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Canucks Army 2017 Pre-Season Prospect Rankings #1: Elias Pettersson

The date has finally arrived, and at last, we get to reveal our pick for the top prospect in the Canucks’ prospect pool. Of course, most of the suspense has been removed, since we’ve covered all the other good prospects. Plus, it’s in the goddamn title. Elias Pettersson is number one.

The decision to put Pettersson above Brock Boeser was not an easy one, and not everyone will agree with it (certainly not ESPN or the Hockey News, who both had Pettersson as the Canucks third best prospect, which, I can’t even), but I do feel that it is at least a justifiable decision. Over the course of this article, I intend to explore why.

Qualifications

We’ve changed the qualifications up just a little bit this year. Being under the age of 25 is still mandatory (as of the coming September 15th), but instead of Calder Trophy rules, we’re just requiring players to have played less than 25 games in the NHL (essentially ignoring the Calder Trophy’s rule about playing more than six games in multiple seasons).

Graduates from this time last year include Brendan Gaunce, Troy Stecher, and Nikita Tryamkin, while Anton Rodin is simply too old now, and Jake Virtanen is not being considered solely as a result of his games played.

Scouting Report

Pettersson is a highly skilled player, with excellent skating, fantastic puck skills, and superb playmaking. But as his coach pointed out last year, his best asset is surely between his ears:

His former coach, Roger Forsberg, said, “his biggest gift is that he has an incredible understanding of the game. He sees the game from every angle and he is ahead of you all the time, so he always knows what to do with the puck. He finds solutions in the offensive zone that only he can see.” (h/t Pass it to Bulis)

As with virtually every Canucks prospect, I have already written plenty of words about Pettersson. The last big article I published regarding the tall, lanky Swede was his draft preview after we’d declared Pettersson our fifth best 2017 prospect. And wouldn’t you know it, he actually went at number five, although we had Cody Glass and Gabriel Vilardi at three and four rather than the pair of defencemen that went in those slots. So it appears that while we had Pettersson as the fifth best forward, the Canucks considered him to be the third best. I mean, depending on whether you believe the yarn that Canucks President of Hockey Operations Trevor Linden was spinning on President’s Week on TSN 1040 AM when he responded with “neither” when asked which of Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier the Canucks would have taken had they landed first overall.

Whether that was just bluster from Linden, or whether they believed him to be the best player in the 2017 draft class, it’s clear that Pettersson was the apple of their eye, and that they viewed him in a brighter light than many others in the industry. Different services had Pettersson in a wide variety of spots on their draft board, with HockeyProspect.com, Bob McKenzie, Future Considerations and the Hockey News all having him between 5 and 9, and Sportsnet, ESPN, and ISS all having him between 15 and 20. Among mainstream(ish) rankings, Sports Illustrated had him the highest, placing him third.

Long before Elias Pettersson was drafted fifth overall by the Canucks, he began attracting the attention of some of the more statistically inclined prospect hunters, including Will, creator of the website Scouching, who not only had Pettersson going to the Canucks at fifth in his mock draft, he also listed Pettersson as the third best prospect on his draft board. Here is a snippet of his justification:

He also had a primary point (goal or first assist) on 60% of goals at even strength. For reference, Nolan Patrick was a 51.4%, Hischier, and Vilardi were at 64%, and Mittelstadt finished with a 60%. Pettersson may be one of the most underrated players in the draft, and if he can learn to play a more dynamic game at various speeds, he could be a lethal centre in the NHL in a short period of time.

Never one to take a reported stat at face value, I’ve delved deeper into this number — not because I don’t trust Will (whose last name I don’t even know, but it’s the internet, so whatever), but because delving deeper is what I do. And so, I generated this graph of Pettersson’s offensive contribution over the course of the season.

This graph shows a 20-game moving average of Pettersson’s 5-on-5 points as a percentage of all team goals while he was on the ice. Over the course of the season, Pettersson counted a primary point (a goal or first assist) on 57.4% of Timra goals scored. That percentage was as high as 90% in mid-November, but at only 42% over his final 20 games. So what was the cause of the fall? Is it something that we should be concerned about as Canucks fans?

Happily, no, seeing as the main culprit for Pettersson falling share of primary contributions was Jonathan Dahlen.

Dahlen and Pettersson weren’t paired together from the start of the season. While Dahlen was playing on the top line from the get go, Pettersson began the season as the second line centre. It was more in the last two-thirds of the season that Pettersson and Dahlen played together regularly. While they helped each other score a ton of points, the fact that one line had two catalysts on it meant that it was harder for either one to be a primary contributor on an overwhelming percentage of goals.

