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Photo Credit: © Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

A Raging Bull: Why the time off will benefit Elias Pettersson more than others when hockey returns

Think of a quarantined Elias Pettersson as a raging bull, itching to get out of his pen and into the open field to take on whatever challenge lies ahead.

Only in this case, the bull’s pen is Covid-19 causing the NHL to suspend play way back in March and subsequently keeping Pettersson from bursting into the open field — the NHL playoffs.

At the time, the Canucks were missing their All-Star goaltender Jacob Markstrom and while Thatcher Demko appeared to be piecing it all together, teams were quickly gaining ground on the Canucks in the standings.

Not only will Vancouver have Markstrom back and 100% healthy when they return against the Minnesota Wild, but they’ll also benefit from a well-rested Pettersson who, like everyone else, is itching to get back.

But do you remember what Elias Pettersson looks like after returning from a few months off? Let me remind you.

The numbers suggest that when he’s given an extended period of time off, Pettersson is able to come back and play some of his finest hockey.

Here are Pettersson’s first five games of the 2018-19 campaign:

Five goals and three assists in five games.

Is that good? That seems good.

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He was dynamite in the first half of that season but experienced a bit of a dip in production after the All-Star break. Pettersson later attributed these struggles to taking time to adjust to the tougher schedule that comes with playing in the NHL.

But what about this season, after Pettersson was given a few months to recover and hit the reset button?

Here are Pettersson’s first six games of the 2019-20 campaign:

Two goals and four assists over a six-game span. That also seems good, and it’s also including the first two games of the season, in which the Canucks looked like they forgot how to play hockey over the summer — hopefully, that won’t be the case when they return in a few weeks’ time.

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Pettersson maintained this level of excellence all season long, with no real noticeable dips in production at any point.

A few days ago, Quinn Hughes told media that he feels stronger and that he feels he’ll be able to perform better in the play-in series thanks to the time off than he would had he been forced to go right from the regular season straight into playoffs.

Yesterday via Zoom, Pettersson confirmed he feels the same way:

“Yeah I do, I got right back in the gym back home. I’ve been able to become stronger and I had more time and energy than I would have had during the season, so it’s been helpful for both me and Quinn.”

There’s still work to be done when it comes to Pettersson getting his legs back under him and back up to game speed considering he didn’t have ice available to him in Sweden. Pettersson says he feels at about 90% right now.

“I feel good but when you’re not on the ice every day, you lose timing, you lose conditioning in your legs. It will come back soon.”

There’s no real precedent to look at when it comes to NHL playoff performances for Pettersson, but if his performance in the 2018 Swedish Hockey League playoffs is any indication of what Pettersson is capable of when the games matter most, Canucks fans are in for a real treat.

Not only did Pettersson win the Playoff MVP award and help the Vaxjo Lakers secure a championship that year, but he also led the playoffs in goals and overall points with ten goals and nine assists in 13 total games.

Is that good? That seems good.

Rest assured, when the puck drops on the Canucks’ play-in series against the Minnesota Wild, Pettersson and his teammates will be ready to go, and determined to claim their spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.