“I don’t want to talk about it too much, I don’t want to jinx it.”
That’s what Elias Pettersson told me Tuesday afternoon prior to the NHL Awards in Las Vegas. It turns out he could have talked about it all day and all night. In the end, Pettersson was the natural choice for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year; he was the league’s best rookie from start to finish, which was reflected in his landslide win.
Pettersson racked up 151 first place votes for the Calder, which was significantly more than second place finisher Jordan Binnington. The St. Louis Blues goaltender received 18 first place votes, while fellow finalist Rasmus Dahlin of the Buffalo Sabres received one. That’s the way it should have been.
As someone covering the Calgary Flames on a daily basis, I can tell you how much buzz Pettersson generated in the Pacific Division. He was one of a handful of players in the league to draw your eye on every single shift when watching him live and in person. While 66 points in in 71 games was impressive, the most exciting thing might be what happens next.
“I’m humble, I don’t take anything for granted,” Pettersson said after winning on Wednesday night. “Nothing comes easy and especially not here. Just because I won this, I want to grow as a player and become a better player. I’m stubborn, I’m never satisfied.”
In saying that, though, Pettersson was able to reflect and look back on his outstanding rookie campaign.
“Sometimes when I look back I still don’t feel like I even played in the NHL. It still feels like unreal that I played there. I’m living the dream over here with Vancouver. I didn’t have any expectations. I was going to take it day by day and grow into the NHL costume, or whatever you call it. The NHL is the best league in the world, so I didn’t know how good I would play. For sure it went better than I expected.”
From afar, it was cool to see how quickly Canucks fans fell in love with their new Swedish superstar. After what Pettersson accomplished overseas, expectations were sky high heading into 2018-19. When Pettersson scored his first goal on night one against the Flames, those expectations weren’t quelled.
But even during the down times in Pettersson’s rookie season, which were relatively rare, the connection between fans and the player was clear from the outside looking in. His tribute to Jason Botchford in his acceptance speech was a perfect example.
“I love playing in Vancouver,” Pettersson said. “Great fans, great organization, awesome teammates, and all of the city of Vancouver has really welcomed me the best way I can ever imagine. I’m very happy to be in Vancouver. Living there…just now people recognize me more. More people have me as a role model, which I’m not that used to. I’m just living my dream, I can say that; I’m just enjoying every bit of it.
“When I got to Vancouver, it kind of like blew up. I remember I tried to go to the grocery store. I had my hoodie on, my hat on, and my sunglasses on, so I thought I…hid myself pretty good. But still people came up to me and said good game yesterday, which was kind of funny that they still recognized me even though I tried to hide myself. It’s cool, I enjoy it.”
Now that he can add runaway Calder Trophy winner to his resume, I don’t think Pettersson will be flying under the radar at grocery stores anytime soon.