In the final 15 games, Timra scored 15 five-on-five goals with Pettersson on the ice; he was a primary contributor on six of them (40%). Of the remaining nine goals, Dahlen was a primary contributor on… well, all nine of them. Essentially, during that stretch, if a goal was scored by Timra’s top line, either Pettersson or Dahlen had a primary point on it, guaranteed.

In the article I wrote on Dahlen being the Canucks fifth best prospect, I mentioned that Pettersson had done slightly better without Dahlen than Dahlen had done without Pettersson, regarding both production and goal share. While in each case, the two Canuck prospects fared very well without each other and were each a driver on their lines, they were definitely at their best together, and their other linemate was typically along for the ride. This is a positive in any circumstance, but on a pro hockey team as teenagers, it’s outstanding.

Pettersson’s end-of-the-year stats were simply too good for the Prospect Graduation Probabilities System, as I wasn’t able to find a single match that met the required similarity threshold. In this case, we’ll take it as a good thing. Pettersson outperformed every other 18-year-old to play their draft year in the Allsvenskan, including the likes of William Nylander and Filip Forsberg.

While pGPS came up with nothing, we do have SEAL (Situation Era Age League) adjusted scoring numbers on Pettersson, and they had Pettersson as the most productive player in the entire 2017 draft class, exploding above his unadjusted points per game, thanks to both league adjustments and highly encouraging situational scoring (per game rates versus league is not currently available for Allsvenskan).

Pettersson is set to spend the year with the Vaxjo Lakers of the SHL, Sweden’s top tier professional league. If the Champion’s League tournament that Vaxjo just participated in is any indication, Pettersson will have no problem adjusting to the higher degree of competition. Playing in the Lakers’ top six and manning the right point on their top power play, Pettersson accumulated four points in four games (two goals, two assists).

His performance in the Champion’s League is a great early sign. However, none of the four games he played so far were actually against SHL teams (two games against Liberec of the Czech Extraliga, and two games against HC Davos of the Swiss NLA). Given his production in the Allsvenskan last season, on a typical course of development, I’d usually expect points per game in the SHL of around 0.5. If his development jumps up (like Dahlen’s did from his draft to draft-plus-one seasons), it could easily be higher than that.

Unless Pettersson absolutely blows the doors off the SHL this season, I’d expect that he’ll spend the 2018-19 season there as well, simply because of his slight frame. Pettersson’s skills, skating, and intelligence may be ready for the NHL before that, but he’s probably better off with the extra time allowing his body to catch up to the rest of his game. By the time the 2019-20 season rolls around, we should see both Pettersson and Dahlen in the Canucks lineup, where they will hopefully remain for many years to come.

As for the competition for top prospect between he and Boeser, it was an awfully close race. Pettersson was voted 1st by all but one of the Canucks Army voters (who voted for Boeser), while Boeser was voted second in those cases. The difficult part is that Boeser has already played nine NHL games, and he looked very good there. The chances that he sticks around are incredibly high, and the likelihood that he becomes a top line producer is pretty reasonable.

Pettersson comes with a little more doubt because he obviously hasn’t played at the NHL level. He does, however, have pro experience, and has demonstrated that he can produce there. That gives him a leg up versus players that have played only against junior competition. For example, if the Canucks had ended picking a Glass or Vilardi, we might have had a more difficult time bumping Boeser out of the top spot.

There’s also the position angle to consider. Pettersson can become a point producing centre who can do anything from setting up teammates on the power play, to beating opponents and goalies in one-on-one situations. If Pettersson reaches his potential, he’ll become a substantially more valuable player than a top line winger.

Pettersson comes with no guarantees, but he does come with extremely tantalizing potential. Time will tell whether he lives up to it, but right now, I’d be willing to bet yes.

  • Burnabybob

    Pettersson is arguably the Canucks’ most important prospect. If he works out, the Canucks have their 1 and 2 centers for the foreseeable future. That’s a big piece of the rebuild accomplished right there.

  • TrueBlue

    Great series, thanks all!

    Was a little surprised to see Pettersson at #1 above Boeser for the reasons you mentioned, but hey… it’s terrific that he’s even in the conversation at that level.

    If he continues to prove that the level of his skill & intelligence was quite underrated ahead of the draft, Pettersson could become the kind of draft day steal teams (and fans!) dream about. Here’s hoping!

