Sometimes it really pays off to just swing for the fences. When the Canucks selected Elias Pettersson with the fifth overall pick of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, it came as a surprise to many. They passed on a big-bodied, NHL-ready centre in Cody Glass; a player who most outlets had ranked far ahead of Petersson. While CanucksArmy had Glass a single slot higher, internally there were many authors who felt the team had made the right pick. What the team really needed was skill, and for once the Canucks passed on the safe bet to take a player with high-end upside.
A few days prior to the 2017 Draft, I had suggested on the now-defunct CanucksArmy Podcast that while Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier were likely plug-and play forwards with higher floors, Pettersson could prove to be the strongest forward in the draft. His lights-out performance in Sweden’s top professional league has only strengthened that conviction, and it should come as no surprise that we have him ranked as the organization’s best prospect.
Elias Pettersson looks comically good by just about every statistical measure. At just 19, Pettersson led the SHL in points, breaking a 42-year-old record for scoring by a teenager in the process.
Adjusted for era, Pettersson’s most recent season returns 0 statistical cohorts. As a result, the prospect Graduation Probabilities System is unable to evaluate him. To put it simply, his production in the SHL this season was completely unprecedented. For what it’s worth, the two players Pettersson passed to set the all-time single-season scoring record for a teenager in the SHL were Kent Nilsson and Peter Forsberg. He’s in good company.
While Pettersson played for the best team in the SHL this season, it’s important to note that every single one of his most common teammates performed better with him than away from him.
Over a 44-game season, Pettersson only found himself on the wrong-side of the 5-on-5 goal differential three times, and he finished the season with a goals-for percentage of nearly 80%.
At this point, everything in Pettersson’s statistical profile suggests that the question isn’t if he will be a good NHL player, but how good he can be.
Offensively, Pettersson has virtually no weaknesses. He’s a shifty player who uses his quickness to take the opposition completely out of the picture. His skating, already an area of strength, has only improved since the time of the draft. He was an elite playmaker at the SHL level, and his goal-scoring is rivaled only by Brock Boeser when it comes to players in the Canucks’ system. While he doesn’t have the power or release on his shot that Boeser does (yet), his vision is just as good.
But despite his obvious physical attributes, his biggest asset is the way he thinks the game. His creativity gives him the potential to be a game-breaker offensively at the NHL level. Pettersson doesn’t make the right play, he makes the better play. Even against men, he routinely looked as if he was seeing the game three steps ahead of everyone else. Stylistically, he reminded me a bit of Nik Ehlers when he played for the Halifax Mooseheads.
While Ehlers is a great pro, that comparison may make some Canucks fans wince, given that he’s a winger. That’s the one knock on Pettersson, if you can call it that. While he’s listed as a natural centre, he’s played the bulk of his last two seasons on the right side. If he’s going to play down the middle in the NHL, getting there could turn out to be a slow process; especially because he’s extremely slight. I’d caution against assuming he needs to put on weight, however. Part of what makes him so effective is his quickness and you don’t want him to lose that in service of maintaining a more “NHL-ready” weight, whatever that means.
At any rate, whether he projects as a centre or a winger going forward isn’t really important. He’s the best prospect the team has had in a generation. Feel free to be excited.