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.
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.)
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.