Elias Pettersson is one of the most skilled players in this draft and is a virtual lock as a top six NHL centre in the future – from there, the only place he has to go is up. His shot and skating are well above average, and his puckhandling skills are at an elite level, but it’s his mind that is his most valuable feature. Pettersson routinely processes the game better than every one else sharing the ice with him, and he uses it to overcome his admittedly slight frame, and to deceive defenders and goaltenders.
We have no qualms about having Pettersson this high on our list, and I wouldn’t have been disappointed if he’d been even higher. This talented Swede has landed at number 5 on our Top 100.
- Age: 18 – November 12th, 1998
- Birthplace: Sundsvall, SWE
- Frame: 6’2″ / 165 lbs
- Position: Centre/Left Wing
- Handedness: Left
- Draft Year Team: Timra IK
- Accomplishments/Awards: Hlinka Memorial Silver Medal, U18 WJC Silver Medal (15/16); J18 SM Bronze Medal (14/15)
Adjusted Scoring (SEAL)
Cohort Based (pGPS)
Pettersson’s performance was largely unprecedented for an 18-year old in the Allsvenskan, and so he has no statistical matches, successful or otherwise. In 2015-16, his point rate at the professional level granted him an expected success rate of 43%, highly impressive in a draft-minus-one season.
An energetic forward with highly creative hands, good work ethic and offensive skills…smart and aware on the ice…dangerous one-on-one player…combination of speed and the ability to make quick turns in different directions with the puck make him hard to pin down…can pull off multiple quick dekes in unison with quick changes of direction to break ankles of defenders…keeps his feet moving and brings quick pressure on his opponent offensively…finds open ice and creates space for himself to get off his strong wrist shot…goes to the high-traffic areas and will take the puck to the net…defensively, he knows where to position himself…tries to get himself into shooting or passing lanes…not physical, but will engage on the backcheck…needs some added muscle, but is a solid top-six projection for the NHL.
From the Hockey Prospect Black Book (Excerpt from publication):
He is able to wow you with his ability to score high-lite reel goals and his skating is excellent. His puck skills are fantastic and he has a high hockey IQ. He makes use of his great hockey sense in many facets of the game and it shows up with his creativity and the way he makes great passes out of nowhere. We love that he can both score and pass the puck to help create plays. He’s one of the best thinkers in the draft class and when you combine that with his skill it creates a very desirable package.
From Corey Pronman of ESPN (Excerpt only – full article behind pay wall):
Pettersson was a significant riser this season, after producing at a point-per-game pace versus men in Sweden and often appearing on highlight reels for positive reasons. Pettersson has very quick hands and a ton of creativity in his game, and even when he’s being tightly checked, he’s able to generate space for himself. He sees the ice very well and can make difficult feeds. “He has the talent to be a star,” one scout said. That doesn’t mean Pettersson’s game is perfect. He has heavy feet and struggles to win battles as he has a wiry frame and isn’t a very intense battler. On the other hand, it’s hard to ignore his significant point-producing potential as a pro and his ability to be a game-breaker on the ice. In my viewings, I didn’t see him ever have a great game. However, every Swedish scout I’ve talked to was willing to go to bat for him as a top-end prospect.
From Jimmy Hamrin of McKeen’s Hockey (Excerpt only – full article behind pay wall):
Pettersson is a mesmerizing player with a great skill set and an even greater hockey IQ. He is a playmaker that can score and he can play both center and winger, although I like him more as a center. His WJC showed that he has yet to figure out the physically tighter and faster North American game. His playing at that tournament was better than his stats though as he was a bit snakebitten. He has the potential to become a first line player in the NHL but he will need a couple of years to grow into his body and get stronger and more consistent. This season in Allsvenskan he has been really consistent in his production. He has been a big riser on many rankings. I can see him becoming one of the best players in the draft if he reaches his full potential but the question might be if he is too far from being NHL ready for top picking GMs to take a chance on him as high as top 5-10.
Sublime two-way talent with jaw-dropping moves and a proclivity for making defenders look silly. Sure, he’s beyond wiry and could stand to spend more time with a fork in his hands, but every other block is checked. He can play either center or wing, and owning a ridiculously soft set of hands makes him a perfect fit for any power play. Saying Pettersson is your typical Swedish two-way pivot is too easy a way out. There’s a uniqueness about him, and his puck handling abilities are buttery smooth. As lanky as he looks, Pettersson is a bonafide assassin who absorbs hits while controlling the puck with his head up. He can handle a tough pass better than practically any of his draft peers. Pettersson isn’t an explosive skater with first-step quickness but can gain separation after a few strides. Plus, he’s a dangler with an acute hold on how plays develop.
