Beyond Pettersson: A look at the rest of the Calder Trophy field

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It has been a foregone conclusion for most of the season that Vancouver Canucks phenom Elias Pettersson is going to walk away with the Calder Trophy this season as the league’s rookie of the year. He has instantly transformed the Canucks’ lineup and at times been an unstoppable force when he is on the ice.

He is clearly the favorite and head and shoulders above the rest of the class.

Still, even with Pettersson’s dominance there are three other rookies in this class that are making a pretty strong push to at least make the discussion interesting.

Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers

Hart is a recent entry into the discussion, but he is making a pretty compelling case for himself with the way he has played since his mid-season call-up from the American Hockey League.

Not to overstate things, but he is probably the single biggest reason for optimism if you’re a Flyers fan because he at least has the potential — the potential! — to finally solve the long-standing problem in net. He has been a highly anticipated prospect ever since he joined the organization and his first look in the NHL has been everything even the most wildly optimistic Flyers fan could have hoped for it to be.

After backstopping the Flyers to a 3-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Monday night, he is now up to a .922 save percentage in his first 13 appearances and is top-10 among the 65 goalies that have played in at least 10 games. His .924 even-strength mark is 16th out of that group. Yes, it’s a smal sample size but for a rookie goalie to jump right into the mess that has been the Flyers’ season and settle the position the way he has is extremely impressive.

It’s been a decade since a goalie last won the Calder (Steven Mason did it in 2009 for the Columbus Blue Jackets) but if Hart can maintain this momentum through the second half of the season he will at least give himself a chance to counted among the finalists.

Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres

Defenders typically have an uphill battle for this award as only four of them have won it since 1990. Still, two of the top contenders this season are defenders and the best of the bunch so far has been No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin of the Sabres.

After years of near-misses in the draft lottery the Sabres finally had the ping-pong balls go their way this past year and landed the potential No. 1 defender their rebuild has been lacking.

[NHL Awards 2019: PHT hands out hardware at the All-Star break]

Dahlin has been tremendous from day one.

He is not only playing more than 20 minutes per night, he has been a positive possession driver (51 percent Corsi percentage) and showed superstar potential offensively. Entering play on Tuesday he has already recored 26 points in his first 48 games and is on track for around 45 points on the season.

As an 18-year-old.

In the history of the league only two defenders in their age 18 season have ever topped the 40-point mark. Phil Housley, Dahlin’s current head coach, had 66 during the 1982-83 season and Bobby Orr had 41 back in 1966-67.

As it stands right now his 26 points already the seventh-most all-time for an 18-year-old defender.

Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars

Then we have Heiskanen, who has probably been one of the few bright spots in what has become a tumultuous season for the Stars.

Given all of the injuries on the Stars’ blue line this season (John Klingberg has missed time, as has Marc Methot and Stephen Johns) they have thrown their prized rookie right into the deep end of the pool and asked him to play more than 23 minutes per night. That is three more minutes per game than Dahlin, and a workload that is almost unheard of for a rookie. Since the start of the 2005-06 season only seven rookies that have played in at least 45 games averaged more ice time per game. Five of those seven were age 22 or older in their rookie seasons.

Heiskanen is still only 19 years old.

To his credit, he has not looked at all out of place in that role. He already has 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 49 games while the Stars have been on the positive side of the scoring chance and high-danger scoring chance differentials with him on the ice (via Natural Stat Trick).

The Stars have their flaws, and they haven’t always drafted well in recent years, but with Klingberg and Heiskanen they at least have the makings of a dominant duo on defense for the next decade.

More: PHT Power Rankings: 10 people that will impact the NHL playoff race

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.

Canucks’ Pettersson returns Sunday after five-game absence

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The man who will likely be crowned as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year is back in the lineup for the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday.

Elias Pettersson will suit up for the Canucks against the Detroit Red Wings after missing five games with a knee injury. Pettersson sprained his MCL after getting tangled up with Montreal Canadiens forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi back on Jan. 3.

After Saturday’s practice, Pettersson told the assembled media that there was a good chance he would play on Sunday. And with the team activating him off injured reserve today, that chance turned into a confirmation.

“I don’t like to watch hockey, I like to play it,” Pettersson said.

He’s pretty good at the latter.

Pettersson’s start to the season, despite missing two now because of a concussion and the aforementioned knee injury, has been nothing short of sensational.

Pettersson led all rookies with 22 goals and 42 points prior to his latest injury and will return still leading all rookies.

And his absence from the Canucks, who are battling for a playoff spot, has been notable:

Still, they were 2-1-2, picking up points in four-of-five.

The Canucks are one point behind the Minnesota Wild for the final wild card in the west.

UPDATE: He’s already scored. 


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Canucks don’t see Pettersson injury as dirty play as they await MRI results

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The city of Vancouver is holding its breath hoping for the best for Elias Pettersson one day after he left the Canucks’ game against the Montreal Canadiens after getting tangled with Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

Already ruled out for Saturday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team is waiting for the full results from an MRI on his right knee.

“I’m walking fine. I feel better today than yesterday, so that’s good,” Pettersson told Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos.

