When Elias Pettersson was learning to form sentences, two teenage Swedish twins left the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) for the first time. Daniel Sedin, the No. 2 overall pick in the 1999 NHL Draft, and his brother Henrik, the No. 3 overall pick in the same draft, would form the backbone of the Vancouver Canucks beyond the Pavel Bure years and through the waning moments of the Markus Naslund and Trevor Linden tenures. When they retired this past season, with a combined 633 goals and 2,111 points, the Sedins took an era of Canucks history with them.
Now, it’s Pettersson’s turn.
The 19-year-old Swedish wunderkind leads all rookies with seven goals and 10 points—even after Pettersson was sidelined with a concussion for two weeks. If Michael Matheson’s brutish, one-armed slam served as Pettersson’s “Welcome to the NHL moment,” then Pettersson’s two-goal performance against the Minnesota Wild should serve as the league’s “Welcome to Elias Pettersson moment.”
This shouldn’t have been unexpected, but Pettersson fell into the background in a 2017 draft year when Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick jostled for the No. 1 overall pick and after fellow-Swede Rasmus Dahlin claimed the spotlight a year later. Pettersson returned to the SHL after the 2017 NHL draft (in which he was selected fifth overall) and his 56 points in 44 games weren’t just good, they were unprecedented. No junior had ever accumulated that many points in one SHL season. Not his childhood hockey idol Peter Forsberg. Not Daniel or Henrik Sedin. Not even Henrik Zetterberg.
Pettersson’s record-setting tear continued into the SHL playoffs. He propelled the Växjö Lakers to their second championship with a league-leading 10 goals, 19 points and four game-winning goals. Less than a month later, Pettersson played on Sweden’s second line in the 2018 IIHF Tournament and racked up three points in five games during group play.
Finally in North America, Pettersson has been nothing short of spectacular. Fans caught a glimpse of his stickhandling prowess when he broke Ryan Strome’s ankles during the preseason. And now, when the games count, Pettersson hasn’t slowed down: The Swede tallied one goal and one assist in his Canucks debut, added another two goals and one assist in his second game and he has failed to register a point only once in seven games. Oh, and he boasts a ridiculous 43.8 shot percentage—over 22 points better than the next player with at least 10 shots.
Pettersson is due for regression—a shot percentage that high is impossible to sustain—but that’s not to say the 19-year-old’s start is an accident. Rather, it accentuates what makes Pettersson successful, and how the wiry 6’2”, 176-pound teen thrived among men in the SHL.
He’s an assassin in the offensive zone. Pettersson’s smooth hands hypnotized SHL defenders and he turns one-on-one situations into nightmares, but his offensive IQ punishes teams. He makes space and creates opportunities for himself, as he did in his first goal against the Minnesota Wild on Monday night:
Pettersson streams up the left boards. He takes stock of Nikolay Goldobin, who crosses the ice and drops off a pass to Michael Del Zotto, and glides, unattended, to the right faceoff dot. Del Zotto draws the defenders in and Pettersson easily blasts a one-timer past Devan Dubnyk.
Three of Pettersson’s seven goals have been one-timers this year and when he’s not burying one-timers, the rookie preys around the right faceoff dot and places himself in dangerous scoring areas. No rookie has ever been this productive one year removed from the SHL (Nicklas Backstrom currently tops that list with 69 points in his rookie season). Pettersson’s goal-a-game pace will draw attention from opposing team’s looking to shut down the Canucks’ top weapon—especially with Brock Boeser’s slow start—but they can’t completely stifle his hockey IQ.
Through a small sample size of seven games, it’s easy to get excited when the Pettersson looks like the Canucks' next Swedish mainstay. Pettersson was learning how to talk when the Sedins first stepped on NHL ice as 20 year olds. Now, the league is learning about Pettersson, less than two weeks from his 20th birthday, and maybe the Calder Trophy will learn about Pettersson, too.