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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

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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.

WATCH LIVE: Devils host Rangers on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After both teams missed the playoffs last season (first time that’s happened since 1976-77), the Devils and Rangers scored big in the Draft Lottery by winning the 1st and 2nd picks, respectively, following their regular-season finish as bottom-dwellers of the Metro Division. New Jersey selected the consensus top prospect Jack Hughes, a Florida native whose brother was selected seventh overall by Vancouver in the 2018 Draft, while New York went with Finnish-born Kaapo Kakko.

The Rangers opened the season with wins in their first two games before falling to Edmonton on Saturday, 4-1. New York plays a back-to-back with a game at Washington on Friday night. New Jersey has started the season winless through six games, having been outscored 27-13 (not including shootout goals). The Devils are the 11th team in the last 12 seasons to go winless through its first six games. Only one of those clubs made the playoffs.

Against Florida on Monday, New Jersey blew a three-goal lead midway through the game and lost 6-4. The Devils are the only team in the NHL without a win. Along with Monday’s meltdown, the Devils also lost a 4-0 lead in their season-opening shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets. Chants of “Fire Hynes” echoed through the arena during the loss to the Panthers.

The biggest question mark standing in the way of the Rangers rebuilding plan is 37-year-old Henrik Lundqvist. He has already cemented himself as one of the greatest Rangers ever. But there remains some question as to whether he will be their goaltender if/when the time comes to compete for a Cup once again. He is still their guy for now, but he will have to bounce back from a disappointing season.

[COVERAGE OF DEVILS-RANGERS BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers
WHERE: Prudential Center
WHEN: Thursday, Oct. 17, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Devils-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

DEVILS
Taylor Hall – Jack Hughes – Kyle Palmieri
Blake ColemanTravis ZajacWayne Simmonds
Nikita GusevPavel ZachaJesper Bratt
Miles WoodKevin RooneyJohn Hayden

Damon SeversonP.K. Subban
Will ButcherSami Vatanen
Mirco Mueller – Matt Tennyson

Starting goalie: Mackenzie Blackwood

RANGERS
Artemi PanarinMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Chris KreiderBrett Howden – Kaapo Kakko
Brendan SmithRyan StromeJesper Fast
Brendan LemieuxLias AnderssonGreg McKegg

Brady SkjeiTony DeAngelo
Libor HajekJacob Trouba
Marc StaalAdam Fox

Starting goalie: Alexandar Georgiev

Kathryn Tappen will host NHL Live on Thursday with analysts Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones. Kenny Albert, Mike Milbury and Pierre McGuire will have the call from Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

Stunning Numbers: Connor McDavid edition

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Throughout the 2019-20 NHL season will take an occasional look at some stunning numbers around the NHL. Today we look at Connor McDavid‘s incredible start for the Edmonton Oilers. 

Connor McDavid single handedly destroyed the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night, tallying five points in the Oilers’ 6-3 win to continue their surprising start, improving their record to 6-1-0.

It is one of the best starts in franchise history and, to the surprise of exactly no one, is being almost completely driven by the team’s two-headed monster of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

Both players are great, but McDavid is the one we are going to focus on here because, well, he just continues to be a real life cheat code on the ice when it comes to producing offense.

Just seven games into the season he is already well on his way to a fourth consecutive 100-point season, something that only 13 players in the history of the league have done. No one has done it since 1993, and the majority of the instances came during the 1980s. McDavid, truly, is a player from another time.

With his five points on Wednesday (in only 18 minutes of ice time!) he is already up to 17 points in the Oilers’ first seven games of the season. The only player in the league within two points of him is Draisaitl as the two continue to dunk all over their opponents.

Let’s put this start into some perspective with some stunning numbers.

[Related: Another 100-point season would put McDavid in exclusive club]

• He is the first player since Mario Lemieux during the 1995-96 season to record at least 17 points in the first seven games of a season. Before that, you have to go back to Wayne Gretzky during the 1993-94 season. The only players to do it dating back to the 1979-80 season are McDavid, Lemieux, Gretzky, Bernie Nicholls (while playing alongside Gretzky), Kevin Stevens, Rob Brown (the latter two while playing next to Lemieux), Peter Stastny, Marcel Dionne, Brent Sutter, and Mike Bossy.

To add to that, just look at how this start compares to some of Gretzky’s best seasons in Edmonton…

When you are doing something in 2019 that Gretzky used to do in the 80s you are doing something truly spectacular.