  • Ranger2k2

    I was very happy to see Pettersson drafted by Vancouver earlier this year. I hope he exceeds the expectations that everyone has for him. It has been a terrible few years being a Canucks fan and with some of the other draft picks stumbling Vancouver landing a bonafide superstar would ease the blow.

    I’d like to thank Canucks Army for all of their hard work on the prospects. I don’t know of any other site that puts together such detailed and interesting articles that dig this deep. I think what I enjoy most about this series (and always have) is that the good people at Canucks Army spend as much time looking at the 20th ranked prospect as the 1st. I’ve been reading Canucks Army since 2010 and from Cam, Rhys and Thomas to Ryan, Jermey and JD they have all made me a smarter more well informed hockey fan. I look forward to continuing to support this website and its writers for another year of hockey.

  • apr

    Excellent series. Any chance you can summarize into a list and compare to previous year? Or make a note where the prospect was ranked last year? It would be interesting to see the raisers and fallers. I really enjoy reading these!

  • JarkkoRuutu

    If the Canucks brass really did consider Pettersson the top pick, props to Drafter Jim for playing a stone cold poker face, having us all think they were preferring Glass!

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    If everyone works out the way we’re hoping they do (a big if), the top 9 four years from now could project something like Pettersson-Dahlen-Boeser then Baertschi-Horvat-Lind then Goldobin-Gaudette-Gadjovich, and that’s without including any future acquisitions or draft picks, or accounting for anyone really surprising us in their development as a late round pick or anything. I realize that’s long term projection with a lot of optimism about those players’ development, but there sure is a lot of talent in that group.

  • BC SPORTS FAN

    Benning is still shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. Terrible draft picks with McCann , Virtanen. Let’s hope that Pettersson is a good draft pick. Now they want a right handed D-man, they had a great chance at Liligren and let him pass by. In the U-17 World Championships held in Fort St. John, B.C. he was easily the best defenceman. Last year he had mono and dropped from # 3 to #17 in the draft. Benning and Linden will regret not picking him at number 5.

    • Benning wanted a centre or a RHD at the draft. He picked Pettersson, who you even say is a good draft pick. No regrets about Liligren, who had significant weaknesses and fell to #16 for a reason. For him to say he’s looking for a RHD now is merely stating what is still on his draft shopping list.

  • jaybird43

    Yes, there’s now a deep pool of high-quality forwards. Now comes the task of doing the same at the back end where Juolevi is the only blue-chip prospect, and not a guarantee to even be in the top three. Benning has done a great job, and I’m sure he’ll start turning towards the defence over the coming 1-2 years.

    • johnno

      Is this a windup? The only further movement on D will be if the lottery gives us an opportunity to pick the elite Rasmus Dahlin.

      Benning stated a while ago that he is building from the net out and has already done so. Demko, DiPietro, Brisebois, Juolevi, Tryamkin, Gudbranson, Stetcher and the recent additions of Del Zotto and Weircioch are the result, for better or worse, so to say he will be turning towards defence over the next few years is both bizarre and ridiculous.

      • jaybird43

        Well, johnno, I’m specifically talking about high quality defencemen prospects. Trymkin is gone, Brisebois isn’t doing so well, and aside from Juolevi, the rest you mention are neither defenceman, nor prospects. The Canucks need a better and more robust pipeline of higher quality defenceman prospects, given the amount of variability in drafting for that position AND the time it takes before the prospect garners NHL ice time. That’s what I mean.

        • johnno

          jaybird, I wouldn’t say Juolevi is doing well either, especially for a top five pick. He was actually really bad the last two games of the young stars tourney when he should’ve been dominant as our top D prospect.

          Dim Jim has actually picked 11 defencemen in four drafts so i would suggest that the picks have been made, but the pipeline is perhaps clogged with a lot of garbage. Who is to blame for that?

          • Bud Poile

            Benning’s predecessor picked 14 d-men and has Hutton to show for it.
            If you’re vaguely weighing draft acumen and the present organisation’s depth structure,that is.

          • jaybird43

            Yes, super hard to predict an 18 year old defenceman’s outcome, unless your drafting in the top 1-5 positions and it’s a good year for d-guys. Go back and look at World Junior rosters from 5-6 years ago. Way easier to see forwards who made it in NHL, than d-guys. And they were picked as the best 17, 18 And 19 year olds available. It’s a much tougher spot to draft for. Goalies are toughest of all though.