“I think we both just fell down and I maybe fell on his leg. I’m not sure what happened,” Kotkaniemi said. “I don’t want to hurt anyone. I said this morning that he’s a good player, so everyone in the League wants that he’s on the ice, so so do I.”

While some Canucks fans were seeking blood having now watched their stud youngster get injured for the second time this season, his teammates and head coach Travis Green didn’t see anything malicious in the play.

“I think it was just two guys in a bit of a battle,” said forward Brandon Sutter. “Looked like Petey tried to get body position to try and hold him up and kind of got tangled and went down. It was kind of an awkward fall and it’s unfortunate. Hopefully it’s nothing too serious.”

“I’ve watched it a lot of times. First of all, it’s not a dirty play by their player at all,” Green said afterward. “[Pettersson] gets hooked a little bit. Petey actually pushes back on him, leans back and probably tries to give a little bit of a reverse hit, and two young guys fall to the ice. It’s not a penalty.”

Pettersson, who was named to the Pacific Division All-Star team this week, leads all rookies with 22 goals and 42 points

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson drawing rave reviews

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — There are the startling goals, the jaw-dropping passes and mind-bending moves. And in just two months, there are the rave reviews.

Vancouver Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson is rocketing shots past goalies. He already has 13 goals and eight assists in 20 games, drawing comparisons to some of hockey’s best.

”I think he’s possibly one of the best players in the NHL already,” Canucks right wing Jake Virtanen said. ”He’s very fun to watch and obviously a treat to have on our team.”

Wayne Gretzky recently spoke about Pettersson on a Vancouver radio station, saying he sees similarities in how they both play.

Pettersson said being mentioned alongside Gretzky is a great honor, though it’s one he isn’t entirely comfortable with.

”I don’t know if anyone should be compared to him because he’s the greatest ever,” he said.

In October, Pettersson was named the league’s rookie of the month despite missing two weeks because of concussion from a hit by Florida’s Mike Matheson on Oct. 13. In early November, he became the youngest Canuck to have a five-point game when he helped Vancouver edge Colorado 7-6 in overtime.

The 6-foot-2, 176-pound Swede is quiet and humble off the ice. On it, he has shown he is more than an offensive juggernaut. He blocks shots and delivers hard back checks.

”I see shades of (former Detroit Red Wing) Pavel Datsyuk and those type of players in him,” Vancouver center Bo Horvat said. ”Just his hands, the way he moves out there.

”But I think he’s himself. I don’t think there’s any person in the league who’s like Elias Pettersson. He brings his own element to the game.”

Virtanen is struck by Pettersson’s savvy and intelligence.

”His IQ on the ice is beyond mine and beyond our team’s,” he said. ”I think. It’s pretty funny. When you see him out there, he’s just thinking of stuff to do that no one else would really think of.”

Andrew Calof played with Pettersson on the Vaxjo Lakers in Sweden last year. He says everyone knew right away he was a ”special talent” with an insatiable work ethic.

”He’s a perfectionist. When he sets his mind to something, he will accomplish it,” Calof wrote in an email to The Canadian Press from Russia, where he plays in the Kontinental Hockey League.

He recalls Pettersson’s dedication – constantly watching video and working after practice on shooting and passing.

”He just would spend so much time trying to improve every aspect of his game and that’s what makes him such a fantastic player,” he said. ”And what’s scary is he will only get better and better.”

Behind Pettersson, the Lakers captured the Swedish Hockey League championship. He led the league in scoring with 56 points and was the most valuable player.

”Whoever was on his line knew they were going to get a couple of extra points that week because Elias would do something crazy and either give you an open net or score a shot that you’re think was impossible,” Calof said.

Despite all the acclaim and attention, Pettersson insists he feels no extra pressure. He’s playing hockey and having fun.

”I’m living my dream,” he said.

‘Dirty play’ knocks Canucks’ Pettersson out of game

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(UPDATE: Matheson will have a Monday phone hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety.)

Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green didn’t need to mince words when he was asked about the controversial hit that knocked one of his star players out of Saturday’s game.

“It’s a dirty play,” Green said of the stinging hit by Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson on Elias Pettersson.

Pettersson, as you will see below, put a nice move on Matheson moments before the hit.

Matheson didn’t take too kindly getting beat by the skilled Swede, and on his next opportunity, hit Pettersson and then threw him viciously down onto the ice. It appeared that the 19-year-old’s head bounced off the ice shortly after getting thrown down.

As you can see, Pettersson struggled to get back to his feet, falling over on his first attempt. He was able to get to his feet after waiting a moment, but he definitely looked woozy.

The Canucks refrained from getting retribution on the night, but Antoine Roussel made it clear that they’ll see the Panthers again.

“It’s a long season, we’ll catch them back,” Roussel said after the game.

“Looked like WWE to me,” said Sven Baertschi.

Pettersson had already done what he does best earlier in the game, sniping a shot on the power play that James Reimer had zero chance at saving.

The goal matched a team record for longest point streak by a player to start his career at five games. Pettersson has been a godsend to the Canucks and has five goals and three assists during that span.

Green had no update on Pettersson’s status after the game.

The Canucks held on to win 3-2.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck