Elias Pettersson

Canucks risk ‘Russian Factor’ with Podkolzin at No. 10

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Hockey fans learned some answers to some interesting questions during the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft on Friday.

  • Big players seemingly were valued more than small, as big center Kirby Dach surpassed his projections to go third overall to the Blackhawks, while spritely sniper Cole Caulfield slipped to the Canadiens at No. 15.
  • Spencer Knight did, indeed, become an increasingly rare first-round goalie when the Panthers snapped him up at 13.
  • The Red Wings answered the question of biggest reach, at least perception-wise, in shocking the crowd by getting Moritz Seider as early as sixth. Biggest steal is a matter of perception, as well, though Caulfield is in the conversation.
  • And, yes, a boatload of Americans – actually, the boat needs to be reasonably big – went in the first round. A record-breaking boat.

One lingering, annual question for draft is: how will “The Russian Factor” influence where a prospect goes. In the case of Vasili Podkolzin, the intriguing Russian forward went to the Vancouver Canucks at 10th overall.

As you can see from the video above, some Canucks fans were thrilled:

Others maybe had mixed feelings:

While plenty adorably chanted “Da,” as in yes, in welcoming Podkolzin.

Some fans might be concerned about “The Russian Factor.” In a nutshell, the concern with drafting some Russian players is that it can sometimes be difficult to control their development process, particularly when it comes to the threat of KHL contracts. It’s not just about the current CBA severely limiting what a player can make on entry-level deals, but that’s a factor when you consider the much stronger chances that a Russian player may eye the KHL.

That’s absolutely relevant with Podkolzin, who’s actually already on a KHL contract, and is expected to honor it for two more seasons.

Canucks GM Jim Benning didn’t seem too worried about that situation in discussing the pick with Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman shortly after it was made. Benning explained that, in the 10th spot, the player the Canucks picked would probably need two years of development, anyway.

Maybe that’s not true – NBC’s Pierre McGuire stated that an immediate leap wasn’t that far fetched if there weren’t restrictions – but overall, the Canucks have a point.

And they also have a tantalizing situation, as Podkolzin is often described as an explosive talent, setting the stage for Vancouver to have a dynamic talent base including Podkolzin, Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes. That must be exciting for Canucks fans, and fans of exciting hockey as a whole.

Interestingly, though, Podkolzin isn’t just a test case for whether teams should be worried about “The Russian Factor” of struggling to get a prospect to the NHL. This could also be a litmus test regarding scouts seeing big skills and potential, versus those who believe that teams are too quick to overlook the numbers.

In a June 12 column about prospects to avoid, The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler voiced some concern about Podkolzin’s spotty production (sub required), at least when it came to him landing in the top 10:

Podkolzin, as I’ve written since my preliminary ranking last fall, is a player who catches your eye because he appears heavily involved in games physically and heavily involved in the offence through the way he attacks with the puck, but doesn’t often enough make plays that result in positive outcomes. There’s a difference between catching your eye and winning hockey games. And instincts can only take you so far. I’m all for players who attempt to make plays but there’s a level of awareness required to become a great player at the next level and I fear that Podkolzin may be limited to an energizing third-line role without a steep development of that skill in the next few seasons.

Now, it’s important to realize that Wheeler still penciled in Podkolzin as being worth picking in the 13-20 range, so even those with some mild misgivings believe in him as a prospect.

Overall, there are enough wrinkles to make the Podkolzin pick very interesting.

Frankly, the Canucks have made a lot of puzzling decisions over the years, from a slew of shaky signings in free agency, to the disconcerting notion of adding Peter Chiarelli to a front office that already seems to march the beat of the wrong drummer. Yet, the one area where they’ve had some big recent successes is the draft. Calling Elias Pettersson at fifth overall a steal might feel weird, but you can bet that the Flyers wish they could have gotten him at second instead of Nolan Patrick. (Sorry Nolan.) Brock Boeser was a heist at 23rd in 2015, and Quinn Hughes sure looks like the right call at seventh overall from last year.

Considering that the Canucks got relatively weak draft lottery luck in landing the 10th pick this year, fans have to be absolutely delighted that Vancouver selected Podkolzin. Especially with some of the peculiar decisions that were made before and after they selected at No. 10.

There are ways this can go wrong, however, making Podkolzin’s development very interesting to watch.

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.

Canucks’ Elias Pettersson captures Calder Trophy

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For just the second time in NHL history, a member of the Vancouver Canucks has won the Calder Trophy. Elias Pettersson followed in the footsteps of Pavel Bure when he was handed the award during Wednesday’s NHL Awards show in Las Vegas. The award is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association and given “to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.”

Pettersson dominated the rookie scoring race with 28 goals and 66 points in 71 games. The next best rookie was Brady Tkachuk with 45 points. Due to that, Pettersson was the only forward to be included among the finalists. The other two nominees were Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and Blues goalie Jordan Binnington.

Forwards tend to walk away with this award. Seven of the last eight winners have been forwards with the lone exception being Aaron Ekblad in 2015. The last goaltender to win the Calder was Steve Mason in 2009.

Pettersson couldn’t have asked for a better start to the campaign. He had five goals and eight points in his first five contests and 10 goals through 10 contests. Obviously he didn’t maintain that pace, but he didn’t fade away entirely as the campaign continued either. Some of his highlights included a five-point game on Dec. 9 and a hat trick on Jan. 2.

Here are the full results of the vote:

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Pettersson, Binnington, Dahlin are Calder Trophy finalists

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The NHL announced on Saturday the three finalists for the Calder Trophy, the award that is handed out annually to the league’s top rookie.

The finalists for the 2018-19 season are Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson, St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, and Buffalo Sabres defender Rasmus Dahlin, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NHL draft.

The award is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

The NHL’s top rookie has been honored since 1936 when Frank Calder, president of the NHL, began purchasing a trophy that was to be handed out to the top rookie every year. Following Calder’s death in 1943 the league began presenting the Calder Trophy in his memory.

The winner will be announced on June 19 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN) at the 2019 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The case for Pettersson: He was not only an impact player from the moment he arrived in the NHL, but also a constant highlight reel for the Canucks. He finished the regular season with the most goals (28) and points (66) among all rookies even though he missed 11 games due to injury. No other rookie in the NHL finished the season with more than 22 goals or 45 points. He was so far ahead of the pack offensively that the gap between him and the second-leading rookie scorer, Ottawa’s Brady Tkachuk, was the same as the gap between Tkachuk and the 17th leading rookie scorer (Minnesota’s Jordan Greenway.) He also had multiple five-point games during the season, something only five other rookies have done during the expansion era of the NHL. This is the second year in a row the Canucks will have a Calder Trophy finalist after Brock Boeser was the runner-up this past season.

The case for Binnington: Simply put, Binnington was a season-saver for the Blues along with new coach Craig Berube. When he made his first NHL start on Jan. 7 the Blues had one of the worst records in the NHL, had an unsettled goaltending situation that had been sinking their team through the first half of the season, and seemed to be a team that was simply going nowhere. All Binnington did that night was stop all 25 shots he faced in a 3-0 shutout over the Philadelphia Flyers and then never stopped winning. He finished the regular season with a 24-5-1 record and a .927 save percentage that was fourth among all NHL goalies that appeared in at least 30 games, trailing only Ben Bishop, Robin Lehner, and Jack Campbell. That performance helped the Blues not only make the playoffs, but also make a late run at the Central Division title. He has continued that strong play into the postseason where he has helped lead the Blues to a Round 2 matchup with the Dallas Stars.

The case for Dahlin: The No. 1 overall pick in 2018, Dahlin stepped right into the Sabres lineup and immediately became one of their go-to defenders as an 18-year-old. He had a huge year that saw him play more than 20 minutes per game and finish with 44 points, third among all rookies. The truly impressive thing about that point total is that only one other defender in the history of the league had a higher total during their age 18 season. Phil Housley, Dahlin’s coach during his rookie season, had 66 points during the 1982-83 season. If Dahlin wins the award he would be only the 12th defender to win it, and only the third since 1998 (Barrett Jackman, Tyler Myers, and Aaron Ekblad).

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 sets franchise rookie record for points

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Elias Pettersson has been a revelation in Vancouver this season, a source of hope for long-suffering Canucks fans who haven’t had much to cheer about in recent years.

Petterson notched an assist on Markus Granlund‘s second-period goal and that moved him past the great Pavel Bure for the team’s rookie points record with his 61st point in what will likely end in a Calder-winning season for the young rookie.

Pettersson added another assist later in the period. He’ll surely extend that record before seasons’ end. He’s currently on 27 goals and 63 points in 63 games. He’d likely be closer to 80 at this point if not for an ugly hit early on in the season and another injury right after the New Year.

Pettersson is the player the Canucks are going to build around at the moment, and they have some solid young talent already around him with the likes of Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and others.

Vancouver could be a scary team in a few years, and Pettersson will be leading that charge.

For now, they have one of the NHL’s brightest young players who should bring back a shiny piece of hardware to British Columbia come June.


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

Rangers’ Kreider ejected after landing spinning elbow on Canucks’ Pettersson

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It’s hard to believe that Elias Pettersson was born with a bullseye on his head, but the damage he’s taken in his first NHL season would make one reconsider.

The rookie superstar has taken a beating to his noggin’ this season and he took another shot to the head on Wednesday in Vancouver.

Pettersson had the puck behind his own net when Kreider came flying in. Pettersson did well to make him miss on the initial check, but Kreider spun around and caught the Calder candidate with an elbow flush to the face.

Pettersson was bloodied on the play and stayed down while a trainer rushed out to see him. He was able to get back to the bench before he was summoned to the quiet room for concussion testing. The good news is Pettersson was able to return late in the second period.

Kreider, meanwhile, was handed a five-minute major for elbowing and a game misconduct.

Later in the period, Rangers newcomer Brendan Lemieux was also thrown out of the game after Antoine Roussel barreled into him as he was going hard to the net. Lemieux was given a five-minute major of his own plus a game misconduct. Lemieux can be a hot-head at times, but he was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time on this one.

Roussel had to be helped off the ice and did not return to the game. The way he looked after the incident, that’s not all that surprising.

UPDATE:


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