Photo Credit: © Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Elias Pettersson’s playoff debut was one of the best by any in Vancouver Canucks history

By The Numbers

Elias Pettersson and his teammates may have only made it to the official second round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs — actually, their third round of this unique postseason — but his performance still ranks among the very best ever put forth by a Vancouver Canuck.

With 18 points in 17 games, Pettersson tied Stan Smyl for the eighth-most points in a single playoff season for the franchise, and very few players have ever topped Pettersson’s postseason points-per-game.

Speaking of which, Pettersson actually improved on his scoring rate from the regular season, a supposedly difficult feat that he already accomplished in his Draft+1 season in the SHL. With 66 points in 68 regular season games, Pettersson ranked 20th in the league. With 18 postseason points in 17 games, he was tied for fourth in the NHL when the Canucks were eliminated.

Though no Vancouver player maintained positive possession stats through the Vegas Golden Knights series — save for Olli Juolevi and his five minutes of total ice-time — Pettersson did lead the team in Corsi For with 47.71%, and was in or close to the team lead in most major analytical categories. He did all this with fewer than 20 minutes of ice-time per game, while breaking even on faceoffs and throwing his own fair share of hits and blocks.

Broken down by series, Pettersson’s production becomes ever more impressive. Four points in four games against Minnesota and then nine points in six against the Blues had Pettersson well on his way to Conn Smythe contention. True, he slowed down toward the end of the Vegas series — more on that in a minute — but only after shouldering a ridiculous proportion of the load up until then. With 18 points on 42 non-empty net goals, Pettersson was directly in on nearly 50% of the Canucks’ offence this postseason.

One last note on Pettersson’s dominance concerns his impact on his linemates. Pettersson’s possession stats relative to his team was through the roof, and that could be seen in real-time whenever a new player was placed on his line. Someone like Jake Virtanen, who had an abysmal statline for much of the rest of the postseason, suddenly saw his Corsi, Scoring Chance rates, and other such measures explode the moment he started skating on Pettersson’s wing.

Elevating his own game in the postseason is remarkable, but it’s Pettersson’s ability to elevate the game of others that makes him a truly special talent.

The Eye-Test

What Pettersson’s statline can’t tell you is what he had to overcome in order to put up all those points. Starting with Minnesota, the Canucks’ postseason opponents clearly came in with a game-plan to run Pettersson out of the rink — but they only succeeded in waking up his competitive drive.

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From the moment Pettersson hurled Ryan Hartman to the ice, it became clear he would not be pushed around.

As the playoffs progressed, Pettersson transitioned from pushing through the physicality he was facing to throwing some of it back in their faces, putting together a handful of shifts that were downright Peter Forsberg-esque for their amount of pushback. By the time the second round rolled around, Pettersson was already being given a lot more space on the ice.

In addition to all that physical punishment, Pettersson also came up against — and overcame — some tight checking from some of the best defensive forwards in the game. Joel Eriksson Ek and Ryan O’Reilly were each handed the task of shutting down Pettersson, and each of them found limited success at first, only for Pettersson to figure them out and go right back to putting points on the board. He simply refused to be shut down.

And he did all of this despite a lack of consistent linemates. Pettersson played just 37% of his even-strength minutes alongside JT Miller and Brock Boeser, splitting up the rest of his time with a whole host of wingers of varying skill and ability. No matter the combination, Pettersson achieved — notching points with five different even-strength lines.

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It’s at this point that we must mention that, yes, Pettersson definitely slowed down as the Canucks neared the conclusion of their playoff season. He put up just two points in his final five games against the Golden Knights, and looked a little overwhelmed and defeated at times.

But given everything else we’ve just described, is it really surprising that Pettersson eventually broke down against a top-tier Stanley Cup contender? By that point, he’d already done far more in his postseason debut than anyone could have reasonably expected heading in.

Expect Pettersson to learn from the experience, and to come back even stronger the next time he and the Canucks make it to the playoffs. And, while you’re at it, expect him to surpass those expectations, too, because it’s something he seems to have made a habit of.

Playoff Grade: A-

Vancouver fans couldn’t have asked for more from Pettersson during his first trip to the postseason — and yet, it seems clear to everyone watching him that he’ll almost certainly deliver more the next time he’s there. This score being slightly less than perfect is solely in recognition of his continued upward potential.