          • jaybird43

            I agree Juolevi doesn’t look NHL ready and he’s not been reported as stellar in two games (did well in one). He’s a prospect … I think a good one, but with most young d-guys its hatd to tell. Vancouver reportedly nearly got Paul Coffee from Edmonton when they thought he wasn’t turning out … Yes, it’s a tough position to draft an 18 year at with the same certainty as a forward… I don’t think that makes Benning a Dim Jim. Just my opinion …

          • Silverback

            Does calling Jim Benning “Dim Jim” make you feel superior or smarter? Regardless of whether you like him or dislike him as a GM, does not give you license to disrespect him. Calling people names is what we try to teach our children not to do. I trust you are not a child.

        • Bud Poile

          Brisebois is meeting or exceeding expectations.
          Chatfield and Irving are doing the same.
          Stetcher last year.
          Olli next year.
          Holm is a wild card depth signing.
          8 veteran NHL d-men are in the .org to fill six positions.
          Benning is consistently adding/acquiring/drafting d-men.
          RHD PP specialist is lacking but in three years he now has a steady pipeline.

  • jaybird43

    Here’s my top 10 and my rationale. Rationale is that the prospect has to be in the lineup no later than Nov 2020, so this weights against very young goaltenders and defencemen. (Thee positions take longer to succeed in, with lower chance of even making the NHL (go read the WJ rosters from 5-6 years ago, and you’lll see what I mean). Further, they have to have the potential to essentially play in the top half of the lineup (top 7 forwards though) with higher perceived ceilings garnering higher rankings generally. However, potential to make a good long career is also considered.This means that the prospect has to be good, and relatively ready. Exceptions made for players who might be slightly older, but haven’t played in the NHL consistently.

    Without further adieu, here they are:

    1. Brock Boeser
    2. Adam Gaudette (end of college year 2017/18, he “makes the leap”)
    3. Elias Pettersson (2 years away likely, maybe 1; very high ceiling)
    4. Thatcher Demko (it’s tough being a goalie)
    5. Olli Juolevi (needs to play against non-NHL men first)
    6. Jonathan Dahlen (nearly ready now)
    7. Anton Rodin (does luck finally grace him?)
    8. Nicolay Goldobin (defensive work-ethic questions)
    9. Jake Virtanen (dark horse; needs right attitude and fitness)
    10. Will Lockwood / Kole Lind / Jonah Gadjovich / Jalen Chatfield (OK I cheated, but they are “in order”).

    As you can see, the prospect pool is very deep with some excellent-looking forwards and hopefully Benning will look at defensive prospects via both trade and draft.

    I know some of you will ask “why Guadette above Pettersson”? My rationale is the Guadette is so ready and will be an unbelievable second line centre and is more assued of a 400 game NHL career at this point; Pettersson has a very high ceiling, but he’s so very slender that there’s some questions there.

  • canuckfan

    i am not sure why everyone keeps saying Pettersson will be a center when a lot of his stats come from him playing the wing. I would say that he will play the wing with Dahlen playing the other side and will be interesting to see who plays between them could it be someone with size and an edge to open up the ice or will it be skill and force the other team to back up while Canucks are forcing the play.
    He may end up playing center but his coaches have liked him more on the wing. Any which way he is utilized he will be exciting to watch.
    At center will be couple more years, on the wing we could see him next year.

    • Garth

      I agree. Why are so many fans on here assuming Pettersson will be a 1st line center when his Swedish club and his country are playing him as a winger.

      Even assuming this happens, i don’t get the somewhat blind optimism at the projected future core of the Canucks, especially when compared to the division rival Oilers and the best team in the league Penguins for example.

      Oilers future core
      G – Talbot (top goalie)
      D – Klefbom (not elite so this needs an upgrade)
      C1 – McDollars (well you know…)
      C2 – Draisaitl (outstanding 2nd line option)

      Vancouver future core
      G – Demko (struggling, looked poor in Penticton)
      D – Juolevi (struggling, looked poor in Penticton)
      C1 – Pettersson (may not even play C, lack of size a major concern)
      C2 – Horvat (decent but not outstanding)

      Pens core – the benchmark
      G – Murray (oustanding and already elite)
      D – Letang/Schultz (oustanding duo, Letang is elite)
      C1 – Crosby (plenty of years left, already an all-time great)
      C2 – Malkin (plenty of years left, already an all-time great)

      Is the Canucks future core really that great. I don’t think so

      • Fred-65

        Man no credibility there. You keep mixing future with present core players. You can’t show Crosby a vet alongside Pettersson an 18 year old. Or Letang a vet against Juolevi a 19 year old. Mc$ is a freak ping pong ball selection. I don’t know who the Oilers goalie prospect is but you can’t substitute Talbot to show Demko was poor in Penticton. Apples and organges bud !

