On defending against Canucks’ Elias Pettersson and how he’s officiated

Elias Pettersson
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Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson is one of the NHL’s brightest young stars and a dynamic playmaker that is capable of changing a game every time he steps on the ice. As such, he is also going to be the focal point for every team defensively and is the kind of player that they want to play against physically.

In just his second season in the league he has already been on the receiving end of some big — and controversial — hits that have resulted in ejections and supplemental discipline.

On Tuesday, in the Canucks’ 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins, he was on the receiving end of a late hit from Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk that infuriated coach Travis Green after the game.

Here is the play.

It is not the worst hit you will see, but it is clearly late, unnecessary and at a time when Pettersson should not be expecting to be hit. There was no penalty called on the play, even as an official had a direct line of sight to the contact.

Here was Green’s commentary after the game, via TSN:

“I’m so frustrated with it. This guy is one of the best young players in the league. He gets hit and he’s totally defenseless. It’s two seconds after he lets go of the puck. I’ve watched it a couple times. He feels like there’s no way he’s going to get hit like that. He’s in a vulnerable position. Those are hits that the league is trying to get out of the game, especially against top young guys, top players in the league, and I think that Petey’s shown he’s one of those guys.

“And it’s frustrating for me as a coach to see some of the abuse he takes, where (it) doesn’t get called and he works through this. He gets frustrated and they keep, I know he’s not the biggest guy, but that doesn’t mean you can take advantage of a player that’s not ready to be hit. It’s very late. That should have been a penalty all day long.”

Neither player talked after the game, but Pettersson addressed it on Thursday, as well questions on the officiating towards him and the way he’s defended by teams across the league. You can watch his entire media availability here.

Pettersson clearly did not like the hit or the lateness of it, calling it kind of a dirty play.

Still, he insisted he is not the type of player to go to the officials looking for a call.

“The refs already have a tough job, I’m not looking for calls. I don’t want to have that reputation about me. If they say I’m embellishing or diving to get penalties — I’m not about that. I’m trying to play hard hockey with respect against my opponents. Of course sometimes I feel I should get a penalty, but that’s something I can’t control. All I can control is trying to play my best hockey.”

He later added:  “I know I get a lot more attention now. I can feel it, get less time with the puck, I feel like I always have a guy around me. I feel like plays like that isn’t what we want in hockey. It’s a late hit, I’m not ready for it. I’m ready for it at first, but then two or three seconds later the hit comes.”

Pettersson also said that Grzelcyk checked on him after the play to make sure he was okay.

A few additional thoughts:

1. The Canucks and Pettersson were absolutely right to be livid about that hit on Tuesday. The problem is I don’t see this as a Pettersson-Canucks issue as much as it is an NHL officiating issue. All too often the grace period for when a hit is acceptable seems to be extended far beyond what it should be. As long as it doesn’t result in an injury, a clear hit directly to the head, or somebody being hit from behind it tends to be ignored.

2. Pettersson does take a beating. Sometimes it gets punished. Sometimes it doesn’t. Along with this hit, other notable incidents include the game in Florida last season when he was body-slammed by Mike Matheson, the flying elbow he took to the face from Chris Kreider, and this incident with Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Grzelcyk and Kotkaniemi received no penalties and no league discipline, but Matheson was suspended two games while Kreider was ejected and fined (but not suspended).

3. While those punishments and penalties may seem frustrating and inconsistent for the Canucks, Pettersson does draw penalties far more than than most players in the league. Among the 498 players that have logged at least 500 minutes of ice-time this season, Pettersson is 16th in the league in penalties drawn per 60 minutes. Overall, he’s drawn 24 penalties this season. Though, it is worth pointing out — as the Athletic’s Thomas Drance did on Thursday) the overwhelming majority of those calls came early in the season and have dried up over the past two months. None of those numbers should matter, though. A penalty is a penalty and all anybody should be looking for here is consistency. That, again, is an issue that extends far beyond Pettersson and the Canucks.

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.