Rookie sensation Pettersson channels Gretzky, makes history

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More young players are making an immediate impact in the NHL with each passing year, but even acknowledging that, Vancouver Canucks wunderkind Elias Pettersson is practicing hockey witchcraft, somehow at just age 19.

Call it a tired trope if you’d like, but Pettersson really is making it look easy right off the bat. Even Michael Matheson hitting him with his finishing move only slowed the Swede for a little bit.

Breaking records/ankles

Pettersson made some history – and recreated a historical moment – by scoring an emphatic goal that was his 10th in as many games during Tuesday’s shootout loss to the Red Wings, doing so in an eerily similar way to a memorable game-winner by Wayne Gretzky. The Canucks were kind enough to drive the parallels home in this comparison:

Pretty tough to deny the comparison, and it’s been even tougher to deny Pettersson from getting on the scoreboard.

To reiterate, he already has 10 goals in his first 10 NHL games, and also generated six assists for 16 points. As you might expect, such production is highly unusual for a rookie, and you can drop most caveats when you compare Pettersson’s start to other red-hot beginnings.

Here’s a quick rundown of where Pettersson’s run ranks in NHL history, via the Canucks’ Derek Jory:

-Pettersson became just the 17th player in NHL history to score 10+ goals through his first 10 career games, and just the fifth to do so outside of the NHL’s inaugural season.

-Pettersson is the only teenager in the last 30 seasons (1988-89 to present) to open their career with at least 10 goals through their first 10 career games played.

-Pettersson is the first player to record 16+ points through his first 10 career NHL games since 1992-93, when Dimitri Kvartalnov and Nikolai Borschevsky accomplished the feat.

(Jory gets more into Canucks-specific marks in that article.)

Dynamic fun

A lot of Canucks fans are simply enjoying the ride, as Vancouver games have felt like old-west (or Gretzky-era?) shootouts, with Pettersson and Brock Boeser pacing some wild offensive games.

Speaking of the Sedin twins, one of Pettersson’s most clever moments came when he set up Boeser for this goal, which echoed the preternatural chemistry Daniel and Henrik shared:

Blissful stuff.

Now, apologies to Canucks fans who’d rather luxuriate rather than complicate things when it comes to enjoying Pettersson’s work, but let’s … complicate things. How likely is it for Pettersson to replicate these results? Take a moment to dig a little deeper.

Can he keep this up?

Most obviously, Pettersson’s shooting is going to slow down, even if his shoot truly earns the Joe Sakic/other hyperbolic-or-are-they-hyperbolic? comparisons.

His 10 goals have come on 28 shots on goal, meaning Pettersson’s shooting percentage is 35.7. For some context, Mike Bossy ended his career with a ridiculous 21.2 shooting percentage, and he was firing pucks against goalies who weren’t outfitted like tanks. In other words, it would be impressive if Pettersson could go a full season with a shooting percentage at half of that 35.7 percent.

Talk of shooting isn’t just going to shoot him down, though.

While Pettersson won’t maintain that pace over the long haul (not going to throw a might not in here; he won’t), it’s clear that he’s already getting the green light to fire away. His 28 SOG means he’s close to three SOG per game. He might be able to push that to a full three per night if his already-solid ice time (17:49 TOI average*) jumps up another beyond-his-years level.

Pettersson’s likely already getting that bump. His average is diluted by that Matheson game, and being limited in his first-ever NHL game (where he still scored a goal and an assist, easy peasy). Pettersson has received more than 22 minutes of ice time during his past two games, and has been beyond 20 for three in a row.

Just about every luck-related percentage (shooting percentage, factoring in teammates with an on-ice shooting percentage of 14.3-percent, a PDO of 106.5) is bound to come screaming back to Earth, yet Pettersson seems likely to be a factor even when he loses his alien form.

The 9-6-1 (19 points) Canucks have 66 games remaining in the regular season, so let’s cross our fingers and hope Pettersson can appear in all of them. If he were to maintain his 2.8 SOG-per-game pace, that would translate to about 185 SOG. A 15 shooting percentage would leave Pettersson just under 40 goals, so you can see that there’s serious potential there for Pettersson to have a glorious rookie campaign even once gravity’s inevitable pull begins.

Pettersson can also make up for some of the difference in regression by improving as a player. He already seems to see the game at a higher level, and he’s still becoming acquainted with his teammates.

Granted, Pettersson’s also never experienced an 82-game season against grown men who happen to be the best players in the world (even if Pettersson often makes them look like less of an impediment than turnstiles). Last season, his campaign with Vaxjo HC spanned 44 regular-season contests plus a playoff run. You can factor international play into the mix and you still wouldn’t account for the kind of grind that’s ahead.

Such challenges could lead to cold spells, and sometimes that provides a greater test to a coach’s patience than a player’s endurance and confidence. “He’s just 19” will be a sentiment uttered when Pettersson inevitably slips, and we’ll have to see if head coach Travis Green allows his Swedish star to go through ups and downs. As silly as it can be, plenty of bench bosses get skittish at such thoughts.

So, no, Pettersson’s not going to score at a goal-per-game pace. It won’t be easy – yet it’s quite possible – that he might end up with a goal every other game, which is basically the gold standard in a league where it’s still incredibly difficult to score.

Either way, it sure seems like the Canucks have something special in Pettersson, with the main question being “How special?” If this sneak preview is any indication, finding out will count as must-see TV.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.