• McDavid has 17 points. The Oilers have 29 goals. That means McDavid has scored or assisted on 59 percent of the team’s goals, an absurd number even for McDavid (who is usually around 50 percent for the Oilers throughout his career). He has also been on the ice for 21 of the team’s goals (72 percent!) while the Oilers have only surrendered seven (all situations). When he is NOT on the ice the Oilers have been outscored 12-8 by their opponents. The only game he did not record a point in so far this season was the Oilers’ only loss (3-1 in against Chicago on Tuesday night).

• Just for reference, here is how McDavid has started each season in his career through seven games.

2015-16: 6 points — finished with 48 points in 45 games
2016-17: 12 points — finished with 100 points in 82 games
2017-18: 8 points — finished with 108 points in 82 games
2018-19: 13 points — finished with 116 points in 78 games

• He is currently on a 199-point pace for the season, a mark that only Gretzky and Lemieux and have ever reached in NHL history. Let’s be honest, he is not going to maintain that pace over a full season, simply because this isn’t 1985 anymore and the NHL just isn’t built for those sort of numbers. But with 17 points in seven games, if he simply maintained a 1.32 point per game average over the remaining 75 games that would still put him at 116 points again. If he scored at the 1.48 pace he played at a year ago that would put him at 128 points this season. Assuming he stays healthy, somewhere in the neighborhood of 116 and 128 points seems like a realistic possibility.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Maple Leafs’ Tavares out at least two weeks with broken finger

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It has been a bit of a slow start for the Toronto Maple Leafs and they received a bit of bad news on Thursday afternoon that won’t make things any easier.

The team announced that captain John Tavares will be sidelined for at least the next two weeks due to a broken finger that he suffered during the team’s 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night.

Tavares will be re-evaluated by the team in two weeks when a more definitive timetable on his return will be known.

He was injured when he was struck by a Morgan Rielly slap shot during Wednesday’s game.

In eight games this season Tavares has three goals (including one goal on Wednesday) and four assists. He scored 47 goals for the Maple Leafs a year ago in his first season with the team.

Following Wednesday’s loss the Maple Leafs are 4-3-1 through their first eight games and are still struggling defensively, showing all of the flaws that have slowed them down in recent years. Now they will be without one of their best offensive players for what will probably at least the next six games, if not more. During this upcoming stretch the Maple Leafs play Boston two times, including their next game on Saturday night, and will also play Columbus, San Jose, Washington, Montreal, Philadelphia twice, Los Angeles, and Vegas. Not the most daunting schedule, but not exactly the easiest, either.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Golden Knights’ Zykov suspended 20 games for PED violation

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The NHL announced on Thursday afternoon that Vegas Golden Knights forward Valentin Zykov has been suspended 20 games without pay for violating the league’s performance enhancing substance program.

Along with the suspension, Zykov is now subject to mandatory referral to the NHL/NHLPA Program for Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health for evaluation and possible treatment.

The 24-year-old Zykov has appeared in seven games this season, recording two assists while averaging 11 minutes of ice-time per game.

The Golden Knights released a statement in support of the league’s decision.

“We were notified by the NHL and NHLPA that Valentin has violated the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program. We monitor the nutrition, supplement intake, and overall diet of our athletes on a continual basis throughout our entire season. Valentin knowingly used a banned substance without the consent, recommendation or knowledge of our team. We support the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program and respect the decision here.”

Zykov also issued a statement via the NHLPA.

“I’ve been informed that I am being suspended for 20 games under the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program.  While I haven’t been able to discover how I tested positive, I understand that I am responsible for what is in my body and will accept this penalty.  I want to apologize to my family, my teammates, and the Golden Knights organization and fans.  I will work hard during my suspension to ensure that I put myself in the best possible position to contribute to my team when my suspension is over.”

This is the second time in as many years that a Golden Knights player has been suspended for a PED violation after defenseman Nate Schmidt also missed 20 games a year ago.

In that instance, the Golden Knights strongly disagreed with the results and the suspension. It was reported back in September that Schmidt has been working with the NHLPA to help reform the NHL’s current drug testing program in an effort to raise the minimum standard for suspension. Regarding his suspension, Schmidt argued that an “environmental contamination” was the reason for his failed test, and that the amount that was found was the equivalent of a pinch of a salt in an Olympic sized swimming pool.

Schmidt appealed his suspension only to have it be upheld.

The fact the Golden Knights were so strong in their statement of support for Zykov’s suspension is a strong sign that Zykov does not have the same argument that Schmidt did, and that any appeal would be unlikely to be won.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.