Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
The Captaincy Debate: Why Elias Pettersson should be the next captain of the Vancouver Canucks
6 months ago
If you’re just joining us, welcome to Part III of a four-part series on The Captaincy Debate, in which we present the best cases possible for each of the four best options to don the Canucks’ ‘C’ in 2023/24.
Leadership means a lot of different things in hockey, and generally comes with a whole bevy of related words.
Passion. Sacrifice. Honour. Drive.
Let’s zero in on that last one. “Drive.” It’s something that every NHL captain should both have and do. And if we’re being honest about who it is who drives the Vancouver Canucks right now, there’s really only one answer, and that answer is Elias Pettersson.
The offence side of things is easy enough to figure out. Pettersson has been the offensive centerpiece in Vancouver pretty much since he skated down the wing and blasted one home in his first NHL game.
Since joining the team as a rookie in 2018, Pettersson leads the Canucks in goals with 136 and points with 323. Over 325, that’s just a hair under point-per-game status, and that’s with Pettersson’s semi-notorious early-career slumps and injuries factored right in.
Since the calendar flipped over to the year 2022, Pettersson has left all that behind, and his offensive qualifications now truly leap off the charts. It’s 127 games for 65 goals, 153 points, and a 1.20 PPG; each easily the highest on the team during that same span.
But it doesn’t really take much statistical analysis to understand how much the Canucks’ offence now runs through Pettersson. Whether at even-strength or on the power play or even shorthanded, the Canucks’ become a different team the second he’s out there on the ice, and especially whenever the puck touches his stick. Call him the most talented on the team, call him the most dangerous, call him the most dynamic. You’d be correct on every count, and the best part of it all is knowing that Pettersson probably hasn’t quite hit his peak as of yet.
All of which qualifies Pettersson as the best player on the Canucks, or at the very least their best offensive player. But does that make him the best captain?
By itself, it does not. But then, Pettersson is anything but a one-dimensional figure.
In addition to being the team’s top offensive player, Pettersson might just be their most defensively-talented individual, too. He received votes for the Selke Trophy last year, and we predict that he’ll be receiving outright nominations before too much time has passed. He’s diligent, he’s responsible, and he’s patient: all defensive traits that won’t wear out as Pettersson ages.
We remember the debates about which of Henrik Sedin or Ryan Kesler was the “true leader” of the 2011-era Canucks.
Well, in Pettersson, you’ve got the offensive steadiness of Henrik and the defensive acumen of Kesler all rolled up into one neat package. What’s not to like about that?
Really, there’s very few aspects of the game in which Pettersson does not contribute. In fact, “contribute” might be putting it lightly. There are very few aspects of the game in which Pettersson does not lead by example.
He blocks shots far more than most star players. Last season, he became one of the Canucks’ top penalty killers and one of the most dangerous shorthanded threats in the entire league.
Even his faceoffs have improved over his time in the NHL, and that actually brings us to our primary point here today.
Find a player in all of hockey who has demonstrated a greater capacity for self-improvement than Elias Pettersson. Seriously.
He went from the fifth overall draft pick to the best prospect in hockey through one stellar Draft+1 season.
Instead of resting on his laurels, he then stepped immediately into the NHL and just got better and better as his rookie season progressed, culminating in a fairly easy Calder Trophy victory (no matter what Jordan Binnington might tell you).
Pettersson pushed through injuries, always bouncing back stronger than before. In his first and only trip to the playoffs in 2020, Pettersson faced the first real physical scrutiny of his career, and handled it with aplomb, putting up point-per-game results and giving back as good as he received.
There’s little that Pettersson hasn’t been able to turn into yet another opportunity to learn and grow. When contract negotiations and injury scuppered his 2021 offseason, he learned from it, which is how he was able to transition right from that dreaded third-year slump to his first ever 100-point campaign.
And, again, he’s nowhere near done. That capacity for self-improvement will continue to pay dividends over the years to come.
In the future, he’ll be the sort of player, more than anyone else currently in the organization, who can take over and win playoff series singlehandedly. You want an inspiring leader that can put the entire team on his back with a solo performance? It’s Pettersson, all day, every day. You want a captain who can straight-up WIN games for this team? Look no further than the reigning and future MVP.
Which, really, is exactly what the Canucks need from their most outward representative right now. GM Patrik Allvin and Co. can adjust and reinforce the roster as much as they please, but everyone knows that if the Canucks are going to become genuine contenders anytime soon, they’re going to need bountiful improvement from within. In other words, the players that they already have are going to have to get better, and particularly those on the younger side of the equation.
In Pettersson, the Canucks have a leader who, age-wise, can bridge the gap between veterans and incoming prospects nicely, and who will serve as a living embodiment of the benefits that can come from continually working on oneself.
Like we said earlier, it’s leading by example.
Pettersson’s shyness with the media and in general has been cited as a potential detractor to his being named captain, but we’re not convinced that even that is a negative. This is a market in which the slightest misquote can and will be blown up into a genuine controversy. Is having the face of the team be someone who never says all that much really a bad thing?
Pettersson chooses his words carefully, and isn’t afraid to bite back when it’s called for, but most of the time he plays his cards close to the vest. That’s smart business in Vancouver.
It’s not as if the Canucks haven’t had quiet captains before. In fact, it’s a bit of a tradition, and it’s just one more way in which Pettersson represents some of the very best traits of Canucks’ leadership in the past.
The Sedin comparisons are obvious enough. But Pettersson’s dedicated to all zones of the ice and to the elevation of his teammates is also reminiscent of Trevor Linden. There’s a modicum of Roberto Luongo’s subtle humour and unflappability in there.
And we’ve all seen how Pettersson responds to attempts to intimidate him on the ice. There’s just a hint of Pavel Bure present, too.
At the end of the day, there isn’t much that Pettersson can’t do well. It stands to reason that wearing the ‘C’ on his jersey is just another one of those things that he’s going to excel at.
Tune in throughout the week for further editions of The Captaincy Debate.
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