        • the mickster

          i disagree. he’s just listing the core of each team for now and in the future, and there’s no one i see who won’t be those teams core players in say five years from now, unless Crosby gets a career ending concussion.
          although demko remains a question mark, i would expect that vancouver core to be in situ next season and if not then the drafting becomes an issue after what will be five years. regardless he is right, that canucks core is nowhere near good enough in comparison to edmonton imo.

          • Confused Canuck

            I’m confused. How can the GM be credited with good drafting when, if Brock Boeser doesn’t make the cut there will be zero draft picks on the roster in four draft and 28 picks? Hell, if Vegas suits up just one pick, that means George McPhee has out-drafted Jim Benning in one draft doesn’t it? Confusing.

          • Bud Poile

            You’re not confused,you’re a troll.
            If any GM had three top-15 picks plus an early second and then one pick made the roster on an expansion team,no less,it means zero organisational depth.
            Just as Benning had to plug Gillis’ lack of depth,McPhee will be doing the same.

          • Confused Canuck

            I’m still confused. Zero picks on the team in four drafts like the Canucks will have if Boeser gets cut proves to anyone with a semblance of intelligence that the drafting is nowhere near good enough on a team desperate for drafted players to step up and play in the NHL. I repeat, zero draft picks in four years are on the team if Boeser gets cut. Is that good enough?…

          • Warren B

            No it’s not good enough, and anyone who says it is ok is a troll or not all there.

            If my rich, demanding boss gives me four years to hire 27 apprentices and not one of them makes it into the business after that length of time, I expect to be called out and fired because i am ultimately destroying my bosses business, and no, it’s no different just because it’s sport – it is abject failure to deliver in any walk of life. There ya go, still confused?

          • WT?

            Hi Confused Garth,
            There are so many points here that are completely out to lunch, its hard to take you seriously. I don’t think there is a single Canuck fan that would be delusional enough to compare Pettersson to McDavid or Crosby. McD & SC are likely to finish their careers as Top 5 NHL players of all-time. Petterson hasn’t even played an exhibition game. Young Stars holds even less weight than an exhibition game. Demko and Juolevi had nothing to prove in Penticton. Any team in the NHL would be happy to have Juolevi, Boeser, Pettersson, Demko etc in the stable. Pointing out that 2 of the greatest players of all-time are better than unproven prospects isn’t inflammatory, it’s patently absurd.

    • Bornonice

      Benning said in an interview with Bob M. that the Canucks view him as their future #1 C. I’m betting they give that thought as big a chance to succeed as possible.

  • Bud Poile

    “If my rich, demanding boss gives me four years to hire 27 apprentices and not one of them makes it into the business after that length of time, I expect to be called out and fired because i am ultimately destroying my bosses business, and no, it’s no different just because it’s sport – it is abject failure to deliver in any walk of life. There ya go, still confused?”
    Warren,you are not confused.You made an irrelevant comparison/conclusion.
    Hockey drafts are not employment agency or classified ad picks.
    Benning drafted 27 players and the vast majority work in the organisation.
    In business when you hire 27 -18 year olds you will be very fortunate if any make it into the upper echelon of business within three years.21 year olds are very young and immature.
    To be fair (and not a serial,bashing troll) nobody expects one 2017 pick to play on the Canucks.
    Nobody seriously thinks the 19 year olds from the 2016 draft should be full time NHL players,either.
    Now we have 14 draft picks left-three firsts,one second.
    The three firsts have all played in the NHL.
    A third rounder and fifth have also played in the NHL.
    That’s five of fourteen picks-36% success rate-that rose to the top.
    Brisebois,Gaudette,Demko and Zhukenov are probables making 9 of 14 or a 65% success rate.
    65% success rates are rare and any boss would be verry happy for that level of success.
    See how confused you are?

    • Warren B

      I was replying to confused canuck but thanks for jumping in with the fictional comedy novel.

      There are plenty of draft picks over the past four years who are actually playing for their NHL teams, many straight from the draft. With regard to the 2016 draft that you assume ”no canucks fans expect any players from”, ten first rounders are already signed and playing for their clubs, seven were picked below Juolevi. The fact is the Canucks have zero/zilch/nadda on the roster from 28 total picks. That is horrendous drafting that equates to — 0%.

      In fact I would bet there is no other rebuilding, non playoff team in the league who is not icing at least one draftee in four years of picks on their NHL roster. Feel free to prove me wrong though, because you sound like a troll…