big and physical playoff stage — he did the exact opposite.

This is a guy that will eventually challenge for MVPs and Art Ross trophies, it’s just a matter of when for Pettersson. The oddsmakers in Vegas seem to recognize this as well. Despite being ranked by The Hockey News as the 38th best player in the NHL, Vegas gives Petey the 8th best odds to win this year’s MVP.

With the 8th best odds by the way, he lands ahead of both Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Pettersson has fully arrived in Vancouver — but hasn’t quite yet on an NHL-wide level. So when will he?

For our answer, we can look to other superstar centers around the league to see how they did in their third year. So let’s see what we find:

Auston Matthews

Columbus Blue Jackets v Toronto Maple Leafs - Game Five Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

The face of the franchise for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Matthews actually had totaled an identical number of points to Pettersson in his first two seasons, 132. In year three, he improved to 73 points in 68 games - a 10 point improvement from his second year. Like Pettersson, at that point he was right on the cusp of becoming a truly elite superstar. His 47 goals in 70 games last season would indicate he has officially arrived as one of the best players in the league.

Jack Eichel

Washington Capitals v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Sara Schmidle/NHLI via Getty Images

Another good comparable for Pettersson is Sabres center Jack Eichel. Through his first two seasons, the American had scored 113 points in 142 games, and in year three he put up 64 points in 67 games - his best points-per-game mark to that point. It was only this last season (his 5th) that Eichel elevated to NHL superstar status, while Buffalo still flounders through their decade-long rebuild.

Leon Draisaitl

Edmonton Oilers v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

Now moving to a divisional rival, Pettersson has actually outdone the reigning MVP through his first two seasons. Draisaitl was sitting at 128 points at that stage, and in year three he actually fell down to 70 points from 77 the year prior. There seems to be a theme here of the current batch of superstar centers not fully arriving until after their third season. Let’s look a little further, though.

Nathan MacKinnon

Colorado Avalanche v Dallas Stars - Game Four Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

Remember when the consensus was that MacKinnon wouldn’t live up to his potential? That was in his first few seasons - and especially after his 38-point second season. In his third year, he improved modestly to 52 points in 72 games. This is another current superstar who had yet to break into the top tier through three seasons.

What do these comparisons tell us?

After looking at Matthews, Eichel, Draisaitl, and MacKinnon, what becomes apparent is that it’s extremely difficult in today’s NHL to crack into the group of 10-15 truly elite players in someone’s first few seasons. These were all top 3 draft picks, too, with massive expectations on each of their shoulders starting from their first games in the league.

I’d argue that Petey’s two-year resume surpasses any of these players with the possible exception of Auston Matthews. He’s tied with Matthews in regular season points in that time frame, with more playoff points than any of the four.

All of this would indicate that special things are on the way from Elias Pettersson in a Canuck uniform — it’s just a matter of when.

Petey’s 2021 outlook

So what is a reasonable expectation for the best Canuck forward this season? Considering that the team has lost depth up front after losing Tyler Toffoli and Josh Leivo, the onus will be on the top line of him, J.T. Miller, and Brock Boeser to up their game for the Canucks to make the playoffs.

Lack of team depth likely works in Pettersson’s favor. Another factor that could drive his numbers up is the fact that most of the Canadian teams tend to play a wide-open style where more goals are scored.

The prediction: Like the other four superstars I’ve discussed, Petey will likely not crack into the group of 5-10 widely accepted best players in the league in year three, but he’ll be close. Expect him to score 26 goals and 34 assists for 60 points in the 56 game schedule.