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Photo Credit: © Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Year (So Far) In Review: Elias Pettersson’s strong sophomore showing and what it means for his next contract

What Elias Pettersson has accomplished in his first two seasons in the NHL is nothing short of remarkable. He landed in Vancouver and immediately became a sensation and he’s only been getting better since.

Pettersson didn’t suffer any kind of sophomore slump this year. At a boxcar level, his numbers are actually pretty much identical to what he did in his rookie season. Through 68 games this year, Pettersson posted 27 goals and 66 points. Last year, in 71 games, he scored 28 goals and 66 points.

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The real difference for Pettersson this season can be seen in his underlying numbers. He posted strong possession numbers as a rookie, but, this year, he was among the league’s best when looking at shot attempt differential in relation to teammates. In terms of on-ice scoring, Pettersson ranked fifth in the league among forwards with 4.04 goals for per 60 minutes and 17th in raw goals for percentage.

Perhaps the clearest way to paint the picture of Pettersson’s growth in his sophomore season would be his expected goals for numbers. As a rookie, Pettersson was in the red in terms of expected goals for percentage, but, in his sophomore year, he’s started to drive more offensively and his defensive game tightened up, leading to the expected goals for percentage on the Canucks by a fairly wide margin.

None of this is really new information. You watch the guy play each night, you know he’s really good, it isn’t difficult to see. The point here is to illustrate that Pettersson’s game has massively improved in his sophomore year despite the fact his boxcar stats are virtually identical to his rookie season.

Anyways, let’s move on to the more interesting part of the Pettersson discussion, which is how his production compares to others.

All told, Pettersson’s first two seasons in the league, assuming we don’t see the rest of the 2019-20 regular season played out, has been among the best seen this decade. Since 2009-10, only four players have produced more offensively in their first two seasons in the league than Pettersson: Artemi Panarin, Mat Barzal, Connor McDavid, and Patrik Laine.

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Panarin is at the top of the list with 151 points in his first two seasons, though it’s kind of unfair to put him in this comparison because he broke into the league at the age of 24 after spending a handful of years playing professionally in Russia.

Next up is McDavid, who’s obviously the gold standard here. McDavid scored 148 points in his first two seasons straight out of the draft despite missing nearly half of his rookie year due to injury. The only two players between Pettersson and McDavid are Laine and Barzal, who posted 134 and 147 points respectively. But if you adjust to look at points-per-game rather than raw production, Pettersson jumps over both of them.

Pettersson’s 0.95 points-per-game is second only to McDavid among players in their first two seasons in the league over the last decade.

We don’t yet know if Pettersson is going to have a chance to finish off his sophomore year. It’s very likely that he won’t be playing any regular-season games due to the COVID-19 pandemic and there’s also a fair chance he won’t get an opportunity to play in the playoffs either.

It’s all up in the air right now. But, what we do know for sure is that Pettersson is going to be eligible for a contract extension this summer. He’s still got one more year left on his entry-level deal, but Pettersson is due a big raise for the 2021-22 season.

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Only one player from the 2017 draft class has gotten paid so far. That was No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier, who was given a seven-year extension worth $7,250,000 annually back in October. Pettersson is going to blow that deal out of the water.

Circling back to that list of rookie and sophomore seasons from the past decade, Hischier ranks 18th with 99 points and 38th in points-per-game. Pettersson, of course, was fourth in points (after we removed Panarin) and second behind only McDavid in points-per-game. Hichier’s $7,250,000 deal would be the lowest imaginable starting point when considering Pettersson.

Instead, we have to look back to the 2016 draft to find Pettersson’s ideal comparison — Auston Matthews.

Through Matthews’ first two seasons in the league, he put up 132 points, the exact same as Pettersson. The key difference is that Matthews is more of a scorer and Pettersson is more of a playmaker. Matthews had 74 goals and 58 assists while Pettersson had 55 goals and 77 assists.

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In February of 2019, Matthews inked a five-year extension worth $11,634,000 annually with the Leafs. Having No. 1 overall draft pick pedigree and the higher goal-scoring total would probably give Matthews the slight edge in negotiations, but, this is the place to look when considering Pettersson’s extension.