Elias Pettersson is an extraordinarily skillful player who had an incredible season in the Allsvenskan, the second highest professional league in Sweden. By the way Pettersson and 19-year old teammate (and Canucks prospect) Jonathan Dahlen were putting up points, you’d think it was standard for teenagers to produce heavily in that league. In reality, it’s far from normal, and in fact both Pettersson and Dahlen’s seasons were among the top ten performances all-time by an under-20 player in that league.
Thinning the crop a little more, Pettersson sits third on the list of U19 player-seasons – a couple of spots above Nashville Predators star Filip Forsberg’s 2012-13 season. Given the sheer rarity of his point rate, it comes as no surprise that there were no statistical comparables via pGPS. Of all the players on our Top 100 list, only Pettersson and AJHL standout Cale Makar had zero players meet the similarity threshold – historical data doesn’t do us much good because they are making history themselves.
Pettersson also has the esteemed honour of leading all draft eligible players in SEAL adjusted scoring – better than Nolan Patrick, better than Nico Hischier, and everyone else on this list. Much of that is owed to being a near point-per-game player in a professional league, but Pettersson was also highly successful at even strength. He tallied 11 goals and 11 assists at 5-on-5, with his team scoring 66% of the goals when he was on the ice. He generated more than 3 points per hour in all situations, and had a point on nearly 40% of Timra’s goals this past season.
While Pettersson has plenty of talents, he is lacking in two areas: his skating, while well above average, is not elite, and a growth spurt has left him tall but slight – he lacks pro-level strength and physicality. “He’s a pretty small player when you look at him,” Dahlen said of Pettersson. “You see he’s small and you think ‘whoa, how’s he gonna play’, and then when he goes on the ice, he’s so skilled, it doesn’t matter that he’s small, he can avoid tackles and hits so good, he’s really an amazing player and a big talent.”
Like all undersized players that go on to have successful careers, Pettersson has his ways of working around his deficiencies. He excels in a number of areas, including puckhandling and shooting, but his level of intelligence is probably his move attractive quality. “He processes information extremely fast, at speed, in traffic,” prospect guru Shane Malloy said to Ryan Biech earlier this week on the Game Time Decision podcast. “He moves fast, he thinks fast, the puck moves fast, he doesn’t linger with the puck. He understands that the game moves faster through the puck.”
Hockey IQ is often defined in many different ways, and that’s because there are many different facets to it. A high level of intelligence can afford a player a wealth of benefits. In the offensive zone, deception is a valuable skill, and it is rooted in understanding what opponents expect and how to take advantage of that. “He has a very good understanding of when to shoot in the offensive zone and what shot to use,” Malloy said. “He doesn’t telegraph his intentions or his shot, so he’ll do that quick wrister or a quick snap – he wants to get it away fast because he understands the value of making sure the goaltender is not set before he shoots.”
There has been some debate as to which position Pettersson would play when he came to the NHL. Listed as both a left winger and a centre, Pettersson played some of each for Timra IK this past season. “Yeah, he can play both,” Malloy opined. “When you play in the Swedish elite leagues, you get deferred. You get pushed to the wing if you’re a centre if you have really strong centremen. That’s just the way it is in that league. That doesn’t mean he can’t play centre, but when you have a bigger, stronger, older man, they’ll get the preference.”
Pettersson began the season as the second line centre, but when it became apparent that he was deserving of more ice time, he was bumped to the top line, forming a pairing with Dahlen. For a short while, Pettersson played centre between Dahlen and Jesper Boqvist, another 2017 prospect. After Boqvist went off to the SHL, veteran Sebastian Lauritzen moved up and played the middle between Pettersson and Dahlen, and the three became the Allsvenskan’s strongest line through the end of the season and into the playoffs.
One thing that seems readily apparent is that Pettersson has a fantastic effect on his linemates. His GF% WOWY chart, shown below, is just about as ideal as one could imagine: every single player he played with had significantly better on-ice results with him than away from him – including Dahlen.
One potential reason that Pettersson isn’t ranked higher by many mainstream services is his international play this season. With a November birthday, he was too old to participate in the World Under-18’s by the time they rolled around. While he made Sweden’s Under-20 squad and played in the World Junior Championship, he certainly wasn’t dominant, picking up a single assist in six games. However, during the Four Nations tournament in Gothenburg in November, also against U20 competition, he put up seven points in just three games. Unfortunately, the Four Nations tournaments get significantly less play than the WJC, so the latter performance is the one that is typically talked about.
When both the eye test and the statistical measures are providing glowing reviews of a prospect, you’re going to want to pay attention. Nearly everything we can dig up on this player indicates that he is one of the best talents in the draft. While we’ve picked him at fifth, it wouldn’t be a bad selection even as early as third. Whichever team gets their hands on Pettersson is going to have, at worst, a very good second line centre in their future – and it’s as likely as not that he becomes a first line centre in the NHL down the road.
The Canucks Army/Nation Network Top 100